Posted By Stephen

… both the drink and the place.

Last weekend we paid a visit to Champagne, on a tour organised by the good people of the Wine Education Service. We’d never been on an organised tour before, but really enjoyed this one. The trip was a combination of visits to Champagne houses, good lunches and dinners and lots of drinking Champagne.

Our first stop was one of the larger Champagne houses, Pommery. We had a tour of the huge cellars; many kilometres of tunnels dug into the chalk deep underground. Chalk is porous and retains moisture well, which is good for the vines growing on the surface and is also good for keeping the cellars at a constant 10 to 11 degrees Celsius and 85% humidity without the need for air conditioning.

The stairs going down into the cellars:

A selection of old bottles of Champagne in the Pommery cellars. Most of these no longer have their sediment in the bottle, so are no longer drinkable because the Champagne loses its freshness. Some do though; all of the 1943 and later bottles do and are still drinkable.

An intricately carved barrel:

After this came dinner in a restaurant in Reims. We ordered Champagne of course (in this case a Cattier Premier Cru Blanc de Blanc) and ate:

Torte Champenoise:

And duck:

And dessert, which was a frozen parfait of sorts:

The next day we were off to visit Moet & Chandon. The sign on the gate was rather bling:

Some bottles in the cellar:

Then we were given a glass of Champagne while we interrogated the guides about various details, such as the destiny of the magnums that we’d seen in the cellars and been told were there for fifteen years. Turns out that they were probably Dom Perignon Oenothèque bottles, which are kept in bottle for longer than regular Dom Perignon, giving them more complexity.

Also, I asked about gyropalettes. Gyropalettes are machines that turn the bottles and tilt them onto their ends bit by bit each day so that the sediment ends up in the neck and can be removed easily. The old fashioned way is to do this by hand, with skilled workers turning (“riddling”) each and every bottle every day, and all the guides explain this because it is the romantic, hands-on, craftsman-like version of the process. But the reality is that most bottles are processed by unromantic, industrial gyropalette machines these days and no tours will show them in action.

After this gruelling morning, we needed lunch. Which started with terrine:

And then salmon with broad beans (and bacon) and a creamy sauce:

And finished with parfait and fruit:

That afternoon we visited a smaller producer, Clouet and were given a talk and tasting by the rather entertaining winemaker who amongst other things demonstrated that you had to pretend to be Justin Timberlake in order to open a bottle of Champagne properly.

This was located in the brilliantly named town of Bouzy:

This is the view down the hill at Bouzy, showing a number of Grand Cru pinot noir vineyards:

That evening we were left to fend for ourselves in Reims. Kerri and I found a semi-interesting restaurant but didn’t take the camera along so no pictures of that.

On our final day we paid a visit to Ployez-Jacquemart:

Which was another small producer, producing Champagnes of very good quality at very reasonable prices. This was probably the most informative tour in terms of how the wine is produced, from pressing the grapes, through to the first and second fermentations, cellaring, riddling, degorgement, bottling, labelling, etc.

Some barrels; empty at the moment unfortunately:

During the second fermentation, the pressure inside the bottles rises to 6 atmospheres, and if there is a flaw in the bottle then it can explode as this one did:

Then lunch, which started with more terrine, this time salmon, which was very good indeed:

And followed by some very tasty chicken with rice and a creamy sauce. I think the chives counted as the vegetables:

There was apple tart for dessert, but I forgot to take a picture of it.

May 13th, 2008

10 Comments to 'Champagne!'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Champagne!'.

  1. Jules said,

    Looks like a wonderful weekend of fine champagne and great food.

  2. Wow!
    You seem to have had a really great trip. I went on a week-end trip to Reims with my French class (still don’t speak it, sadly) many years go and it was amazing. We only visited two wineries – Mercier, which was on quite a grand scale and a smaller family owned one in Ay, I can’t remember what it was called. I’d love to go there again and for longer and visit other wineries.
    Thanks for a great post, I really enjoyed that.


  3. Kerri said,

    Thank you both, we did really enjoy the trip and ate and drank very well! It’s a great place to visit, there’s over 3000 growers in the region so plenty of wine to explore!

  4. Lizzie said,

    Beautiful pictures! I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to wine (but I love drinking it…) so i’ll check out the link.

  5. Baby Bro said,

    Good food, Great wine, Fantastic weather. And a town called Bouzy. WOW. Very artistic ‘pictorgraphs’ as MFS calls them!

  6. Antonia said,

    What a fantastic trip. I spent four months working in Epernay as a guide round the cellars of Champagne Mercier – all your pictures have bought the whole thing back! I’ve haven’t been back out there since I left – I really must do though.

  7. Claire said,

    That sounds like a lovely little break 🙂 & some good pictures – I especially like the bottles in the cellar at Moet & Chandon

  8. Ros said,

    You have no idea how jealous I am.

  9. Kerri said,

    Thanks everyone, it was a really great weekend and definitely worth visiting if you get the chance.

:: Trackbacks/Pingbacks ::

  1. Pingback by Hotel Terravina | Dinner Diary - on November 2nd, 2010 at 10:12 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.