There is sparking wine and then there is champagne! Champagne can only come from Champagne so all those other bubbles you are drinking are just sparkling wine but can still be absolutely delicious!
There are multiple ways to champagne taste through the region which is just about an hour outside of Paris. You can go for the day on your own and you will want a car for that, book a tour, or go for a few days and spend the night. Our time in France was limited, so we opted for the day trip from Paris.The tours range in what they offer and the price varies but expect to spend around $200. Our tour included:
- Visit Moët & Chandon and a local wine producer
- Taste at least three types of Champagne
- Small-group tour limited to just eight people ensures a more memorable experience
- 11-hour tour of the Champagne wine region from Paris
- Gain insight into the growing, harvesting and bottling process
- Round-trip transport by air-conditioned minivan included
- Stop by the chapel and gravestone of Dom Perignon
7:30am meeting time and off we went but of course not without a few hiccups. We planned our morning so we had time to grab a quick croissant thinking we were in the correct meeting place. We even asked the driver if we were on the correct tour and showed our confirmation and as roll call comes around and it turns out we were on the wrong van. It was 7:28am and we had to run to another corner across 4 streets and got to our meeting spot at 7:32am. Luckily, everyone in our group was super nice and waited for us.
We stopped by Reims Cathedral first which is a larger cathedral than Notre Dame. I have been to Europe quite a few times and it gets to be a lot to see Cathedral after church after Cathedral and they start to look the same. It was a nice stop but not the reason I was on the tour. Finally we arrived to our first stop…Lequien et Fils. This is a very small production facility that only produces 30,000 bottles per year but started with just 250 with the grandparents.
How small of a place were we at? When we walked in the owner (Phillippe Lequien) and winemaker was there bottling the champagne because we happened to be there just after harvest! I am skipping to the end of the champagne process and will get back to that. This machine pops out the iced sediment from the bottle and adds any last still wines and then corks and seals the bottle. From there, the champagne must rest for about 3 months and then is ready to drink!
Okay, back to the beginning. A little champagne making education.
- Grow the three grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) in Champagne according to the standards of AOC
- Make wine
- Blend the wine to create the perfect combo for the champagne. This can include blending different years.
- Bottle the wine to activate second fermentation (15 months to 3 years)
- Rddling. Basically place the bottles on a rack at a special angle and turn them every few days until they are vertical to get all the sediment to the top of the bottle.
- Disgorgement. Dip the bottles into a freezing rack and then blow the cap off (video above).
- Add still wine to obtain the perfect level of sweetness
- Rest for a few months and drink!
A few tips about champagne that I learned along the way:
- Bottles should not be stored in a fridge because they should stay at a constant temperature
- Bottles should be drank within a year of buying
- The size of the bubbles tells you the age of the champagne. The smaller the bubble, the longer the bottles have been aged.
- Most champagnes do not have a vintage (a year) because about 30% of the previous year’s wine is used for the next few years.
- 3 types of champagne. Blanc de blanc made just from chardonany. Blanc de noir made just from pinot noir or mixed. (Of course there are exceptions like rosé and other blends but the above 3 are the most common).
Next stop, the house Moet & Chandon! This champagne has been around for 270 years and I am sure you have tried a bottle. This is probably one of the most famous brands around the world. 28km of cellars stretch below this house with an undisclosed number of bottles being stored. Can you imagine how much champagne that is?!
Dom Perignon is a monk considered to be the father of champagne. He didn’t QUITE master the process but basically had the idea. Dom Perignon is also a very high end champagne and if you have the chance to drink a bottle, do it. Personally I am interested in a bottle of Dom Perignon rosé that runs about $350. Anyone want to buy me one?
28,000,000 bottles of champagne are produced annually from this house. You read that right, 28,000,000! That is quite a few more bottles than the small producer we went to earlier. Personally, I preferred the small producer but it is incredibly hard to find these bottles in the states. Anyone a wine buyer that wants to start importing these wines?
I keep saying we and haven’t mentioned who this we is. My friend Reid decided to join me in France so the next few blogs will have we in it instead of me. It is always nice when a friend wants to meet you in Europe and has the same interests!