I blog to you from Paris, where we have already changed our clocks by falling back one hour. Our drive from Hautvillers, France to CDG took about 1:45 min and turning in the car took about 3 minutes. A shout out to short term leasing in the Euro zone with AutoEurope. I highly recommend, and much less expensive than a regular rental (when hiring a car for such a long period of time). 60 days and 6700 kilometers later, we turned the car in, in pristine condition.
I haven’t been a big fan of champagne so spending 4 days in the region seemed a bit overkill. But, a little knowledge and a lot of champagne goes a long way toward changing your mind! Hautvillers is the cradle of champagne making, started by the monk Dom Perignon back in the 16 whatevers. I start with the church/abbey in town where he is buried, and a short history (via pic) of the robed dude himself. Here is his tomb and the history:
Two monks buried here, and DP is on the left. A close up:
I think it says, “Here lies Dom Perignon. Try not to piss him off”, or something like that. And the history:
Notice the mention of St. Helena. In Napa Valley, St Helena is one of the wine towns along the Napa road through the vineyards. Ultimately, the Moet and Chandon families merged and took over Dom Perignon Champagne. Although the bottling is done in Hautvillers, the caves and killer chateau are in nearby Epernay (10 min drive).
Here are some shots from around the Hautvillers area vineyards. Our apartment is right in town and we walk a mere 100 meters to any of these locales:
We didn’t expect the spectacular fall colors on the grape vine leaves. I figured that by Nov, all of the leaves would have dropped, but alas, it was beautiful.
In the above pic, the town in the distance is Epernay. And of course, there are no towns nor vineyards with out a river; the river Marne which winds through the valley:
We visited 7 wineries during our stay. We first visited St Helena, one of only 7 that is run by a woman. Not bad stuff. We then stopped at Tribaut which had very good champagne.
Here’s the deal: Reserve, Premiere and Grand Cru, all made to specification. Slope of the vineyards often makes the difference between Premiere and the good stuff. All 3 are quite good, however. Entry level runs about 17Euro for Reserve, and from there, the sky’s the limit, as they say. Champagne region only grows 3 grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. The last grape is used to sweeten things up a bit. So, most typically, they make a 100% Chard, a 100% Pinot, a Chard/Pinot blend, and a blend of all three Chard/Pinot/Meunier. We liked some more than others, depending on the Vinter, not the grape combination. Here is a typical menu from Tribaut, and a shot of our tasting:
In Hautvillers and the surrounding villages, a tasting is 5Euro, and you choose any 3. Pours are generally about 2.5 ounces, and you sit for an hour or so and enjoy each one. It is more of a social event than a regular taste/spit/move on scene. Locals come in and drink champagne more like one would at a wine bar. And they usually order a bottle to drink right on premises. Very laid back, and very social. The big vinters like Moet Chandon are located in Epernay, and charge $15-30 for a tasting. It includes a wine tour as well. (The big wineries are housed along Rue de Champagne in Epernay. Underneath the town are some 120kilometers of interconnecting caves. Quite amazing.) But, you only need one wine tour, so we decided to stay local, and visit with Daniel Etienne, who gave us a private tour. His champagnes were some of the nicest we tasted:
We took the pics after our tasting as a large group had come through for a tour. We hadn’t taken any photos the first time through, so we tagged along and grabbed a few shots during the later tour. His winery overlooked the Marne and was beautiful.
We ended up visiting a couple of more wineries over the next day or so and bought 3 bottles. We plan to bring one bottle home for the upcoming holidays. Finally, we had stayed away from the spirit that all of the wineries make; Ratafia. It is a slightly sweetened liqueur or apertif style drink. I figured it would be too sweet and didn’t opt to taste it….til the last day. Needless to say, we bought a bottle to bring home. Stuff is great! It will be nice at Xmas with the clan.
So, to sum up wine tasting: Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Aix en Provence, Cinque Terre, Marche region of Ascoli Piceno, Veneto (Venice region), Rhine Valley, North region of Germany, Champagne region. We are allowed 4 bottles back into the US (None into Utah!) So we will bring back the Ratafia, a Champagne (Etienne), an Amerone (Italy), and a Bordeaux Grand Cru. Should be a fun Xmas!
One last blog to go: Paris. Ta Ta for Now!