October 7, 2008

Snooth Blog – European Vacation Part II

posted by John in Guest Bloggers, Snooth, Wine, Wine Industry

When I last left off I was doing my best to stay awake in Reims to adjust to difference in time zones. Doing my best I was able to stay up to the very late hour of 9pm. Part of me was disappointed for not having the energy to get out and see the city. However, the other part kept saying you have a full day to get through tomorrow and the rest will be greatly appreciated. That in mind, I happily fell asleep in full anticipation of the next day.

Getting to sleep the night before was easy enough. Getting up the next day was no quite so easy. Confusion set in at first … where was I and why was the bed/room I was in so small. The fog cleared and then the excitement of what was to follow surged through me. The plan was simple today. First stop was a reservation at Ruinart, then a quick visit to Veuve Cliquot, off to Epernay to visit Moet & Chandon and finally back to Paris to catch my flight to Italy for my friend’s wedding.

After a quick breakfast and check of directions it was off to the first stop of the day, Ruinart. It was a leasurely drive through the streets of

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historic Reims to an area I dubbed ‘Champagne Central’. Within a 5 mile radius you have some of the most famous names in Champagne; Veuve Clicquot, Charles Heidsieck (Piper-Heidsieck), Pommery, Taittinger, Louis Roeder and Krug. In that same radius there are numerous other “smaller” houses. My first stop was Ruinart.

ruinart propertyRuinart The house of Ruinart is one of the oldest Champagne houses in France. It was officially established

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in 1729. That precedes Moet & Chandon by 12 years. The house was founded by Nicolas

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Ruinart and his uncle, the Benedictine monk Dom Thierry Ruinart. The location of the winery is in the same place as it was founded.

Dom Runiart – It is said that Dom Ruinart’s close friend was one Dom Perignon who was also a Benedictine monk and that the two shared ideas on Champagne. Both had spent time in Paris and had come to know the value of sparkling wine.

The Ruinarts were in the textile business primarily and Champagne was second. Eventually, the textile business was abandoned and the wine side was the focus. It was around that time that the Ruinarts did something that would preserve their name among Champagne houses. They bought all the chalk mines in Reims. Some of these

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caves were sold to other Champagne houses but many were kept for storing the Ruinart wine. If fact Ruinart’s neighbor, Pommery, bought some caves from them. These days Ruinart is part of the LVMH group (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy Group) but remained in the Ruinart family until 1950 and eventually became part of Moet & Chandon and finally LVMH.

untitled.gifChampagne Caves in Reims – These chalk mines were created by the Romans around 100 AD. As the Romans spread their empire across Europe they would seek out resources that would allow them to build structures in the image of Rome. In Reims, this meant the use of chalk stone. Upon the fall of the Roman empire these mines remained and many of them as much as 34 meters (about 100 feet) below the surface. The combination of depth, humidity and material (chalk holds moisture well) make them perfect for storing wine.

Visiting Ruinart is like visiting most Champagne houses. You are given a tour of the establishment and then are given the opportunity to purchase a taste of the various offerings. Very rarely do you have a chance to taste the range and even rarer is the tasting free. The tour at Ruinart is definitely worth the time.

There is something special about Ruinart. It is the same but different. Visiting the oldest Champagne house is special. As with visiting other Champagne houses, the visit at Ruinart starts with a tour and then tasting of the wines. The tour at Ruinart is a bit different in that you visit the cellars and very little of the production area.

newer ruinart cellar oldruinartcave However, the production area is nothing special but the cellars. The tour
takes you deep below the surface into sets of interconnecting caves. These caves span 6km in length. Even in early September, the temperature changed dramatically.

The newer parts of the cellar were built in the 1700s but they connect to the older chalk mine caves made by the Romans in about 100 AD. These caves alone are worth the visit. I don’t think I have ever stepped on a site that is almost 2000 years old.

I learned a number of things that would serve me well on the rest of my visit.

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One of those things is the signs that appear on the stacks of Champagne bottles that are everywhere. The signs will have three elements:

goldenwine ruinartsign1. The top number is the location of the wine within the caves
2. The second number is the wine makers code for the blend
3. The

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third number is the number of bottles in the stack

The tour took us through a lot of the caves but there was one display that stood out for me. Ruinart is known for its blanc de blanc champagne. The wine comes in a clear bottle that allows you to see the brilliant golden color. However, in the caves where

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light is at a minimum you can’t always make this out. So Ruinart in one section of their caves have sodium based lights (so as not to damage wine) to display the brilliance of the blanc de blanc.

I didn’t see any gryropallets at Ruinart but they do use them for their “R” by Ruinart which is there introduction cuvee. Everything else is riddled by hand.
The tour ends up back where you start with a choice of wines to try. You are given a choice to try any of the wines in the range but only one wine. The choice is tough:

· R by Ruinar, their introductory cuvee
· NV Blanc de Blancs – main nonvintage wine
· NV Rose – rose nonvintage wine
· 2000 R Cuvee – vintage cuvee only available in France
· 1998 Dom Ruinart – prestige vintage cuvee
· 1998 Dom Ruinart Rose – prestige vintage rose cuvee

Some quick notes about the Ruinart wines:

· They are chardonnay heavy
· The do not use any Pinot Meunier but do use Pinot Noir
· They only use Premier Cru grapes
· Prestige wines aged 10 years for Dom Ruinart and 12 years for Dom Ruinart Rose and they are not made in every vintage.

Since I have access to everything but the Vintage R wine that is what I selected to try.

Here are my notes:
2000 Ruinart R Cuvee (4/5)
Color: Deep golden with wonderful bubbles
Aroma: Traditional yeast and dough aromas but with floral … very nice
Taste: Softer than expected acidity with doughy flavors and great finish

veuveveuve2Veuve Clicquot From Ruinart it was just a quick drive over to Veuve Clicquot to stop in and make a couple of purchases. I didn’t make an appointment for a tour at Clicquot but definitely wanted to stop by. When you arrive at Veuve, you know you are at Veuve.

The orange color is everywhere at Clicquot. It is juxtaposed against the old traditional buildings. It does have a bit of an “in your face” kind of feel but it worked for me. The people at Clicquot are very friendly and are very knowledgeable about the wines. I must admit it was a bit of a surprise for me as I fully expected the emphasis to be on style and beauty rather than knowledge.

champagne aveAfter completing my purchases of vintage Veuve it was time to drive down to Epernay and visit the largest Champagne house in the nation, Moet & Chandon. Moet & Chandon is close to the central part of Epernay. When you approach it from the north you have to basically drive through the city center, which for me was a challenge. I finally arrived, parked and made my way to their headquarters. Moet & Chandon is located on “Avenue de Champagne”.

This street is aply named as most of the major buildings on this street belong to major Champagne houses. They include well known houses like Pierre Jouet and Pol Roger and many lesser known ones (to me) like Vranken (who own many labels) and Mercier.

moetMoet & Chandon The first thing you notice about Moet & Chandon is the size. Everything about it seems bigger than other Champagne houses. In fact, Moet & Chandon have properties in both the US (Domaine Chandon) and Australia .

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The tour at Moet & Chandon is a much about the history of the company as it is about the wine. Moet & Chandon is part of the history of France being the wine of choice of Napoleon as well as the Tsars of Russia. The wine caves of Moet & Chandon have served as bomb shelters, criminal storage and wine storage. They own 1500 acres of vineyards and have an annual production of more than 2,000,000 bottles stored in more

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than 30 kms of subterranean caves.

The tour/history lesson at Moet & Chandon ended in a tasting. I chose to try both the 2000 Grand Vintage and 2000 Grand Vintage Rose.

dp2000 Grand Vintage (3.5/5)
Color: Light golden
Aroma: Traditional yeast and dough aromas but somewhat muted
Taste: Good acidity with sour green apple and doughy flavors

2000 Grand Vintage Rose (3/5)
Color: Rich salmon color
Aroma: Strawberry aroma with a touch dough
Taste: Strawberry and raspberry flavors with long finish but not my style

My day done I headed back to Paris. The rest of the trip was not wine focused, it was for a friend’s wedding in Italy, so I want comment to much on it other than to say it was a lot of fun. Okay, here is one picture from it.

johnOne thing I learned in planning this trip is that touring Champagne is not like touring wineries in California. Champagne is a more formal and draws a larger world wide audience. Appointments are required in almost every place and a significant number of Champagne houses are closed to the public. It is next to impossible to just drop in. If you do plan to visit Champagne contact the places you want to visit well in advance and if at all possible try to do so before or after the month of August. In the month of August many Europeans are on vacation and many businesses are on “skeleton” staff. Lastly, many of the prestige houses require that you get referred or are high up in the industry to even entertain the thought of a visit. Since I learned this as I was planning some of the places I would have like to have gone were not possible because they just didn’t get back to me or I wasn’t placed “well” enough in the industry. Irrespective, I had a great time and I highly recommend a trip to Champagne. I hope to return very soon.

by Philip · October 7, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Not “placed” well enough in the industry? We clearly should get you a stock of Snooth cards you can flash at people. That would either open doors, or get them slammed in your face… Either way, it’d be decisive

by HondaJohn · October 9, 2008 at 9:47 pm

hhahhahahha … Snooth membership cards? Yes!

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