My Ongoing Blog Of Our Week In Champagne (& Paris)--9 Visits w/Pics/TNs UPDATED W/ FINAL THOUGHTS

Below will be a blog from my recent time in Champagne. I will provide as many photos and facts as I can, but ask for your forgiveness in advance if my details are not perfect. My wife joined me, being a real champ as my better half going on all the Champagne visits with me, except for the Friday. In saying that, I was taking photos, taking TNs and trying to listen as we tasted with what was most often with the domaine owner/winemaker. In the midst of all that, and on my first trip to the area, I offer this blog. I will work through a total of 9 visits, with 6 in what I will call the ‘north’, so think of the Montagne de Reims and the Valle de la Marne. And then 3 visits from the ‘south’, so think of the Aube. The two ‘areas’ are about 90 mins apart, as the Aube is really closer to Chablis then it is to Reims/Epernay. We did not have time for the Cote de Blancs, unfortunately. I made appointments for all of these visits well in advance, using email that I had written in English, then translated to French. Many of the domains speak English, some better than others, and I was able to get along OK most of the time. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to thank Greg and Scotty at Envoyer, as without them, I would have never discovered the producers that will follow in my report. All 9 of these producers sit within my own personal cellar thanks to the hard work from these guys at Envoyer. Let’s begin.

We have just returned from 15 days in France. My wife and I celebrated our 18th anniversary, spending the first 5 days in Paris, then the next 6 days in Champagne, followed by the remaining 4 days back in Paris. We used a rental car that we grabbed in Paris and then we shot off on a Sunday afternoon for Champagne to get settled in. It’s a thrill to drive in Paris for the first time, as the city seems to sprawl in all directions with pedestrians everywhere, along with intersecting and diagonally crossing streets. Of course, none of it is in English so what saved my ass in getting out of the city (and returning the car too, which was a real test of patience and navigation) was the onboard vehicle nav. god, that was a blessing to have.

During our first Paris bookend of the trip, we dined out at some of the recommended spots that I could capture from the threads in the Epicurean Exploits forum. We could not get into Septime but we were able to get into both Saturne and 6 Le Paul Bert. Below are some photos of the menus and some of the food. I won’t bore you with all of the meals so it will be just these, along with L’Assiette. The meal at Saturne was 8 courses, priced at 85E each. We also did a bottle of Chenin, as recommended by the somm. The list is deep at Saturne, mostly wines from the natural/bio camp, which I support and enjoy anyway. As for Les 6 Paul Bert, this was an a la carte menu, with a great wine list and my wife and I shared a glass of Pascal Douquet 1er, which own in my cellar, too. Les 6 Paul Bert was a great lunch, about 1/2 the price of Saturne as well, and I thought a better value. Both were excellent, and I could see the creativity in both. I’d recommend both to anyone going to the city. And finally, one more restaurant was L’Assiette, which we did with another couple from California who happened to be in the city at the same time. We ordered a bunch of things but what makes L’Assiette notable is the cassoulet. That is one helluva hearty dish that I could eat once a week. I geek for white beans (which I will explain in later in the blog when I cover Semilla, which was the best dining of our entire trip) which is such a core part of the cassoulet.
Saturne menu.jpg
Chicken at Saturne.jpg
Cod and Fava at Saturne.jpg
Watercress Foam at Saturne.jpg
Me and the Dr Mrs at Saturne.jpg
This was the Chenin wine we had at Saturne:

  • 2015 La Grapperie Le Pressoir de Saint Pierre Coteaux du Loir - France, Loire Valley, Coteaux du Loir (5/12/2018)
    The Somm picked this for us, as I asked for something comparable to a Chidaine Sec. From what I can gather about the approach to the wine, it is farmed bio/organic and nothing is added to it, meaning the winemaking approach is pretty minimalist. This started out a little rough with the first glass and then it really came together over dinner. While my wife drank just about one glass total, I polished the whole bottle off myself. When the wine had settled, this became all about acid, with line and pink grapefruit, flint and nectarine. Medium weight, nothing glossy or heavy but simply a wine that paired well with the various courses and one I was happy to finish. FWIW, despite drinking a lot of water during the meal, the alc on this must be low/well managed as it didn’t wipe me out (as say something at 14% or more could to do me).

Posted from CellarTracker
6 Paul Bert menu.jpg
Beets, Blood Orange, Broccoli and Goat Cheese at 6 Paul Bert.jpg
And the Pascal Douquet we drank:

  • NV Pascal Doquet Champagne Premier Cru Arpège Blanc de Blancs - France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru (5/12/2018)
    Distorted 03/16, dosage 4.5 g/l. 100% Chardonnay, 62% 2010 and 38% 2011. Green apple, lemon, grapefruit, yeasty and steely yet this has some richness, too. The dosage seems perfect for the parts, giving it some light custard in the palate as odd as it may sound.

Posted from CellarTracker
Cassoulet at L'Assiette.jpg
We drank a Cornas with this meal, which showed average to me. The list at L’Assiette is fair, although they had some Huet that caught my eye:

  • 2014 Domaine Courbis Cornas Champelrose - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas (5/12/2018)
    Started off a bit stinky with what seemed like reduction. This blew off after about an hour and the wine filled in, too. Decent complexity of red fruits, light game, spicy, some violets (?). Medium weighted, and quite smooth and approachable.

Posted from CellarTracker

Before we left Paris, we walked in to La Cave, which is on the second floor of a building near the Opera House. La Cave is probably the nicest, most blinged shop I was in while in France. I will say that 520 in Epernay was better, as it was nearly all Champagne that was full of so many small producers of the area. I will have photos of that in my blog later on. For now, here are a few shots from La Cave, from the 1st Growth room as I named it. I am sure some of you will enjoy these, especially Alf Jr.
1899 d'Yquem.jpg
1947 d'Yquem.jpg
La Cave--Krug Mesnil.jpg
Petrus at La Cave in Paris.jpg
Once out of Paris proper, it’s a ride east and north for about 90 mins to the northern edge of Champagne. Think Reims and Epernay as the main points on the north map. Our goal for the Sunday out was to get to a very small village in the Montagne de Reims called Rilly la Montagne, where we were going to stay for the first four nights. Within Rilly, we had reserved a room within a place called Les Bulles Doree, which is actually an extension of the small champagne house of Didier Herbert. Didier expanded out and up from the front of the domaine to add 4 rooms, creating a B&B environment that was cool and rustic. The day we arrived was cold and gloomy, as it was for the next few days thereafter. We did not taste the range at Didier Herbert because we had too much on our plate with a AM and PM domaine visit to do each day. We enjoyed the breakfast and then blew out of the B&B to get where we were going.

Rilly, along with the rest of the villages, sit along a small 2-lane road called D26, which starts at the base of the Montagne de Reims. You can drive it east from Rilly, clear through to Bouzy before you need to make some decisions (either next to the Valle de la Marne or to the Cote de Blancs). Below are some photos of Rilly that show what is pretty common for the 6-8 villages along D26 (Verzy, Verzenay, Ambonnay, etc). Small, quaint, quiet, without street lights, horns, traffic and all very clean and tightly laid out. They all essentially sit at the base of the tree line of the Montagne, wedged into the hill. It reminds me a bit of the Santa Lucia Highlands out here in California, just without the mountain heights. Once you drive through one village, within 2-3 mins, you are driving out the other side and back into the vineyards before the next village arrives 5-10 mins later. Just stunning. Below are some shots to give you some perspective.
Our lodging in Rilly la Montagne at Didier Herbert.jpg
Entering Rilly La Montagne on D26.jpg
Downtown Rilly.jpg
Looking Out to the village of Chigny-les-Roses from D26.jpg
Todd French's Second Home in Rilly la Montagne.jpg
The typical D26 directional signs.jpg
Vilmart's Tiny Street in Rilly.jpg

Frank, I love threads like this. Looking forward to following it!

Monday VILMART

Vilmart was our first full morning in Champagne, and represented our shortest commute to any of the 9 visits: about a 3 min walk. Truly this close. Out the door from our B&B, around a small corner, up another narrow street and then a quick right. BAM. We’re there.

Like in all the other villages of Champagne throughout the North and South (again, my simple terms), there can be 10, maybe 20, even more producers in a village. While not a hard and fast rule, most of these producers grow and either sell to the big houses (Tat, Moet, Veuve, etc), or they sell to the local cooperative. Think of harvesting your summer tomatoes, then taking them to a central place, dumping them off and being paid for them. You say goodbye to them and they get blended with everyone else’s tomatoes to make whatever is being made. I am oversimplifying but I believe directionally correct. Between the cooperatives and the big houses, they really have a lot of power and influence on the market, and like with many things in life, including economic classes in say places like the US and other countries, the small guy who is doing things with great care, and this is uniquely true and consistent with all of my 9 visits, these small producers are farming clean (either organic or bio), growing everything they make and doing it all themselves. This is why my intention, my purpose of these visits was to avoid the big houses, and stay small, independent and focus on those producers who are respecting the environment. I realize not everyone may agree with me, nor see this to the binary or ‘either/or’ extent as I, but I see it this way and all you need to do if you visit the area is look at the soils, the brown rows between the vines where herbicide has been sprayed. The soil is dead, which I will cover more when I do my report on Miniere, Gerbais and Vouette et Sorbee. There are some exceptions to the big houses (i.e. Cristal, for example, that is farmed clean) but the inputs to the stuff in the big house bottles is driven by both marketing to create demand and desire, as well as quantity over quality. Farm it in, blend it, sell it. 10 million bottles for Veuve? 20 million for Moet? My point, and getting back to the blog, seeing the big houses is not my focus nor the people I saw. And most certainly in my view, the big house bling and farming is not Vilmart,

Vilmart is the biggest thing in Rilly, and dare say in Montagne la Reims and perhaps arguably the top tier in Champagne. I asked several of the people who I visited a simple question: who do you like to drink from Champagne? Vilmart was mentioned several times. They are respected, the domaine under Laurent Champs is in part why it flourishes. I got to meet him briefly, which you will see below.

Like the setting of the town, Vilmart feels like history. They remain on this tiny street, in a small village with all of their production underground in the dark caves, with an old styled press. Sure, they have a labeling machine and they pack in 6 packs but the feel there, from walking through the old décor and immaculate environment, is tradition. I was so taken in by the tour, the smell of the caves, the history that I didn’t take a single note, other than the TNs from the small range we drank at the end.

I thank Steve Nordhoff for introducing me to Vilmart 3-4 years ago, as they are a big part of my own cellar. The wines are precise, and while they use a dosage level that runs in the very high end of what I like to drink in my Champagne (0-6 g/l is my preference), the Vilmart wines run 7-9 g/l and with the oak the wines see, along with the dialed-in precision of the acidity and balance, they are truly amazing wines. On top of all this, they follow the Ampelos rules, which essentially requires them to use and practice organic farming. They do not use biodynamic like some others we saw during the trip, but it is essentially clean farming. There are nuances to this topic of farming and the various definitions (AB, Demeter, etc) so I am being broad, but my focus was to go where the producers care for the land they farm and use.

The visit for us included a full tour of the entire winery, joined by 2 other visiting couples. We started with the production area of press, then we went down three flights of stairs (shown below) to the tanks below the press where the various juice ends up. Of note, look at the photo of the press that I display below, where it shows “Tailles” (which is essentially the 2nd and 3rd/final pressings), “Cuvee” (which is roughly the first 1500-2000 k/ls of press juice) and the “Lavage” (the liquid from cleaning the press). It all goes somewhere, and the hole is opened on the bottom of the press to direct it down or away. Their best cuvee as many of you know is the Coeur de Cuvee, which is the best part, the ‘heart’ of the “Cuvee” pressing.

At the end of the tour, after we tasted, I saw Laurent come through the small tasting cave and I stopped to tell him thank you and express my appreciation for his commitment to his farming, his craft and the wines he makes. He took an interest, introduced himself and we chatted for a few minutes. He was on his way into Paris to help celebrate the release of a new cuvee, made from his 2009’s vintage, a blanc de blancs 100% if I recall correctly. I don’t have the full story but it will be very limited and released in Summer. (I am sure Brad Baker can help here if he is reading this post). Before he left for Paris, we snapped a shot together and that was the end.

My TNs follow, along with some pictures of what is a small, rustic, beautiful winery that is making some of the best stuff in the region. Of note, we didn’t taste the whole range, but I got to taste the 2013 GC D’Or, which is yet to be released. It is terrific, and I also now have found a new liking for the Grand Reserve. I had not cared for that in the past but the bottle we tasted from was beautiful.

  • 2013 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Premier Cru Grand Cellier d’Or - France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru (5/14/2018)
    Well, I guess I will go first and be the first TN author. Disgorged 06/2017. 80% Chard / 20% PN. Dosage 7 g/l. This shows the structure, what I’d expect from the C d’ Or. I can sense the grip in the palate. Lemon peel, cut green apple, with a salty, mineral/chalk finish. Of the three wines we tasted today, this is for sure the most complex and coiled. Finishes with citrus peel, some honey and some fennel and lemon/lime. This ought to be a good version of the cuvee.
  • NV Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier Brut - France, Champagne (5/14/2018)
    Disgorged 12/2016. 70% Chard 30% PN. Base is 2012/13/14. Dosage 8 g/l. The wood presence begins to show in this wine for me, add a light aroma and toasty quality. Citrus, orange oil, honey and apple, showing richer than the Grand Reserve that we tasted before it, yet the spine of acidity helps to carry the richer quality. Finishes with caramel, citrus and lemon, all very refined and balanced. This showed very well.
  • NV Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grande Réserve - France, Champagne (5/14/2018)
    Disgorged 07/2017. 30% Chard / 70% PN. Dosage 9 g/l. Base is 2013 and 2014. Lime zest, zingy and tangy, white pepper grapefruit, cherry, and chalk in a long finish. I have not taken to the GR bottling in the past but this helped me see the wine in a more positive light.

Posted from CellarTracker
Vilmart's Tiny Street in Rilly.jpg
Vilmart.jpg
Vilmart (2).jpg
Vilmart's old-school 4000 kg press.jpg
The collection ring on the Vilmart press to direct the pressings.jpg
Down into the cellar at Vilmart.jpg
Yet going down further into the Vilmart belly.jpg
Vilmart bottles resting.jpg
Old Vilmart getting some rest.jpg
Coeur de Cuvee in cask.jpg
Vilmart cuvees resting on the lees.jpg
Labeling Grand Reserve.jpg
Vilmart 6-packs ready to go.jpg
Frank with Laurent Champs (Vilmart).jpg
My next post will for our visit to see Hugues Godme at GODME in Verzenay. Thank you for reading, please post comments and corrections if you have any.

Thanks a lot, Jeff. I learned so much on this trip and it far exceeded my expectations. It’s going to be a blast to kick this out over the next few weeks and so I hope that you enjoy it. There are some passionate, smart, dedicated people in the region and I consistently felt welcomed and in a few of the instances like I had known some of these winemakers for a long time. Such a gift to do these visits.

Thank you for sharing, Frank - fantastic blog. I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

Terrific intro. Look forward to reading more. Thanks for taking the time to write up your trip.

Awesome Frankie! Keep the postcards coming!

This is great Frank, thanks for doing this. [cheers.gif]

Such a wonderful time to go to Champagne!! I love these posts, buddy, keep em up!

FMIII,

you picked a great timing/season to visit. Enjoy, and keep the report coming champagne.gif

Very enjoyable!!

Congrats on the anniversary! A trip to Champagne and Paris sounds like the perfect way to celebrate. The cod with fava beans looks delicious. I think the Chenin sounds like a better match than Chianti =)

Thanks for sharing, and looking forward to your future posts. [cheers.gif]

This will be epic for bubble heads.

When my kids are old enough to to leave for a week or more, I’m following in your footsteps, Frank. I’m eagerly and jealously reading you’re report.

What do you mean “will be” [wink.gif] Epic start Frank and thanks for taking the time to do this!

Brig, if you will find your way to spend some time with me this weekend, I will open a bottle of something I have dragged back. Should we be worried about bottle shock? !!

Thank you all for the kind replies and taking an interest in what I wanted to create here. I have 8 more blog posts to do for the remaining wineries so if you want a sense of what is coming, it will be in this order:

MARGUET (along with some photos from Les Crayeres for Neal Mollen and Mr Nordhoff)
MINIERE
GODME
DETHUNE
MOUSSE
MARIE-COURTIN
GERBAIS
VOUETTE et SORBEE
then a Paris round-up

I want to bring to life so many of the producers we talk about here and the surrounding in which they farm and bring their passion to life. Thanks for staying with me along the way.

^^^ Scott, this was the epic I was referring to. :slight_smile:

THESE THREADS ARE THE BEST OF WB.COM!!

Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful trip, Frank! And Happy Anniversary! My wife and I hit 22 on June 8, I cannot match your stellar trip!

So how much was that 1899 d’Yquem!?

Thanks, Frank. Great fun to follow along with you vicariously. I agree with Robert (above).

Alf, found it. I had forgot I took the price of it. Just for you, pal. Just bill a few more hours and you’re all set.
1899 D'Yquem Price.jpg