My name is Mikael and for several years now I have been working as a private driver guide in Champagne. That sounds cool doesn’t it? Well actually, it is! I have tasted hundreds of champagnes and regularly visit the famous Champagne Houses that offer cellar tours like Moet, Veuve Clicquot and Pommery.
Most visitors to the region interested in visiting a champagne house head straight to their favorite brand. Unfortunately, most are not open to the public and when they do, the focus is on brand history with a cellar visit followed by a tasting of their entry level brut.
It’s a shame because this is not where true champagne can be experienced. Only at small grower Champagne Houses can you do multi-tastings and truly taste a wide array of different Champagnes style and really understand the subtleties of dosage, assemblage, cépage terroir, and millésime, which I explain en route from Paris. Not to mention we can visit the vineyards and see artisanal production facilities.
Close to Paris is the Marne Valley. It is possible to find the 3 main grape varieties here, but the most common one is Pinot Meunier, considered as the “poor parent” of Champagne, because they are no Grand Crus in the area. However, it does not mean that one can’t find good Champagne here. In fact, some award winning wines sell for under 15€ a bottle! One of my favorite producers is Champagne Phillipe Martin. Monsieur Martin was mayor of the local small village of Cumières for 19 years and is a top “vigneron”. He has a range that goes from classic apéritif champagne to Rosé de Saignée as well as a delicious 30€ per bottle of old Pinot Noir Champagne and for the Champagne snobs, it is also possible to get ultra-premium champagnes that no one has ever heard of.
Another of my favorite producers actually makes a Champagne made with 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier from vines planted in1923! This Champagne is so rich and intense that really needs to be drunk in a Brandy glass to appreciate the bouquet of flavours and aromas that would make most large brand champagne makers quite envious.
Around the Montagne de Reims, we focus on Pinot Noir based Champagne. It is also where most of the Grand Crus are located. I like to visit my friend Dominique there. She and her husband make organic Premier and Grand Cru Champagne aged for three to seven years in their 1946 hand-dug chalk cellars. There is actually nothing better than starting the day with their sugar-free 2007 based Brut Nature while listening to Dominique’s stories about how she picks nettles to turn into a soup that gets sprayed on the vines as an insecticide. If the first tasting is a bit sharp for the pallets, they have other great cuvées, such as an Extra Brut from eighty year-old plus vines or a delicious Rosé, which I actually chose for my wedding! And they ship to boot!
Speaking of Rosés, beyond the plateau, lies the village of Bouzy and hometown of Barbe Clicquot-Ponsardin. It is known for producing the finest Pinots Noirs in the region and no surprise to find a production red wine as well as the connoisseur’s acclaimed “rosé de saignée”, a Pinot Noir based champagne dark rosé, which results from the maceration of the red skin of the Pinot with its white juice. That sounds like how Rosés should be made, “n’est ce pas?” Well, not in Champagne. This method only consists of 7% of Rosés, the rest are made with a blend of white and red wines, a method invented by… the local girl, Veuve Clicquot.
Further west is the village of Aÿ, considered the best village of Champagne as it is the only one to be classified 100% Grand Cru for two cépages: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. One small producer here is so highly esteemed that even Robert Parker said that his Champagnes are what Krug Champagnes are supposed to taste like! His speciality? One year maturations in brand new oak barrels from trees grown in Champagne.
And for the Champagne blazés who think they know everything about their favorite wine, we adventure South to the Cote de Blancs and Côte des Bars where few visitors go! The local producers have become very creative in order to attract tourists and that’s a story for another time.
If you can’t get over to France to experience the soul of Champagne, you can find grower champagnes in the UK from specialist Richard Moore at Moore Champagne
If we caught your interest and you would like to tour a few Grower Champagnes with us visit our web site at The Champagne Tour Company