Clos du Mesnil
Clients tasting Ultimate Champagne 2009
The House of Bollinger
Champagne Philipponnat Clos de Goisses vineyards
4 - 8 March 2013
This is the Ultimate Champagne Tour, a culmination of Arblaster & Clarke’s 25 years of offering wine tours to Champagne. It is a unique and truly spectacular five day champagne experience exploring the Champagne region in style. We taste top cuvées and vintage champagnes from the best Champagne Houses and have meals as private guests of the top Houses. Champagne is hailed as the luxurious celebratory wine of France and this is Arblaster & Clarke’s top tour to the region, so prepare to be delighted with visits and meals at the most exclusive Houses that the tour includes.
We are extremely pleased to have Robert Joseph one of the most respected wine journalists and a founder of the International Wine Challenge to host this special tour for us. We taste top cuvées and vintage champagnes from the best Champagne Houses on the Ultimate Champagne Wine Tour with the owners and winemakers! Arblaster & Clarke’s top level tour to Champagne includes over private invitations to lunch and dinner as guests of the Houses and at our own highly-acclaimed comparative tasting.
After we have settled into our small manor-house hotel, which is owned by one of the most highly respected, small, family run houses in Champagne, Robert Joseph will host a comparative tasting of his own personal champagne favourites, augmented by one or two of our own choice which, of course, will include some of the greats. These will be from Houses that we are not visiting during the week – this may include Veuve-Clicquot’s Grande Dame, the very exclusive “boutique” producer, Salon or their “second label”, Delamotte; Cattier’s Clos du Moulin and other great champagnes from leading small Houses. After this splendid start, we visit Philipponnat in the next village, whose single vineyard cuvée de prestige, Clos des Goisses is a truly superb wine; we start the trip in style as their guests for dinner prepared by a Michelin starred restaurant after a visit to the Clos, whose steep sides reach down into the Marne canal below.
Over the next couple of days we’ll taste, in the company of Robert, our knowledgeable wine expert, a series of top cuvees from the most famous names in Champagne,
Watch the video for wine writer Robert Joseph’s thoughts on our Ultimate Champagne Tour. Robert is one of the founders of the International Wine Challenge.
Some of the Houses to be visited are listed below: (the name of one superb Reims based house is missing, they have asked us not to include their name here because they are inundated with requests that they have to turn down from inferior organisations – our ideas are so often copied, and the Houses are well aware of this).
The Champagne Houses
Champagne Philipponnat in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ is a relatively modern house, founded in 1912. Philipponnat is now owned by the Bruno Paillard group and is run by Charles Philipponnat. This has always been an underrated house offering good quality and excellent value. The house style is generally elegant and fresh, with plenty of easy-going fruit and a soft, smooth mousse. Philipponnat owns one of Champagne’s greatest vineyards the Clos des Goisses and this is also the firm’s ‘Cuvée de Prestige’. The Clos des Goisses is an intense, complex wine with strong, ripe fruit. It is capable of extremely long ageing. We hope to be received by Charles Philipponnat on the first evening for dinner, prepared for us by a Michelin starred restaurant.
Founded in 1829 by Admiral de Villermont, an important landowner, and his future son-in-law Jacques Bollinger, a native of Württemberg. This famous Champagne house in the Grand Cru village of Aÿ, has a very traditionalist image. It certainly continues to make muscular Pinot Noir-dominated wine of body, depth, vinous complexity and exceptional longevity. Since Ghislain de Montgolfier, who is a direct descendant of the founder, took over the reins in 1995, the Bollinger style has changed very slightly, and for the better. The ‘Special Cuvée’ has lost the hard, serious edge it sometimes had, replaced by a richer, more expansive character that we recognise in the ‘Grande Année’. You will be warmly welcomed at this prestigious House for a special gourmet lunch and tasting.
Champagne Henri Goutorbe in Aÿ has been known to us since 1988, when the winemaker René Goutorbe came on our Champagne makers tour to California. This leading grower-producer won the prestigious award from the French wine and gourmet guides Gault Millau “Vigneron of the Year 1996” (which is not just confined to Champagne wine-makers) and has continued to thrive ever since
Dom Perignon (Moët & Chandon)
Claude Moët, a wine trader descended from an old family resident in the Champagne region since the 14th century, founded his house in Epernay in 1743, and decided to perpetuate the Dom Perignon legacy. His grandson, Jean-Rémy Moët, is the one who, in the 19th century, really helped the house expand by opening it up to foreign markets. Jean-Rémy Moët handed the house over to his son and his son-in-law, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon de Briailles and it became known as Moët & Chandon. Moët is the largest Champagne house of all and owns a truly massive vineyard of exceptional quality. The ubiquitous non-vintage is actually a very good Champagne. (It is our impression that it has improved greatly in the past few years). Dom Perignon is quite excellent, a perfectly balanced supremely fine Champagne.
Dom Perignon lived near the cellars in the abbey at Hautvilliers, the eponymous monk lived and dedicated his work to creating the finest wines in the region. Much is made these days of how Dom Perignon did not “invent” Champagne. However, he was the first star winemaker, the first master blender and as Hugh Johnson says in his “The Story of Wine”, the first wine scientist of the modern world. We can surely forgive him for the stories that the last Abbot of Hautvillers made up in the restoration after Napoleon. We have a spectacular tasting of several vintages of their prestige cuvée, Dom Perignon. The tasting will be hosted by a winemaker, of course (not a uniformed junior member of staff as for such a superb tasting in such an illustrious setting, this would be inappropriate).
The beautiful cellars of Champagne Taittinger weave for kilometres under the city of Reims. They were carved out of the chalk in the IV Century by the Romans and used not only for a shelter for persecuted Christians but also as a crypt for Saint Nicaise Abbey. They now house the prestige Cuvée of Taittinger, ‘Comtes de Champagne’. This cuvée is made from only the top Grand Cru vineyards such as Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Mesnil-Sur-Oger, Oger, Bergères-les-Vertus & Vertus. ‘Comtes de Champagne’ wine is made purely from Chardonnay and some is aged in oak to give complexity – this top cuvee from Taittinger is only produced in years that give the best conditions.
The Billecart family has lived in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ since the 16th century. This small house always produced high-quality Champagnes of great finesse. Billecart-Salmon is particularly renowned for the delicate style of its rosé, the essence of their style has always been its meticulous production, from the double “débourbage” to its long, slow, very cool fermentation. We have watched them rise to super-star status since we first started visiting them in the late 1980s.
Jacquesson was established in 1798 and as evidence of what an important house this was, their cellars in Chalons stretched for ten kilometres of underground. Today they are based in Dizy in the Montagne de Reims and are owned by the Chiquet family. They are now a small house but working to the very highest quality. The Chiquet brothers have a quest to make the finest Champagnes that they can every year. In so doing they have abandoned the idea of making a consistent ‘non vintage’ with a ‘house style’ and now have abandoned the idea of making a house vintage or cuvée de prestige too.
Those of us who remember with affection their ‘Perfection’ NV and ‘Signature’. Vintage can now instead join them on an exciting journey to interpret each year individually and explore the terroirs of their single vineyard cuvées. The wines are entirely from the largely organic vineyards that they control, they are fermented in large oak vats, are unfiltered and are made with almost every step of the production being continually refined. Monsieur Chiquet, who has raised his Champagne to extraordinary heights, hopes to be present to show us around and explain his philosophy before giving us a fascinating tasting. This is another superb House whose fortunes Arblaster & Clarke has closely followed since the 1980s.
This Epernay house remains family owned and, until 1955, possessed no vineyards whatsoever. It currently owns 85 hectares. The non-vintage, White Foil, is an excellent example of the desired balance between the powerful Pinot Noir grape and the fresh character of the Chardonnay. Their rosé is exquisitely perfumed with strawberry, peach and raspberry, and is simply delicious. The vintages should be aged and then will show real class. Pol Roger’s prestige cuvée is the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill which shows both elegance and complexity. We have enjoyed a long association with this wonderful House dating back to 1988 and we are pleased to be invited for dinner hosted by a member of the family.
The great House of Krug in Reims is an extremely traditional producer, with all their wines being vinified in small oak casks. They claim not to make a NV Brut but rather a cuvée de Prestige – the Krug Grande Cuvée Brut, with a bottle age of 6 years minimum. Krug simply produces great wines of extra-ordinary complexity, which take time to mature. Given the fame of the brand it is surprising to discover that the production is only very limited – around half a million bottles a year. In addition to the Grande Cuvée, Krug produce a Rosé, a Vintage and a magnificent Blanc de Blancs from their walled vineyard in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.
Situated in the village of Ludes in the Montagne de Reims, this House has a small high quality production of about 100,000 bottles. Laurence Ployez, the charming daughter is now the wine maker. She is also an accomplished cook and often prepares a delicious gourmet dinner for us. Every dish is accompanied by a champagne from her range of champagnes, including her excellent non-vintage, rosé and a vintage.
Champagne has been made by Gosset since 1584, and is the oldest producer of wine in Champagne. Previously it was a Grande Marque Champagne between 1992 and 1997. Gosset is a Negociant-Manipulant and has 95% of it’s vineyards on the Crus scale, with grapes from the Premier and Grand Crus villages of the Marne. Champagne Gosset retain traditional shaped bottles with a little cask fermentation used on Grande Reserve.