One of my closest friends in the whole wide world, Sarah Gaeke, who resides in one of my favorite places in the whole wide world, Austin Texas, is spending a few weeks in Italy over the Summer with her expat Mom and Dad (Kitty and Dwaine are totally awesome!) So Sarah stopped by for a visit and joined me on a Champagne adventure. We spent two days and one night in Reims, the 6th and 7th of September. We went on 5 cellar tours and tastings, hitting up Mumm, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Pommery, Ruinart and Taittinger.
As one might imagine Sarah and I had an amazing weekend, sipping on bubblies. Reims, a city of about 250,000, is beautiful, with a night life supported by many local universities, although we were too tired by the end of each day to take advantage.
Mumm cellar tour and tasting…
NV Mumm de Cramant blanc de blancs: yeast, citrus, lemon, flowers
NV Grand Cru: toast, round, nuts, vanilla, flowers
NV Demi Sec: sweet and citrusy
NV Rosé: strawberry, floral, spices
Conclusion: The blanc de blancs was great but the Grand Cru totally stole the show. It stood out from the rest, both in shear uniqueness and a very compelling nutty complexity.
Anecdote: Very nice tour guide with an Emo haircut. And thanks to the very friendly Aussie couple we ran into during the tour, we made it to the next Champagne house in time. They were in the midst of their 5-week vacation throughout Europe and were kind enough to offer to drive us to the next visit.
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin cellar tour and tasting…
NV Brut: citric, bitter, grapefruit, lemon
1998 Grande Dame: creamy, citric, tropical, vanilla
Conclusion: Sarah loved the Grande Dame. It was one of her favorite Champagnes of the trip. I certainly enjoyed it as well. Very refreshing.
Anecdote: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, the widow of the original founder, is iconic within the Champagne world, and was the first women to earn the respect of her male counterparts within the region. There was a weird Spanish speaking dude that seemed to be stalking us throughout the day. He was very annoying, posing all kinds of random stupid questions to the tour guides and complaining about the tasting selection, and well he was just an overall weird guy.
Pommery cellar tour and tasting…
NV Cuvee Louise: creamy, minerals, lemon, baked bread
NV Brut Royal: citric
Conclusion: I really enjoyed the Cuvee Louise, ranking it within the second tier of the Champagnes I tasted throughout the weekend. 1st tier = unforgettable, 2nd = amazing, 3rd = great. The great thing about Champagne is that there’s no such thing as bad Champagne. Only great, greater, and greatest. Essentially the quality is regulated by French law and the quite complex and laborious method champagnois.
Anecdote: The tour was very circus and Las Vegas like. There was an actual modern art exhibit incorporated within the Champagne house and cellars. I loved the Rock ‘n Roll birds exhibit. Additionally, our tour guide was quite odd and interesting. A very dry, sarcastic, sometimes disturbing personality. But for me it added quite nicely to the uniqueness of the whole Pommery experience, which many people find to be too unconventional.
Ruinart cellar tour and tasting…
NV Blanc de Blancs: citric, white fruit, flowers
NV R de Ruinart: apple, tropical, pear
1998 Dom Ruinart: creamy, citric peal
NV Ruinart Rose: red fruits, strawberry
1996 Dom Ruinart Rose: spice, earth, strawberry, macerated red fruit, honey, mocha, coffee
Conclusion: The entire selection was amazing, no question. However, the vintage rose stole the show, easily winning the gold medal of the entire Champagne trip. The complexity and personality were stunning, with fruitiness and earthiness in perfect balance.
Anecdote: The young tour guide, from Belgian, was great. And there were just 3 of us. Sarah, an Aussie our age, and I. Apart from the cellars being absolutely beautiful, in fact considered to be the most beautiful and historically important of all of Reims, we got a total hook up at the end. The three of us had each paid 26 euros for the tour and a single tasting (one flute); however, the Aussie dude suggested that we each pick a separate champagne so that we could try all 3. Then the tour guide said that as long as we kept our mouths shut, she’d hook us up with a complete tasting (one flute) of all 5 available bottlings. HOLY SHIT! It was awesome!
Afterwards the tour guide suggested that we eat dinner at Le Boulingrin, which ended up being an institution in itself. Apparently the most popular traditional French food restaurant in Reims. It was great. I had calf’s head stew! And the conversation with the Aussie was very interesting. He new and cared A LOT about wine and was a server by profession for a very fancy restaurant in Melbourne (I think Melbourne). Anyways, free of charge, he was lucky enough to taste throughout the years bottles ranging in price from $7,000 to $15,000 dollars, including a 1921 D’Yquem.
Taittinger cellar tour and tasting…
NV Brut Reserve: flowers, bread, round, tropical, vanilla
Conclusion: I was very disappointed since the Comtes de Champagne bottling wasn’t available for tasting; however, on the other hand the Brut Reserve was very impressive, ranking within my 2nd tier list of amazing Champagnes.
Anecdote: On Sunday, before catching the train, thanks to the recommendation of James, my Aussie classmate at Sorbonne, we watched “The Castle”, a very Aussie and very uniquely funny film from the 90s. “It’s just the vibe…” hahaha.