Day 3 and I am itching to report to all of you my travels so far and those that lie ahead. It is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive, professional tour of France’s wine regions I have been to date. And I can hardly contain my excitement! My boss, his partner, their buddy and I are loosely following France’s more famous tour: that of cycling. As we weave in an out of the route, we will sip our way through the some of the most famous regions on earth: Champagne, Alsace, Jura, Burgundy, the Northern and the Southern Rhone. A finish in Paris will conclude a memorable couple weeks of glorious consumption: that of culture, cycling, food and, of course… wine!
The first day is always a mess. Looking back, it always feel a dream occurred. Jetlag manages to steal my soul, and I am little more than a robot, stiff-kneed and zombie-like. I meet my friends in Paris, who have just come from London and we pile in a car headed to Champagne. As I suggest a GPS rental (at the cost of the car for two weeks), they decide they have sharp enough orienteering skills to go without.
I should have known then… but I was too numb from travel to insist.
It is a sad day when four grown adults fall apart like children and resort to sand throwing when lost in the hillsides of beautiful Champagne. The ironic situation of traveling alongside the Tour de France to watch my fiancee’s team Garmin Sharp Barracuda, without I dare say… a Garmin, has been nothing short of frustrating. And so I begin this travel diary of my next 2 weeks in this wondrous country with this: get a Garmin. Fortunately, I know someone who might remedy this little mess up very soon.
Alas, between numerous bouts of getting lost, blaming one another, finding our way, then laughing about it (a bipolar bunch are we), there are some incredible visits with my favorite Champagne houses. They are not Veuve, nor Pommery, Mumms or Moet, they aren’t Taittinger nor even Bollinger. Per usual, I am after something smaller. Our focus is small growers (Recolant Manipulants) on this trip, or as we like to call it: farmer fizz. We speak to Terry Theise before this trip and his folks at Skurnik imports have set us up with 5 fantastic estates. Where the top 5 big guys in Champagne are literally responsible for over 2/3 of the entire production, these growers represent a humble 5,000 case production or so. Quality is everything. Terroir is the inspiration.
We arrive to our first lodgings: Castel Jeanson, owned by yet another grower who we are to visit tomorrow: Goutorbe. This hotel in Ay (about 30 minutes from downtown Reims?) seems to be known and loved by many, as a knowing smile erupts on the faces of everyone whom we tell we are here. The women who run it are so gracious and attentive. Their English is so superb, I feel silly even attempting my clumsy French, and the rooms are massive in comparison to most European hotels. I give it two thumbs up and thank Mr. Theise very much for this perfect recommendation.
Our first winery visit the very eveining we settle in town is Geoffroy (Jeff-wah), just next door to our lovely hotel. We step into the cellars, and immediately I feel at home when that musty smell of grapes skins and vinification greets me. The town even smells as such, walking by so many wineries along the road. We join another group of travelers here, and it is a perfect start. Their novice knowledge prompts our guide to run through basic Champagne production, giving us a crash course before moving on to more technical aspects. We learn that they use all gravity, not pumps, as well as all natural yeasts and no malolactic fermentation whatsoever. This becomes important when we realize through other estates how much this affects the style.
At the end, we taste through 4 wines: the Brut Traditional Expression, the 2006 Brut Empreinte, the 04 Extra Brut 1er Cru, and finally the rose of 100% Pinot Noir. The first–their entry level blend of 10% Chard, 55%Pinot Meunier and 35% Pinot Noir has a chalky, drying effect on the palate. It is quite serious for its place in life. The Empreinte is my favorite. Though a bit slutty and forward on the nose, offering voluptuous, nutty aromas, caramel and honey, it is too generous to turn away from–its firm acidity invites another sip with ease. Too much ease… The next, the 04, is most certainly the most complex. A day of jetlag, I was definitely appreciating the easier number before this one, but I knew that with a little work and thought, this was the hardest to break down. It was tightly wound with incredible depth and conversation. Finally, the pink was a pleasure, but my least favorite. Perhaps it came too late, as my heart was sold to the two preceding it. Nonetheless, its ample cherry fruit and dark berried bliss were nice treats for my tongue.
A dinner at a local restaurant in Epernay, and I am falling in my food. As I crawl to sleep not an hour later, I sleep for nine hours.
(stay tuned! more pics and stories to come. a few technical difficulties with the photos right now!)