My love for sparkling wines has not wavered. My trip to Champagne several years ago remains one of my wine tasting highlights. Here is more information, should you decided to visit.
Champagne’s not hurting for name recognition—bubbles are near-synonymous with celebration—but the Champagne region
has somehow stayed under the radar as a touring and tasting destination. That’s especially surprising given the proximity to Paris—just under 100 miles, or about an hour’s ride on the comfy, high-speed TGV train. (Good to know for pregamers: The TGV sells wine on board and is also fine with you toting your own). Make an appointment for a tour at any one of the big houses—Veuve Cliquot, Billecart Salmon, Tattinger, or Ruinart—for a delicious descent (there will be many
caves) into wine history. Late fall is an especially good time to visit smaller producers too: Now that the grapes have been harvested, winemakers have more bandwidth to tend to tourists. Try the all-organic Champagne Rodez
or Champagne Tarlant
for a glimpse at how family-run estates make it happen. The towns themselves are also a draw: Don’t miss the famed cathedral of Reims, the half-timbered houses of Troyes, the towers of Charleville-Mezieres (where there’s also a Rimbaud Museum in the Old Mill), the fortress of Sedan, the ramparts of Langres and the canals and rivers of Châlons-en-Champagne.
I would skip Cliquot, and opt instead for Tattinger and Ruinart.
As far as tasting of sparkling wine here at home, I heartily recommend Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley. Their tasting room is just a great experience, their wine tours are short but informative, and their Wine Club is unmatched! I have been a member for over TEN years now. The Carriage House in the back is reserved for “Members Only”, you will love it!!!!
Over on the central coast, I recommend Laetitia Vineyard and Winery, just south of Arroyo Grande on Highway 101. The tasting room is comfortable, bright, and airy. Best of all, they have a really nice pet-friendly picnic area for lunch. Lexi loves it there!
Back to France: One of the main benefits of choosing a grower champagne over a more established name is to really taste the differences in terroir. With this in mind, we’ve awarded our Best Buy to Champagne Geoffroy Expression premier cru brut Champagne which we think is a really exciting find with a truly unique flavour profile.
Over the past few years, retailers have seen interest in these grower champagnes, well grow – with The Whisky Exchange (named UK Champagne & Sparkling Specialist of the Year at the 2019 Decanter Retailer Awards) seeing sales up 11 per cent vs last year.
Joanne Gould:We asked Sam Caporn, winner of the Madame Bollinger medal for excellence in tasting and knowledge, to help navigate our way through the fizz forest. She says: “First, choose one that suits your palate. NV tends to be a blend of the classic grape varieties (chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier), but some use more chardonnay – which is elegant with apple fruit – and others more pinot noir – broader with red grapes.
“You could also look for blanc de blancs styles (only white grapes) and if it doesn’t say on the bottle then do a bit of homework. It pays to be prepared.” It’s not all about the name, either. “The top brands spend a lot on marketing and have real cache but the supermarkets are doing a good job too,” she says. “Plus it’s worth checking the supermarket bottle to see if it says which champagne house made the wine.”
Here is a bargain: Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut
, just £9.99, ranked above Laurent-Perrier Brut (£38), Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Ponsardin (£35) and Moët & Chandon’s Brut Imperial Champagne (£32.50).
Sparkling wine fans have a reason to celebrate in Healdsburg. J Vineyards and Winery recently expanded its Bubble Room. The new space is stylish with soft gray, beige and cream tones, gold accents and glass bubble chandeliers.
It’s the backdrop for chef Carl Shelton’s tasting menu of five courses paired with generous pours of winemaker Nicole Hitchcock’s sparkling and varietal wines. Shelton, formerly of the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, presents a fine-dining experience that plays with flavors and textures. The dishes and wines change every six weeks.
Many other areas offer really decent sparkling wines: Italy, Spain, New Mexico, Washington, and now, even England! So, I encourage you to try them all, and tell me which ones you like the most! Kampai, bonzai, and cheers!!!!