13 - 15 February 2010
Celebrate Valentine’s night with champagne in Champagne!
This is a special trip over Valentines Weekend, the highlight of which will be dinner in the beautiful cellars of Champagne Vilmart.
Champagne stretches from around Troyes in the south, to Reims in the north in the Marne. The vineyards here are the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs (where the white grapes are concentrated) and the Vallée de la Marne.
This weekend is based in Epernay, which has undergone a major facelift in the last year, with the Avenue de Champagne being attractively landscaped. This famous avenue is lined at street level with some of the most famous names, from Moet, to Mercier, de Castellane, de Venoge, Perrier-Jouet and Moet & Chandon. Underneath the avenue are miles and miles of cellars – though in actual fact the total miles of cellars is more in Reims, they are just more spread out! Here in Epernay all the cellars were built for the purpose of champagne, whilst in Reims several of the major houses make excellent use of the chalk cellars dug for building material by the Romans.
On this trip, you can either self-drive to the area, or if you prefer you can go by train. The advantage to you of self-driving is that it will be easier to bring your bottles back with you! Of course on our main wine touring day, we will be travelling by coach so that there is no need to worry about whose turn it is to drive after enjoying the champagnes!
We are offering a choice of two hotels, a standard chain 3* or a very pretty small manor house, which although only also rated 3* offers a higher standard of accommodation.
There will be a total of just 24 people in the party.
After making your own way to Champagne on a mid-morning channel crossing, our wine guide will meet up with you at 18.45 for the introductory comparative tasting.
As always on an A&C escorted champagne tour we set the scene on the first evening with a lively comparative tasting! Your Wine Guide will choose a selection of champagnes in order to introduce the various styles and different Houses or growers in what will be a fun and illuminating evening. No two of our tastings are alike and no two Wine Guides have the same approach to presenting them. However you will always taste a diverse range of different champagnes. Some will be to your liking and some will not. Some will be familiar to you perhaps, but others may not.
After the tasting you are free to go and explore the many restaurants in Epernay. Several of them are run by chef’s who have worked in the local Michelin rossette restaurants and set up on their own now – so offering Michelin rosette standard cuisine but at much lower prices, or there are indeed several Michelin starred restaurants in the town and the surrounding villages. We will send you our recommended restaurant list so you can make your choice in advance. As we anticipate that participants on this trip are likely to want some time to enjoy in each other’s company apart from the rest of the party, we will not be offering the option to join the wine guide this evening (as we do on all our other fully escorted champagne weekends)
Our coach and guide will meet you next morning for your transfer to our first Champagne wine visit to:
Champagne Marguet Père & Fils
Located in Ambonnay, a leading Grand Cru village in the Montagne de Reims, Marguet Champagne was founded in 1875 by Emile Marguet. Champagne Bonnerave Frères was founded in 1905 by the great-great-grandfather of Benoit Marguet-Bonnerave. Now in its fifth generation, the ‘Chef de Cave’, Benoit Marguet, continues to develop the passion for Champagne terroir. The vines of the Marguet family (villages of Verzenay, Mailly and Sillery) and of the Launois-Pertois family (villages of Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Cramant) all offer splendid Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Benoit Marguet is extremely interested in natural or organic vine growing. This is not just a personal passion; it also enhances the natural balance of the soil and because the vines grow better in this environment it produces a better flavour in the grapes! One of the special cuveés here is appropriately called Cuveé Valentine, so of course we will be tasting this! It’s actually named after one of the children rather than after the saint!
After our visit we continue to Reims, where you will have time to explore Reims and choose a cafe table to sit at, and people watch while you enjoy some local food and a glass of champagne, perhaps!
Reims, is home to many of the great names in Champagne: Krug, Roederer, Clicquot, Mumm, Taittinger and Charles Heidsieck have their cellars here. It has a long and interesting history. It was important in the Latter Roman Empire and there are several monuments still in evidence, including a Triumphal Arch, the Forum and the stone quarries or crayères which these days are used as cellars by many Champagne Houses.
The coach will then return to Epernay in time for your to relax and prepare ready for our Valentine’s gourmet dinner in the cellars of Champagne Vilmart.
One of our favourite growers is Champagne Vilmart, in Rilly-La-Montagne. Established in the 1890s Vilmart is still a family run house. They are one of the few remaining traditional producers who both ferment the wines and mature the champagnes in oak barrels and tonneaux. The family name here is appropriately Famille Champs and Vilmart also prides itself on being an organic producer, using no herbicides or chemicals on their vineyards. The Vilmart champagnes are full of richness, finesse and complexity.
The family are also extremely talented artists and the cellars are furbished with beautiful stained glass windows designed by Monsieur Champs, who also designs the classy labels for the bottles. We have a gourmet dinner here accompanied by the range of Vilmart champagnes.
Next morning we have a short stroll to the corner of the Avenue de Champagne, where we will visit Champagne Moët & Chandon to see their vast cellars and taste a glass of their consistantly good champagne.
Champagne Moët & Chandon
Claude Moët, a wine trader descended from an old family resident in the Champagne region since the 14th century, founded his house in Epernay in 1743, and decided to perpetuate the Dom Perignon legacy. His grandson, Jean-Rémy Moët, is the one who, in the 19th century, really helped the house expand by opening it up to foreign markets. Jean-Rémy Moët handed the house over to his son and his son-in-law, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon de Briailles and it became known as Moët & Chandon.
The house sells over 80% its of production to foreign markets and a Moët & Chandon cork pops somewhere in the world every single second! Their prestige cuvee is Dom Perignon who lived nearby in the abbey at Hautvilliers. He is often incorrectly cited as having ‘invented’ champagne. He was however an important monastic winemaker and did make significant contributions to perfecting the ‘methode champenoise’ through such processes as blending.
After the visit, you can stroll back to the hotel and explore more, have lunch or continue on your return journey to the UK.