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