Southern Champagne and Chablis - Easter 2009

For the eleventh overseas tasting tour the Aube, the southern part of Champagne, and Chablis were the chosen destinations. It was the spring of the “credit crunch” and costs were up (mainly due to the weak pound) and numbers were down. Nevertheless 22 members and friends gathered at “Le Val-Moret” at Magnant on the 14th.April. It was good to see some newer members making their first trip and to welcome three of John Townley’s friends to the group. Our faithful transatlantic member, Tom Godwin, had flown in from Seattle.

Most people arrived in warm sunshine one brave soul went for a run; the rest sat on the terrace for a late afternoon drink. A few large splashes of rain appeared. “Don’t worry – it won’t come to anything.” A few minutes and a few claps of thunder and we were huddling under a small veranda trying to shelter from a tropical downpour. This soon gave way to hail, which settled to a depth of five or six centimetres. More members arrived, the rain and hail subsided and after drying out there was the usual Champagne reception. A dinner of local specialities followed.

The first full day started dry but dull and there was only a short drive to our first tasting at the small but high quality Champagne House “Louise Brison”. The proprietor, Francis Brulez, and his daughter Delphine, oenologist and chief winemaker, led the tour of the winery, and, because they consider their wine to be a food wine, presented a tasting with superb food accompaniments, when we went into Bar-sur-Seine lunch was hardly needed.

Then to Celles-sur-Ource and the very professional family run Marcel Vezien and more Champagne, different in style from Brison but very good. One of the reason for this visit was that it is one of the few producers to make “Rosé des Riceys”, the wine of one of the smallest and rarest appellations in France. It is a still Rosé made from Pinot Noir. It was interesting but not to everyone’s taste! What was appreciated was the lucid explanation of the rules of the Champagne appellation and the complex bureaucracy associated with wine production.

The final visit of the day was just a very short drive to the village of Buxeukil, a village dominated by the Champagne House of Moutard and the distillery of is a company making a wide range of Champagnes. The owner, François Moutard is particularly proud of his “Cuvée 6 Cépages”, a champagne which includes some permitted but rarely seen grapes-in addition to the three most usually used grapes he adds Arbane, Petit Meliser and Pinot Blanc. It is a complex wine with a superb nose and palate - wine for special occasions.

Day two started cloudy and damp. The drive to Chablis was long and the driver had difficulty in finding the village of Préhy, home of our first visit “Les Temps Perdus” the property of the redoubtable oenologue and vigneronne Clotilde Davenne. We started in the vineyard at the back of the house and had an explanation of the winegrowers year and the tending of the vines and then into the house fro a tasting of her many wines Cremant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Blanc, all four levels of Chablis, Sauvignon de St.Bris ( her pride and joy) Irancy and Rouge Côte d’Auxerre. We hope to see her in Dulwich in January.

Lunch was in Chablis. The group separated and small restaurants and bars were found. Some suffered from extremely slow service but our arrival at our first winery of the afternoon was not too delayed. This was Pascal Bouchard, housed in a very modern building in what couls be described as an industrial estate on the edge of the town -a great contrast to Clotilde’s more modest establishment. We were shown round by the son of the owners, Romain Bouchard. As well as the excellent Chablis from the family’s vineyards he has some land of his own which makes a different style of wine,

Apart from the two reds in Préhy  and a Côteaux Champenoise at Louise Brison the red wine lovers were feeling neglected, so a visit to the Domaine  de l’Abbaye de Petit Quincy at Epineul in the Tonnerois region of Burgundy was th final visit of the day Dominique Gruhier makes Chablis (and a Cremant in collaboration with Clotilde Davenne.) but the main reason for the visit was that Epineuil is probably the most northerly area for red Burgundy. The tasting was in a beautiful old cellar. Dominique was not there for the tasting: he had been with his bank manager. When he returned he took us to see the vines and at last some of us got the hang of vine pruning.

Day three was curtailed to one visit. Drappier Champgane is the nearest thing to a Grande Marque in the Aube. Set in a beautiful old house (they were established in 1808 although some of the cellars date back to the 12th. Century.) The tour of the cellars was memorable- and not only for the fact that one of our number tried to open the door of a lift between floors and we were all marooned in it for what seemed like an age, although in reality a few minutes. The tasting was in a most elegant drawing room and included some outstanding wines. We moved to Bar-sur- Aube where lunch was not easy to find.

The final night’s dinner was at the hotel. Daniel, the chef, prepared an excellent meal. We provided one of the wines, Clotilde Davenne’s Irancy. We called him out to thank him and his brigade for feeding us so well over our four days. We also applauded Catherine Marisy of the family of owners who had done so much to make our stay pleasurable.

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