Gary’s Wine Team Member & Educator, Julie Margolis recounts a special trip to the Champagne region…
In the late 17th century, Dom Perignon—largely credited with creating champagne, famously uttered the phrase, “Come quickly. I am tasting the stars.” Fast forward 100 years, champagne is a world-renowned symbol of luxury and celebration!
On a recent trip to the Champagne region, I had the opportunity to visit several top champagne producers—some of which we carry at Gary’s Wine and Marketplace.
From the largest most famous House (Maison)* to the smallest Grower (Vigneron)* —all share a sense of pride in their history, a commitment to quality in their vineyards and cellars and a belief in a tangible point of difference versus all other champagnes.
Perhaps, thanks to Dom Perignon, all of our travel stars were aligned. Not only did the flight take off and land on time in Paris, but we rented our tiny Renault and miraculously made it to Reims in under two hours for our first morning appointment.
Champagne for breakfast? Yes, please.
Fittingly our first stop was the first Champagne House founded in the region. Dating back to 1729, Ruinart is home to the oldest and deepest chalk caves (crayères) in Champagne. Wandering the caves was an experience in and of itself—the sheer age and magnitude of my surroundings left me in awe. These massive, impressive caves were originally a source to build the city of Reims. The stones got their second life as the perfect place for the slow, cool and careful ageing of wine.
Ruinart is known for making their champagne from 100% Chardonnay grapes, the style known as Blanc de Blancs. Fermented in stainless steel, the wine is linear and pure and one of my absolute favorites of this style. They also make a bright, elegant, Rosé Champagne which tastes of peaches and raspberries made by blending a small amount of Pinot Noir into the wine. Last, we enjoyed Dom Ruinart—their prestige cuvée (top of the line) champagne, named for the family patriarch and contemporary of Dom Perignon. Powerful and complex with notes of almonds, honey and brioche, this wine would be perfect served with a full meal. We may very well have these two monks to thank for the bubbly we enjoy today, as it was Dom Ruinart who foresaw the potential of champagne and convinced his family to begin production.
Next up we visited the House of Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon on the Avenue of Champagne. This long, wide street is literally lined with the world’s most famous Champagne producers. Moet is the largest in the world and their Maison is the epitome of luxury with more marble, velvet and art than the eye can take in at once. To walk the 18 miles of underground caves aging all of the Moet and DP for the world, is to see at once the vast history, the miracle of modern management and the passionate expression of the winemakers.
Moet is a wine designed for all champagne lovers and intended to be shared and enjoyed for any occasion. And we did just that during our special lunch at the House—from the well-balanced Imperial Brut to the soon to be introduced, Grand Vintage 2012 offering up white flowers, red apples, pastry and walnuts.
If Moet is the champagne to please everyone, then Dom Perignon represents the pinnacle of the company’s production. Our visit to Dom Perignon’s Abby outside of Epernay was almost spiritual in nature. What began with a visit to the church—where the monk prayed as he tended the surrounding vineyards, ended in a sumptuous room where we enjoyed three wines. We started with the 2009 Dom Perignon which came from a particularly warm vintage and showed Myer lemon, white cherry, peach, brioche and candied ginger. This was followed by the 2005 Rosé—very floral on the nose and tasted of raspberries and blood orange with a spicy note and a mouthwatering, long finish.
Finally, we tasted the 2000 P2, a wine for which a certain amount was previously released in 2000, and then another portion, aged even longer on the lees, to create the miraculous elixir we sipped. It was mature, yet fresh, complex and rich with aromas and flavors of citrus, baked fruit, toast, honey and hay and a flinty, smoky minerality.