Delia had long wanted to have a glass of champagne in Champagne. So now seemed a good time. As it turned out it was more of a bucket than a glass, but there you go.
On the Monday at the crack of dawn (OK more like 9.30) we drove, us two and Delia’s dad (B), some 600km and 6 hours to Epernay in the heart of the Champagne region. The non-toll route was only 20 mins longer so we went that way which saved about 100€ (both ways) and also kept me awake in order to keep on route.
Arriving in Epernay after a long but pleasant journey we easily found the apartment, unloaded the car and ventured out to explore. B made a bee-line for the first chocolate store we came across where the staff gave us samples which enticed us to buy. We found a nice looking bar where we wanted to enjoy our first glass of champagne. At B’s behest it turned into a bottle and burger followed by a large cafe gourmande (a selection of smaller desserts but in this case numbering five instead of the usual three, plus coffee).
The next morning (after being reminded how noisy a town centre can be in the early hours) we again ventured out by car to check where the Reims TGV rail station was – to make sure we had no trouble getting B there on the Thursday morning bright and early. All fine – drove back and found some free parking so we could then walk around Epernay. We headed, more or less, directly to the “Avenue de Champagne” with its grand Champagne houses and the 110km of tunnels underneath, cellars for thousands of bottles.
Before the Moet et Chandon tour (where we learnt that one actually pronounces the T) we stopped at De Venoge and tried a different champage each. I had a Brut with a mozarella salad, Delia had a Blanc de Noir and roasted vegetables and B had an Extra Brut with a cheese platter. We were told about the Brut having between 6 and 12gms of sugar added after the first ferment, the extra brut between 3 and 6gms.
That evening we went out for Delia’s official birthday meal. We started with a glass of champagne. I had a warm duck liver and lobster entree followed by grilled bream and strawberry with black pepper and rose champagne sorbet. Delia had a salad ardennaise then a delicious steak followed by apple tarte-tatin, B had a salad ardennaise and then grilled bream then a dessert of pear in red wine with cinnamon ice cream.
The next day, after a special bacon and scrambled egg breakfast, we drove out to Hautvillers – the birthplace of Dom Perignon – the founder of champagne.
Back for a quick lunch of boulanger sandwiches, we had another wander around and watched the Epernay tethered balloon for a while then to a wine tasting. This was actually the most fascinating of the visits so far. We first of all tasted three champagnes each made from one of the constituent grapes: the chardonnay blanc de blanc, pinot noir and the pinot meunier. Then the “assemblage” of all three. The sommelier also talked of a variet even drier than extra brut – the “non-dosage” with less than 3gms of sugar added after the first ferment. The final two glasses were rose champagne, one made (like normal red, on macerated red grapes skins) and the second with red meunier wine blended when the sugar is added. We especially liked the first rose which was almost red and reminded us of sparkling Jacobs Creek red shiraz.