“Champagne!” is a joyful exclamation. No other appellation-protected product is associated with a party in the same way. It officially marks the celebration of weddings, births, boats, planes, sporting victories and defeats in all corners of the globe. Perhaps because it is the most audibly appealing wine: from the popping of the cork to the wild fizzing of the turbulent bubbles. It is almost certainly because the Champenois have protected this legend born with the coronation of Clovis, the first King of France, in the Champagne region on Christmas night in the year 496.
France’s Kings continued to be crowned in Reims up until 1825. Wine flowed like a river, but it didn’t fizz at that time. Mastering the bubbles and their preservation in bottles made of thicker glass took until the late 17th century. Armed with this magic bottle, the big champagne houses undertook to conquer the world’s elite, crossing oceans and climbing mountains.
French culture flourished during the belle époque—the golden age of champagne—and into the roaring twenties. But even in our not-so-roaring era, Champagne knows no hardship, perhaps because it is busy drowning out the din of the crisis.
“I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. I most definitely offer it when I have company. I toy with it when I have no appetite and I drink it when I am hungry. Otherwise, I never touch the stuff, unless I am thirsty.” Lily Bollinger, Director of Bollinger from 1941 to 1971
Pierre and Sophie Larmandier are among those who remind us that champagne is a regional phenomenon, above all. It is defined by the climate (here, on the northern boundary of the designated viticulture area, which touches on the côtes des blancs) and by the soil. The famous champagne chalk! The Premier and Grand Crus are cultivated in a particular type of chalk: belemnite, in which the old vines of Cramant are deeply rooted. The vine workers’ job is to not interfere: the sap carries minerals that feed the grape. The Larmadiers have opted for biodynamic cultivation enabling the grape to express this chalkiness and promote the notion of ‘terroir’, expressed particularly well by the 2006 Chardonnays with a crunchy and salty edge. A clear definition of the word ‘minerality’, which is so often misused. +33 3 26 52 13 24
The Champagne region produces almost 330 million bottles per year. Jérôme Prévost is happy if he can fill 14,000, which he labels himself. He designs them and with the help of zero marketing. He does that himself, too. He visits his 2.2 hectares of vines every day, stopping at every vine to ensure that none are forgotten. Most winemakers avoid such physical hardship. Jérôme sees it as a blessing. He doesn’t observe the vines “to understand something. I observe to be amazed.” He has always done this job, but before he delivered his harvest to a cooperative. Then he embarked upon winemaking. That was 15 years ago and he is still astounded by the process. And every year his Pinot Meunier awakens a vibrant and sincere emotion that only a rare wine can evoke. +33 3 26 03 48 60
Welcome to Aube, a county of the Champagne region. For a long time it was known as the ‘poor cousin’ of Marne county, the sole proprietor of Grand Crus. Today, Aube (which also means ‘dawn’) is stirring, and the house of Drappier is playing a key part in its awakening. In Champagne, we say ‘maison’ (house) when referring to a trading winehouse. Drappier trades grapes to winemakers, but it is also the proprietor of 90 hectares of vines, a third of which are cultivated organically. Better still, they use minimal sulphites, making the wine more expressive and the next-day headache a thing of the past! It’s just as well: Drappier think big and even offer custom-made 30 litre bottles, made from a ripe and crunchy Pinot Noir, to serve 150 guests!
+ 33 3 25 27 40 15
James Bond’s champagne of choice is also available in rosé. Once considered a drink for the ladies, this ‘pink’ drink has become a contender. Bollinger make great rosé champagne with excellent table manners, because behind its frivolous appearance, it has real substance. A true Grand Cru combined with a pinot noir from a singular parcel of land: the legendary Côte aux Enfants. Here, the 2004 vintage, which spent six long years steeping in its lees (sediment), before being disgorged by hand, is solid, accomplished, expressive and will stand up to the boldest of cuisines and the soberest of conversations… Or not, as the case may be! +33 3 26 53 33 66