Visiting the Champagne region of France is every champagne lovers dream, especially as it is only 45 minutes from Paris by train. Prior to visiting over a month ago, I was so keen to visit the region just to have the full experience of all the champagne cellars, vineyards and tasting copious amounts of different styles and brands of champagne. When asked where my top three champagne houses to visit would be, I didn’t know where to start. There are so many great champagne producers to choose from, but I mostly knew about the large and international brands. But, I knew my trip to the Champagne region with Champagne Tourism would open me up to a whole large of producers, including small, family run producers too, which was super exciting.
Most of the large champagne houses reside in Reims and Epernay which are often known as the ‘home of champagne’, but as I mentioned in my previous blog post, the grapes are grown all over the Champagne region. They are both definite must visits, if you want a to experience an eclectic mix of champagne houses but also get the opportunity to visit the cellars and vineyards.
As I wanted the full experience on my trip, I visited some of the big branded champagne houses like Mumm and Taittinger, but also some smaller producers, like Lamiable, Richard-Fliniaux, Tribaut and a well known cooperative brand, Nicolas Feuillatte. We also did some individual tastings in restaurant Au 36 in Hautvillers and one of the first Champagne Bar’s in Epernay, C Comme, which was quite the experience too. It was all these experiences that helped me develop my knowledge in Champagne and they all added some unique and interesting insights.
Reims is home to the Taittinger Champagne house, one of the house visits I was extremely excited for. On arrival, we were greeted by Taittinger Ambassador, Jean-Pierre Redont and Vitalie Taittinger, heiress of the champagne house herself. Along with Vitalie, her father and brother run the whole Taittinger operation, making it one of the biggest family run champagne businesses, quite phenomenal.
After we got over our star-struck moment, we were shown a 10-minute video of the history of the Taittinger brand, where their grapes are grown and how it became what it is today. Shortly after, Jean Pierre took us on a tour of the cellar, sharing some in-depth tips on how champagne is produced and aged in their cellars before reaching the shelves. Jean-Pierre also showed us how the cellar that extends over four kilometres, with Saint Jean Batiste, known as the guard of the cellar overlooking the ageing bottles of champagne.
Taittinger is one of the few champagne houses that still have original Crayères – cellars dug into chalk from back in the day.While there are laws on how long champagne should be aged for, Jean-Pierre mentioned that they age non-vintage champagnes for four years and vintage champagnes for seven to ten years. The longer the champagne is aged, the smaller the bubbles are and the better the champagne quality.
After our tour, we were taking to have a private tasting of a few Taittinger champagnes.
First we tried the Prestige Rosé, which is made with 15% still red wine made from the champagne grapes of Montagne de Reims and 30% Chardonnay that brings a lovely elegance to the champagne. It gives off aromas of red fruits, such as raspberries, cherries and redcurrant, which left it to be quite a crisp, fresh, and fruity champagne.
Next up, we tried Taittinger Nocturne Rosé, which is a Sec. As I mentioned in my previous post, a Sec champagne has between 17-32 grams of sugar per litre in the dosage, which causes it to be sweeter, but not too sweet either. I was a huge fan of the Sec Rosé.
Jean-Pierre left the best until last, especially as he had heard that Blanc de Blancs was my favourite. He popped open a bottle of 2007 Vintage Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blancs de Blancs. It was such a huge honour to trying such a premium vinatage champagne, with a Grand Crus status and having been aged for 11 years. It had some gorgeous citrus and floral aromas, it truly is the king of the Taittinger champagne’s in my opinion.
A Taittinger cellar tour is a must do when visiting Reims!
Another of the famous Champagne houses in Reims is La Maison Mumm. It was an amazing experience to step into the shoes those that live and breathe the Mumm champagne everyday. We were taken through to a private cinema room, where we were shown the history of Mumm champagne in a 5 minute movie, showing the passion and hard work that goes into Mumm champagne production. After our video tour, we were taken on an extensive tour with many interactive spots, where we learned more about how champagne is produced and a few methods that Mumm do differently to other champagne houses to give their own signature taste, such as fermenting their champagne in oak barrels.
At the end we were taking for a Champagne tasting, where I sampled the Cordon Rouge Brut and the Demi-Sec, which is even sweeter than a Sec, with a dosage of 45 grams of sugar per litre. I could definitely drink a glass of the Mumm Demi-Sec with dessert or sweet dishes, as the honey, peach and vanilla notes and true richness would compliment it so well.
The Cordon Rouge Brut is one of the signature champagnes produced by Mumm, showing the true expression of the house driven by the Pinot Noir grape. A spectacular champagne that has a contribution of 300 Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier base wines and is sourced from over 100 different crus before being aged in the Mumm cellars for 20 months.
The Mumm tours are fantastic and informative, so definitely one to visit if you want to learn more about champagne production and ageing.
3. Champagne Richard-Fliniaux
If I had to mention one person that I have met in my 24 years of life so far, that was so passionate about Champagne and what he does, it would be James Richard-Fliniaux. He exudes so much happiness and pride when he talks about his champagne and quite rightly so, his champagne is divine. After his father passed away a few years ago, James stepped up to support his parents existing champagne business and how shares it with his mother, as lovely mother-son run business. James’ vineyards are like no other too, based on a UNSECO world heritage site and also one of the seventeen Grand Cru locations, his champagne produce is impeccable.
James took us on a tour using his eco-friendly jeep, up through his vineyards and showed us a handful of the 30 plots of vineyards he owns. Each plot is unique, with different conditions that alters the grape characteristics, which James uses to their advantage when making his champagne. Not only that, James produces some of the most sought after red wine, made from black skinned champagne grapes and it has reached as far as Australia, where it sells for over $400 a bottle!
James’ jeep tour is one of the most talked about experiences in Aÿ, where you can have a champagne tasting experience overlooking his vineyards, or even a champagne picnic experience complete with a wicker basket. I won’t be forgetting the moments where I sipped on Richard-Fliniaux 2011 Blanc de Noirs champagne whilst overlooking the vineyards in the warm sun.
If you’re visiting Epernay, definitely stop by Aÿ too, have a tour with James and try his champagne – you will not regret it!
4. Champagne Tribaut
It isn’t everyday your Digital Marketing Vice President messages you to visit the Tribaut champagne house in Hautvillers, so how could I say no? As a champagne expert and a French citizen, I knew I would be in for a treat based on her recommendation.
Walking into Tribaut champagne house, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous views that the tasting room overlooks, it is just to die for. When I had snapped out of my daze, I was greeted by the warmest and friendly face of Madame Tribaut herself, welcoming us with open arms and encouraging us to take a seat.
Madame Tribaut asked what we’d like to try and I had already a few champagnes in mind that I wanted to try, based on recommendation. I narrowed it down to four, the Blanc De Blanc, made of 100% Chardonnay grape, which was very fruity and light, with apple and peach notes with a clean, crisp finish. The second was the 2008 Vintage Blanc de Blancs, a fruit vintage with peach, candied orange and a citric zest. The third was a special Grande Cuvée made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir with a subtle plum notes and a citric contrast. However, my favourite was the final one, the Cuvée de Réserve, a beautifully balanced champagne made with 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Meunier. It had notes of plum and candied raspberries and a refreshing touch of passionfruit, very tropical. It was so impressed, I just had to take a few bottles of the Cuvee de Réserve home with me.
A visit to the Tribaut champagne house in Hautvillers is a must, you won’t want to leave!
5. Champagne Lamiable
If you want a unique champagne experience, I would definitely suggest visiting Lamiable champagne house. As a part of a project with local architecture students, they have creating a few champagne tasting lodges around the Champagne region. One of them belongs to the wonderful Lamiable family. Before it was turned into a lodge, it was a shed that allowed the Lamiable family escape the rain and sometimes became a place to sleep if it got to dark, while tending to the vineyards.
It has been remodelled to be a champagne tasting lodge and it’s probably one of the most unique and worthwhile experiences to do when in Champagne region. Not only did we get to walk right through an entire row of vineyards to get the lodge (it’s all about the Champagne experience), we got to sip Lamiable champagne whilst overlooking the vineyards as the sun set.
I could not think of a more perfect setting to be sipping on Champagne, especially as Ophélie and her husband gave us the opportunity to try some of their finest champagne 2011 Vintage Pheerie Blanc de Blancs.
6. Nicolas Feuillatte
Nicolas Feuillatte is one of the biggest cooperative champagne houses, with over 4,500 champagne growers that collectively provide their grape produce to create Nicolas Feuillatte champagne. It is also the youngest champagne house too, having started in 1970 after grape producers had a storage issue and wanted to start their own brand of champagne. Together, they put their efforts in and with the support of successful businessman, Nicolas Feuillatte gave his name and distribution list to create a brand and support all the independent champagne grape producers.
With produce coming from a selection of crus; 11 of the 17 Grands Crus, 26 of the 42 Premiers Crus and 145 of the 260 remaining Champagne Crus, you can expect the finest grapes being used to make Nicolas Feuillatte champagne. The story of the Nicolas Feuillatte brand is quite remarkable, mixing Nicolas Feuillatte’s roots in New York, Champagne being produce in Epernay and beyond, as this divine champagne reaches many parts of the world one step at a time.
Touring the Nicolas Feuillatte champagne house is extremely informative, as they show you the complete production process, including the bottling and disgorging process that happens right before your eyes.
As a part of our experience, we also tried out their new virtual reality experience, bringing all the sensory facts you experience when drinking each of the champagnes into a an immersive, 3D experience.
We tried four different champagnes, one was a champagne that I had consumed previously and took a real liking to, the 2008 Nicolas Feuillatte Vintage Blanc de Blancs, It is a fresh champagne with great depth and boasted creamy, buttery and floral notes. After that, we tried the Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Brut with apricot and pear notes, but quite refreshing and not overly sweet, a perfect allrounder. The third champagne we tried was the Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Rosé which had redcurrant, raspberry, blueberry notes, with a hint of strawberry too. The Rosé is light, refreshing and a perfect summer drink. The last champagne we had was Nicholas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or, which is a beautiful vintage with creamy and fruity aromas of honey, tropical fruits and dried fruits which comes from perfectly ripe chardonnay grapes. It’s the perfect champagne for a special occasion!
These six experiences made my whole trip to the Champagne region worthwhile, trying some of the premium champagnes from large and small producers but most of all, each champagne is made with so much love, passion and precision, it makes you savour each sip. If you get a chance to even visit a few of these champagne houses on your travels, you will be in for a massive treat, I can assure you!
Until next time…