2000 miles in a Caterham - Day Two - Charles Heidsieck, Laurent-Perrier and The Royal Champagne

We woke up in pretty Äy, cursing the square pillows you’re seemingly always met with when in Europe. As the trip was largely spent on peachy bottoms in a Caterham, we convinced ourselves that it was a good idea to go for a run to maintain said peaches. Off we went, James in charge of navigating, a man who lives to his own clock. We were in the middle of Champagne Billecart-Salmon’s vines (champagne vines are so low down) and a combination of excitement and trepidation struck me as I had no watch on. “James, what time is it?” It was pushing an hour which meant we needed to up the pace, grab a croissant for the road and push the peddle to the metal to make it to Charles Heidsieck in time. We zoomed from Äy to Reims and into the entrance of a very beautiful garden.

 

 

We squealed in delight to be met by a red squirrel and clearly, by the squirrel’s welcoming manner, we had made it just on time. We met Mélissa Rintelman, a Consultant for the house and she took us to their very stylish tasting room to learn all about the history of this esteemed champagne house. What a story! And, to my complete delight when I said it ought to be made into a film, Mélissa told me that it already has been, with Hugh Grant playing Charlie, I’m yet to watch it but it sounds awfully good, with stress on the awful. If you’d like to read more about the story, you can find it here, on Vinepair. We were given branded wool shawls for this exploration down under was going to be a chilly one. 

Back out in the garden, we made our way to an inauspicious doorway in what looked like a bike shed. In we went and seeing the staircase to the cellars below, James and I started to regret our run. Real estate that money can’t buy, stretched beneath hydrangeas that were being very blasé about what their roots were dangling into. The space in Charles Heidsieck’s cellars was verging on de trop. They cover 8kms, around 30 metres down and they are over 2,000 years old. They are called ‘crayeres’ and they exist because a long time ago, the limestone was mined, leaving, most helpfully, the perfect conditions for aging champagne. They are so special in fact, that since 2015, the cellars at Charles Heidsieck have been inscribed on the Unesco world heritage list. Wheezing our way back up to the home of Charles and Emelie the red squirrels, it was time for a tasting. As a reminder, our first tasting was at Gosset champagne, you can read about it here, where there was ‘no malo ever’ and now we’re at Charles Heidsieck where they use malolactic fermentation on almost all of their wines.

 

 

 

Again, if tasting notes aren’t your thing, slide on down and there’s more ramblings about our next tasting and then, The Royal Champagne. 

Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs NV

Some huge depth on the nose, already showing the chalky crushed oyster shell notes. Huge amount of salinity here but lovely fatty middle. Would be so delicious with parmesan.

Charles Heidsieck Rosé Brut NV

Very elegant nose and I just love the cherry on the finish with this wine. Enormously long palate but at the same time, so delicate. Brilliant wine.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve

A real zesty lemon and chalky nose here. They don’t put any Meunier in their wines they create for ageing as they believe that it tends to age them faster and throw off the balance. This is a blend of over 150 different wines from 60 villages and even includes a drop of 1998 reserve wine. Incredible richness but supremely versatile.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésimé 2013

This year was remembered for being very cool, often a good thing in Champagne when it comes to aging potential. Lovely full-bodied wine, almost sweet on the finish, a hint of pineapple, would make the perfect aperitif.

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2007

Silky nose, very buttery, woody and I’ve written ‘but proper butter with salt not warm butter.’ It’s almost like a sparkling Burgundy, so so good.

We revisited the wines over time and the Brut Reserve was really very interesting to go back to, a funky little number. Overall, fantastic wines and the most wonderful experience, thank you so much to the Heidsieck team.

Time for lunch! The slight worry when travelling with all your luggage strapped precariously to a ‘poppers as security’ little car is that lunch is less enjoyable if you can’t see it. With this in mind, we swept around Reims and into a Peter Crawford (champagne extraordinaire and owner of Sip Champagnes) recommendation, Au Bon Manger. Caterham outside, we relaxed into this eccentric space and felt right at home. It was clear that every single person that worked at Au Bon Manger cared in equal amounts about everything we would be putting into our mouths, from the smoked salmon to the (favourite of the trip) grower champagne. James, unaware of the time as ever, ordered the roasted duck and I had the aforementioned salmon with a glass of Champagne Barrat-Masson La Jancélie Brut Nature. I have never had such extraordinary smoked salmon and the concentration of the wine was something to behold. I wanted to get stuck in and stay there all afternoon, it was just that sort of place. I let James enjoy his duck before I told him we were once again, running behind and then it was onto my first love, Laurent-Perrier.

(continued below)

 

 

We all have a go-to champagne and mine for a very long time was Laurent-Perrier. There’s a certain softness to their ‘La Cuvée’ that makes it so amicable to a number of occasions. If I had to choose a wine to drink all day, it would be this. The house is located in Tours-sur-Marne and the set-up is as pretty as the wine. Gardens stretch around the maison and as uniform as it may be, they have allowed the green to envelope the corridors, hugging the walls and leading you nicely into the old winery. The story of Laurent-Perrier is one of many in the world of champagne whereby a woman has taken the helm after a number of tragedies and made everything better. In this instance it was Mathilde Perrier who turned things around. Mathilde accidentally became in charge in 1887 and only a few years later she was brave enough to release the first ‘Grand Vin sans Sucre,’ sugar-free champagne. This was far from fashionable in France at the time, but it did suit the English market better. Due to more series of unfortunate events, the Perrier’s were not to hold onto the champagne house for another generation and in 1939, Laurent-Perrier was sold to Marie Louise Lanson de Nonancourt of the Lanson Champagne family and they have owned it ever since. Laurent-Perrier is the main company of the Laurent-Perrier Group. The other brands involved include the esteemed houses of Salon Champagne, De Castellane and Delamotte.



There is something so charming about the Laurent-Perrier set up. I am aware that the most impressive thing about the Champagne region is meant to be the whopping great chalk cellars. But… the red brick arches and quarry-tile-bright-orange floors of Laurent-Perrier’s cellars are something else. The old is also very close to the new which provides a stunning contrast, with the Grand Siècle tanks of reserve wines looking straight out of Interstellar. It is extremely clever architecture by Jean-Michel Wilmotte. We made our way up to the carpeted corridors where cosy rooms have hosted King Charles more than once. Laurent-Perrier have held a Royal Warrant since 1998. Our room was strikingly bare in comparison to the sofas we had seen on our way, not a seat in sight, a reminder to always be on time perhaps.

 

 


Back on the road following a swift tasting it was time to make our way to The Royal Champagne for the night. Having followed their Instagram account for a while, I don’t think I have ever been so excited to get to a hotel. An infinity pool looking over vines? Sign me up. We were greeted in the car park by the most friendly and helpful young men I have ever come across. They showed us in and sat us down with a glass of champagne, none of the usual stressful rigmarole of proving you’ve actually booked a room. Refreshed and relaxed we made our way along a corridor, past the spa and gym, to our room for the night. It was clear upon entering that we were to be enveloped in luxury, from the bath soaps (very important to me) to the downy pillows, everything was thoroughly well thought out. The only trouble with great hotel rooms is that they are incredibly difficult to leave…especially when you’re clocking up the hours in a coffin on wheels and there’s a button saying ‘Press for Champagne’ on the telephone…

We were booked in for a tasting with their Sommelier and I started to worry that I’d overdone the wine schedule. Might I put James off for life? Three tastings in one day might be a bit much for someone who doesn’t you know, drink like us. Despite the beckoning call from the spa as we walked by, James and I pulled ourselves together once more and made our way down to the bar to meet Antony Laviron. It was one of those instances where you’re so relieved you made the effort as it turned out to be the best tasting of the trip. “I love Champagne in the rain, it slows people down and creates more romance” says Anthony. “When it is hot, people run around everywhere and they drink faster.” And people is what, at the end of the day, Sommeliers are dealing with. “I appreciate that every single person has a very different taste and we are also dealing with a lot of people with no budget,” says Anthony. I got the impression that whatever your budget, Anthony will encourage you to drink for pure curiosity and enjoyment. In fact, I’m sure Anthony takes great pleasure in introducing the ‘no budget’ clients to some of the more unusual grower champagnes once he gets the hang of their palate. Here’s what we tried:

 

Mathilde Savoye, Blanc de Meunier Brut, NV

 

Mathilde is a young grower who is experimenting a lot with Pinot Meunier. Case in point, we tried a 100% Pinot Meunier ‘Blanc de Meunier’ from vines with an average age of around 40 years old. There are only around 700 bottles of this wine produced so very small scale. The vineyards are situated in Vallée de la Marne in Champagne, Anthony told us there are lots of rising stars in this sub-region. The wine was showing beautifully. It took a little time to warm in the glass and open up but once everything had unfolded there was what Anthony spoke of as ‘yellow plum at the end of summer.’ Perhaps the most accurate tasting note in situ that I’ve ever heard.

 

JM Sélèque, Solessence, Extra Brut, NV

 

One of Anthony’s many great statements throughout the tasting was, “When people understand texture, my job is finished.” He talked about the close relationship between acidity and texture and how you have to choose your wording depending on the wine knowledge of the client. On another note, the mouthfeel texture is what really stood out with this wine, ‘Solessence’. The bubbles erupted around your mouth, ‘not a quiet champagne’ is how Anthony described it. It is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier and the grapes come from seven villages in Champagne: Moussy, Pierry, Épernay, Mardeuil, Dizy, Boursault and Vertus. There has been partial ageing in oak barrels so there was a hint of nutty aromas which I just adore in champagne.

 

We could have stayed chatting with Anthony for the rest of the evening, settling in to grower after grower, discussing our passions, our enormous mutual appreciation of Adrien Dhondt at Dhondt-Grellet, those conversations that always end in discovery. Alas, we were booked in at The Royal, the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant, so it was a quick indulgence of the bath tub and straight out for more indulgence. Hold onto your enamel. The Royal offers a unique dining experience whereby you can carry on Champagning. Ultimately, you are in this wonderful part of the world for this special drink so it makes sense to make the most of it. We took this route and still to this day it feels like we were in some sort of parallel universe where the courses would never end. Tasting menus tread such a fine line between being food and being art and you leave having exhausted all your senses with the thrill of it all. After a slightly restless night digesting the food/art we heaved ourselves up early to make the most of our time before getting back on the road. The Royal Champagne truly is stunning in all corners, especially from the infinity pool overlooking neighbouring vines… and a swim can solve any hangover can’t it?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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