What happens when a food-loving wine enthusiast travels to Champagne?
Spending three days in Champagne, Christianne visited several premiere grower champagne houses. Purposely bypassing big commercial champagne houses, such as Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger and Moet & Chandon, she set out in search of grand cru champagnes from celebrated but lesser-known grower champagne houses. This is her day by day guide on where to go, what to eat, and which wines to taste in Champagne.
The restaurant is located in a picture-perfect small chateau that used to be the private residence in the heart of Reims. During warmer months, one can enjoy aperitifs in the outdoor terrace overlooking the lush park setting.The serious wine program is overseen by Philippe Jamesse, who is considered to be the best champagne sommelier in France. The wine prices are surprisingly moderate. One of the most memorable bites came from a silky poached cod atop baby cauliflower and root vegetables in a shellfish reduction. This Michelin Starred restaurant exceeded her expectations.
Christianne praised her stay at Hotel Les Avisés in Avize, 30 minutes from Reims. A charming manor in the quaint village of Avize, the 10-room hotel is owned by Domaine Selosse. In the small restaurant of the hotel, the wine list heavily features Selosse champagnes, and those of Selosse’s friends.
Christianne enjoyed spending most of her time in and around Avize, a Grand Cru village, that is home to many small but renowned grower champagne houses. Grower champagne houses appealed to Christianne because they offer high quality wine and unique tastes reflecting terroir. The small intimate setting of these champagne houses allowed her to meet and taste with the winemakers and winery owners.
The first stop was Champagne Le Brun Severnay, a small family-owned champagne house in the center of Avize. Patrick Le Brun, the current generation running the winery, was affable but spoke only French. The small language barrier made for an amusing tasting with extravagant gesturing. Patrick’s style is all about freshness and not ripeness. One will never find any oak in his champagnes and he never allows his wines go through any malolactic fermentation. His top offering is the old vine “Exhilarante Vig
After tasting the full range of current releases including their old vines Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc, Patrick offered a rare 1990 old vines Blanc de Blanc from his cellar! The 25-year old champagne exhibited complex secondary flavors of an aged wine while maintaining impeccable freshness.
A short drive from Avize to the village of Mesnil was next. While Mesnil is home to many famous champagne houses, including Krug, and Pierre Peters, Christianne made her way to a smaller family-owned champagne house, JL Vergnon.
Presided by winemaker Christophe Constant, the overall style of JL Vergnon is lean with low dosage. The wines may even first appear austere, but they have length and hidden power. These wines will copious minerality and acidity are wonderful food companions. Contrasting the exact same wines with different dose, for example, Brut “Conversation” versus “Eloquence” Extra Brut, is both be fun and educational.
Christianne spent the rest of the day wandering among wine villages and soaking up the beauty of the vineyards. She stated “when people go to new places, they often feel compelled to visit the big cities. Instead, try to spend time in the countryside and smaller villages, you will begin to experience and understand the culture more. Eating and drinking have their beginnings in the wine villages.”
On her final day in Champagne, instead of navigating the busier cities en-route to the airport, Christianne headed to Le Grand Cerf for a late lunch in Montchenot. Unassuming on the outside and located on the road between Épernay and Reims, the Le Grand Cerf boasts an elegant, greenhouse-like dining room with views of an intimate garden. The one-star Michelin cuisine echoes the natural surroundings. Highlights included a medley of the freshest shellfish, including the seasonal Gilladeau oysters and prawns, in a light champagne sauce and deer or “cerf”.
Highly recommended by those in the wine trade, it came as no surprise that Le Grand Cerf’ wine list is a treasure trove of smaller grower champagnes, including the harder to find Bérêche and Jérôme Prévost.
Where to Stay
Hotel Les Avisés in Avize, 30 minutes south of Reims.
Hotel Les Crayères in Reims. This is for splurge when funds are limitless.
Best Western Hotel de la Paix in Reims. Modern rooms in the heart of Reims.
Where to Eat
Le Parc at Les Crayeres in Reims. 2-star Michelin.
Le Bocal in Reims. Seafood market in front by day, 18-seats restaurant in the back.
Restaurant at Hotel Les Avisés in Avize.
Le Grand Cerf in Montchenot. 1-star Michelin.
What to See
While most of the major champagne houses are open for drop-in visits, including weekends, all grower champagne houses require appointments in advance. However, it is always prudent to book in inquire in advance even for the larger establishments.
The Cathedral Notre Dame in Reims, a UNESCO World Heritage site where kings of France were crowned is a must.
Should you be planning on a trip to Champagne, please feel free to email us with questions. If you have previously traveled to this region and have information to share with us, you can comment right back here on our blog, on Facebook or in the store. To order the wines mentioned in this article, contact us. Not all are available in NY, but we will do our best to procure them for you. We are excited to hear your opinions!
-Photos courtesy of Christianne Pang