“Champagne is the only wine that enhances a woman’s beauty.”
Madame Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV. (1721 – 1764).
Last weekend, I was drunkenly bumbling around Epernays Avenue De Champagne, dubbed ‘the most drinkable street in the world’, visiting some of the most prestigious champagne houses, Moet and Chandon and Mercier. It’s a hard life. Epernay, in North Eastern France, is a pretty little town surrounded by sweeping vineyards, where all of the worlds champagne is produced. If the grapes are harvested outside of this region, it doesn’t make the champagne cut.
Moet and Chandon
A tour to the cellars of one of the most well known and widely loved champagnes, Moet and Chandon, will cost you from 15 Euros with one tasting to 28 Euros with two vintage tastings. The Moet and Chandon Champagne cellar is built around a world of glamour, elegance and luxury and their principal of promoting ‘excellence from grape to glass’ is brought home in every single part of their tour. There was a lot of love for Scarlett Johannson, their ‘muse’, with the tour beginning with an extremely cheesey but clearly high budget movie of her prancing about in the vineyards (that unfortunately you don’t get to see), and finishing with tasting served in front of huge posters of her popping champagne bottles from her hips! Nonetheless, the tour was really interesting and the tour guides and someliers charming, well informed and immaculately dressed.
We went for the ‘Grand Vintage’ tour, with 1 flute of Grand Vintage 2002 and 1 flute of Grand Vintage 2002 Rose. In our excitement, we still thought the Grand Vintage 2002 was full of pears, apricots, flowers and peppery spice, whilst 2002 Rose tasted of raspberry and liquorice. It wasn’t like Summery afternoon fizz, but was deeper, rich and complex.
There are two things that make the Mercier tour so fabulous. Firstly, the history of Mercier champagne is incredible, and secondly you get to descend to the cellar via a disney-esq Mercier themed lift from which you view a diarama of the town and models of workers riddling as the sun rises. There were a few giggles as the some of the tour group compared them to Umpa-Lumpas but overall, it was a lighthearted way to start the tour. Once in the cellar you board a laser-guided train that takes you through the caverns. Rather than a person all the information is delivered through a hand-held speaker that looks like a mobile phone from the 1990s, it was interesting, but did mean there was no-one to ask questions to. The Mercier cellars are the longest in Epernay and some of the best decorated, many of the walls have carvings depicting the monks of the early champagne days as well as one of the “Champagne Floozy”, a short-lived voluptuous mascot for the brand who was deemed too racy by the general public and relegated to the cellars.
Mercier champagne was founded mid 1800s, but expanded rapidly in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s after a strategy of radical marketing based on big, bold events was put into place. In 1871, Mercier himself decided to build an authentic underground town. “Count in kilometres, not metres”, were his instructions to the architect in charge of the project. His aim was to connect this ‘town’ to the Paris-Strasbourg railway line, not only to ease the excavation of his champagne, but to make the cellars more accessible to visitors. Mercier then spent twenty years building and perfecting a 200,000 bottle capacity wine cask, the biggest in the world, which he dubbed the ‘Catherdral of Champagne’. When completed, it took him 8 days and 8 nights to transport the barrel, filled with vintage champagne, to Paris by oxen and horse to take part in the Universal Exhibition. It came second, beaten only by the Eiffel Tower! It’s on display in the entrance and worth a visit even just to see that.
Cuvee Eugene Mercier: Golden yellow in colour with apple, cinnamon and vanilla.
Brut Rosee: Pink with almost coppery tones and aromas of fruits of the forest.
Cuvee Vendange 2006: Absolutely delicious (so good, we had to buy a bottle for 32 Euros), Full bodied, candied fruits and mild spice.
If you’re looking for a weekend break this summer I’d really recommend it, hopping across the ferry and driving to the Champange region was quick and cheap, and there’s a perfect amount of attractions to keep you entertained for two or three days solid.