Having champagne in Champagne
I just got back from a trip to the Champagne region in northern France. We visited several houses and it was very interesting to compare the giant champagne houses of to smaller vendors.
Moët & Chandon has a large building complex in Epernay, but the most impressive feature is their underground wine cellars, spanning 28 km of tunnels! We roamed the damp and chilly tunnels and stumbled upon a large barrel delivered by Napoleon himself to his good friend Moët in 1810.
Moët & Chandon is well-known across the world, but to me they feel like the champagne version of Sandemans, the giant of port wine. Both are dominating the market and make competent drinks, but not too exciting. So I was happy to discover that the much smaller family estate of P.M. Roger & Fils in the charming village of Ay was up for the challenge. The cellar master was a charmismatic fellow and to me their unprepared bottle tasted superior to the classic Brut Impérial I had at Moët & Chandon.
But the region has a lot more to offer than damp cellars. Dom Pérignon was cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey and one of the key figures behind the development of the double-fermentation process. But today the monk is more well-known for the trademark by Moët & Chandon, used for a high-end Champagne in his name. He died in 1715 and we visited his tomb in the abbey of Hautvillers, a town which proclaims itself as “the cradle of Champagne”.
We also walked among the impressive grape fields at Mutigny, on the slopes of Reims mountain. That really felt like quintessential France to me.