“What’s your favorite Champagne?”

Budding leaves in Clos Saint-Hilaire. Billecart-Salmon's rare Blanc de Noir cuvée is produced exclusively from grapes grown in this one hectare vineyard. For each vintage, there is a limited release of 3,500 to 7,000 bottles of Clos Saint-Hilaire.

With special thanks to Jon, my brother and first traveling companion in Europe, for writing the following guest post about our memorable trip to the Champagne region of France.

When visiting Paris in April I was asked by my host, “what’s your favorite champagne?” The question confounded me. I drink plenty of California and Spanish sparkling white wine and call it champagne, and I’ve enjoyed actual French champagnes occasionally, but I didn’t think I had a favorite. I felt some pressure because I believed my answer would influence a two-day itinerary for our visit to the Champagne province. So I was struggling, what is “champagne,” what is Champagne as a place to visit, and is there a champagne sparkling wine I care enough about to claim as my favorite? This was way too much thinking about a beverage I connect with fun, light-heartedness and the best of times. I resolved that while I may not have one now, I would have a “favorite” champagne by week’s end.

Paris feels like any other big city with weekday traffic issues on a morning departure out of town. The driver was not Parisian, so we were not naturally tuned to the tempo of the commute. I was assigned navigator duties, which means I operated our Volvo’s integrated GPS unit (not user-friendly), and was responsible for sorting through the highway signs that hopefully directed us toward Champagne. I don’t know French, and none of the signs said, “Champagne this way.” Without collision or a frayed sibling relationship, my host and I successfully exited Paris and soon arrived in an amazingly different place, the French countryside. Driving through newly tilled rolling farmlands, I tried to remember F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, “France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter…”

Champagne tasting with Jérôme Lafouge of Billecart-Salmon

Navigating the A (A4) and N (N51) and D (D71) roads, and many others intentionally and unintentionally, Reims-to-Epernay and Epernay-to-Reims, we seemed to be on the mother roads of Champagne. Our goal was to start small and experience champagne houses first at the grass roots. On good advice our initial visit was at Bonnevie-Bocart, 55,000 bottles per year, within the oddly named village of Billy-Le-Grand. Origin apparently unknown? After Bonnevie-Bocart, where we were fans of the Blanc de Blancs champagne, we ate lunch nearby and drove next to the medium-sized champagne house of Billecart-Salmon at Mareuil-Sur-Ay. Slowed by indecipherable road construction detours and feeling a little hurried, I wasn’t aware of the gem we had found when we first arrived at Billecart-Salmon. Jérôme Lafouge, our Billecart-Salmon guide, greeted us as a friend would and with warmth made us welcome. For several hours he opened the house to our small group of Australians and Americans, happily sharing his knowledge about champagnes and Billecart-Salmon. By the time we surfaced from walking the cellars we were deep into the afternoon - Happy Hour – and Jérôme was now serving and teaching, with a passion. Everything we tasted seemed perfect. Jérôme, our companions, Billecart-Salmon and that moment were all perfect. For me this is what champagne does best, it sets the moment. Family, friends, new friends all become a little closer with champagne in the glass.

Recommendation, find a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé (my new “favorite”) or any other champagne for a moment with family and friends.

Billecart-Salmon (Be sure to reserve your visit in advance via Billecart-Salmon's online contact form)
40 Rue Carnot
51160 Mareuil-sur-Ay

Bottles and bottles of champagne in Billecart-Salmon's cellar

Comments

  1. That's nice that you got to see your brother. Hope you're all having a lovely time.

    I got fond of Taittinger after visiting their caves, but I don't have champagne often enough to really have a favourite. Had some nice Deutz this weekend too :) I'd like to get to visit some of the smaller houses some time, they're not that far away really.

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    1. Visiting the smaller champagne houses is a real treat. Maybe we should meet there sometime! Like you said, it's not too far from Luxembourg.

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  2. oh this post ended way too short--I hope there are more installments to come.

    Here in the States, Billecart-Salmon is highly sought after and often difficult to find. Distribution is thin and the price is approaching prohibitive, but I agree, their Rose is very fine.

    jxg

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    1. It's a shame that Billecart-Salmon is so hard to find in the States. I'm fairly sure that Jon will be on the lookout for it now that he has decided that it's his favorite champagne.

      Interestingly enough, Jérôme told us that the USA is Billecart-Salmon's top market. Since the 4 Australians that we were with kept talking about how much Billecart-Salmon they drink, I would have thought it would have been Australia!

      You would have particularly loved listening to Jérôme, who's a trained sommelier, wax lyrical about the dishes that he would pair with each champagne. He's definitely passionate about his job!

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  3. We have a new Wegman's just outside of Boston. They have the best price I have ever seen for Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne- $28.99 which is just avout what I pay in Paris. For a good American sparkling wine, they recommended Mumm Napa ut Rosé. Very good and lovely color.
    Carolyn
    Sorry for misspellings. I cannot seem to edit

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    1. Interesting that Wegman's recommended Mumm Napa Brut Rosé. That's what the salesman in the little liquor store on Newbury St suggested when we asked for his advice last summer.

      Sorry about the problems that you're having with the security settings on comments. I had to change them to avoid getting lots of spam. Thanks for persevering!

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