We started our visit on Cote de Blanc, the Chardonnay epicentre of Champagne at J L Vergnon; 1, Grand Rue, Le Mesnil-sur-Orger; T 03 26 57 53 86. Tasted grand cru champagne – Extra Brut (very dry), Brut, 2004 vintage and Confidence Brut Nature 2004 which contains barrel aged wine. Bought the Brut (€16.30), the 2004 (€21) and the Confidence (€26), all for laying down for up to 5 years.
We then went round the corner to Pierre Moncuit; 11, rue Persault-Maheu; T 03 26 57 52 65. Tasted Coulmet Brut (too soft), Moncuit-Delos Grand Cru and the 2004 vintage. The vintage was a real step up in quality. Bought the non-vintage grand cru for summer drinking (if there ever is a hot day) (€18).
Guy Charlemagne; 4, rue de la Breche d’Oger; T 03 26 57 52 98 was next on the list. Tasted the Reserve Brut (too sweet and one dimensional) and the 2005 vintage (a big step up in complexity and less sweet). Bought the vintage (€18).
We had a tour of Gosset organised for the morning. If you haven't done a tour it is worthwhile doing one; but once you've done one you've done them all. Or so we thought before the tour of Gosset. One of our party had contacts with Gosset and arranged the tour; they did us proud.
The cellar tour started where the juice is delivered from the contract growers in the vineyards. There we had something very special -tastings from tanks; you not only need contacts but also timing to achieve this. We tasted the wine from growers in a single village on the Cote de Blanc, a blended chardonnay (cloudy because only mixed the day before), a touch of pinot noir was then added to show a rose, and then we tasted the unwooded pinot noir. An amazing experience. We then followed the production process through bottle storage, disgorgement and the bottling lines.
After the cellar tour we went to the tasting room where we tasted the Gosset Rose, Reserve and Celebris blanc de blanc champagnes and received a gift of a bottle of the 20OO vintage to taste at home. One can understand the price when you see the care and attention lavished on the wines and their presentation.
In line with other top houses one can't buy wine on site so we went to the champagne shop near the roundabout at the bottom of ave de Champagne (Place Robert-Jean de Vogue). An amazing shop where you can buy almost any premium cuvee (and some groceries). On one-occasion madame found the Bollinger under a box of lettuces. We bought the Gosset Reserve (€33) and the Rose (€40).
If the champagnes of the Cote de Blanc are too dry and acidic for you then this village has the antidote. We started at Guy Charbaut; 12, rue du Pont; Mareuil-sur-Ay; T 03 26 52 60 59. Here we tasted his Selection, Reserve, Blanc de Blanc and 2002 vintage champagnes and bought 2002 vintage (€18).
Just round the corner is Marc Hebrart; 18 et 20, rue du Pont; T 03 26 52 60 75. This domaine is one of the few small producers mentioned in Robert Parker’s review of champagne and his champagnes regularly score above 90 points. We tasted the Reserve, Selection, Prestige, Blanc de Blanc and 2005 vintage champagnes. We bought the Selection (€15.40) and the 2005 vintage (€21.70).
Our favourite producer in Ay who produces lovely fresh appley champagne was unfortunately closed. But we found H Goutorbe; 9 bis, rue Jeanson; Ay; T 03 26 55 21 70. We tasted the Prestige and 2002 vintage and bought the Prestige (€16.30).
We have been trying to visit the next champagne house for years on the recommendation of a friend, but never quite made it. Marguet Pere & Fils; 1 Place Barancourt; Ambonnay; T 0326 537 861. Here we tasted a Blanc de Noirs (the only one this visit) and grand crus Reserve (€16.40) and vintage 2004 (€18.60). Most impressive – bought the latter two. Benoit Marguet’s vineyards are mostly organic. Interestingly he is investing in barrel maturation and bottling as late as possible as he believes the micro-oxidation improves the wine and makes it more robust relative to stainless steel. He is using old barrels from Bordeaux. Similarly he is going to do single vineyard wines to again improve quality. This very interesting discussion was only possible because of M Margiet’s excellent English. If only we had a reasonable command of French – must do something about that, starting Monday next week.