Friday, October 16th: Arrived in Paris on the start of a nine-day tour of Champagne and Burgundy. We are 13 altogether, including Greg Owen, the tour leader, and myself. A pretty sleepless night as there was a medical emergency on board and we thought they may have to turn the plane back to Gander or somewhere. Watched Mission Impossible, a mediocre Tom Cruise effort.
A smooth transition to the bus for the two-hour drive, in light rain, from Charles de Gaulle airport to Épernay. Lunched at La Banque Brasserie à Champagne, a former bank converted into a restaurant. I ordered a magnum of Champagne Collet Art Deco Brut for the table. Salade de géstiers de volaille and choucroute paysanne for me, although most of the group ordered croustillant de chèvre au miel and pavé de lieu, julienne de legumes.
Following lunch, a short bus trip to our hotel, Hostellerie La Briqueterie, a charming Relais et Châteaux property in the little town of Vinay that was once a brick works! Hence the name. Dinner at Chez Max in Épernay, a restaurant recommended by Harald Thiel and a real find. I ordered two bottles of Laborde Jouillot Rully Les Saints Jacques 2013 and Guy Sarget St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil 2013. From the priz fixe menu I ordered sautéed snails and porcini mushroom salad and pickperch with saffron and Chardonnay cream sauce, followed by an amazing selection of cheeses with a bottle of Seigneur de Fontimple Vacquéras 2013 and then the best crème brûlée I’ve ever tasted.
Saturday, October 17th: A rainy day today. First off the news when I opened my computer was that the Jays lost to Kansas City 5–0. Boo, hiss. After breakfast we drove to Hautvillers for a tour of Dom Pérignon.
The Abbey in Hautvillers
The Abbey of Hautvillers, where Dom Pérignon lived as a Benedictine monk, was built in 650, according to our guide Carmen (from Hong Kong). The earliest part that remains is a 12th-century doorway. Dom Pérignon (whose life span was the same of Louis IV, 1639–1715) is buried here, as is Dom Ruinart.
Bas relief of Dom Perignon
Dom Perignon’s tomb in the Hautvillers Abbey
After touring the abbey with its elaborately carved 18th century wood panelling, we were treated to a tasting of Dom Pérignon 1998 (smoky, toasty, iodine, white flowers and orange flavours; very winey and beautifully balanced (95)).
Dom Pérignon 1998
Then back into Épernay for lunch. Greg and I went to La Cave à Champagne, 16 rue Léon Gambetta, where I ordered a very tasty half bottle of H. Goutorbe Ay Rouge Coteaux Champenois with my prix fixe lunch of petite salade vigneronne foie de volaille lardonnes and pot au feu de tête de veau tiède vinaigrette, followed by a dessert of tarte fine aux pommes.
Claude Moët, the founder of the house, in 1743
After lunch a tour of the cellars of Moët & Chandon. At the entrance to the visitors’ section, suspended from the ceiling, is a huge chandelier made from 680 Baccarat crystal wine glasses. Below this, Moët has 28 kilometres of tunnelled cellars on three levels. Following the tour we sat down in a reception room where Napoleon was greeted by Jean-Rémy Moët in 1814. Here the resident sommelier, Jean-Nicolas Cordion, served us a glass of Dom Pérignon 2005 (a nose of honey, iodine, citrus, orange peel; ample body with flavours of apple and honey with a pencil lead note on the finish (93)). On the bus back to the hotel I felt moved to write the following verse:
It was a rainy day in Épernay; the champagne flowed like wine.
Still full from dinner but lunch was a winner
And tomorrow the sun will shine.
Dined at La Table Kobus Restaurant in Épernay. Ordered bottles of Château de Beauregard St. Veran 2013, De Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé 2013 and Château de la Bettière Juliénas 2013. I chose a dish of red lentils with ham as a starter, lamb as a main dish and lemon meringue for dessert.
Lemon meringue tarts
Sunday, October 18th: A 3-hour walking tour of Reims this morning with the knowledgeable André as our guide. He tokd us that Reims was the largest city of the Roman empire after Rome and pointed out that the front and back windows of the new trams are in the shape of a champagne glass.
Reims tram with champagne glass-shaped window
Outdoor champagne market in Reims
A grower’s champagne
We stopped at a pop-up champagne market where thirteen producers were selling their grower’s champagne by the glass and bottle from open-air stalls. We stopped for a glass of Champagne Gaston Révolte Brut before making our way to Reims Cathedral. Where French kings were crowed from the time of Clovis who was baptised here. Admired the statue of the Smiling Angel at the Chagall stained-glass windows.
The Smiling Angel at the entrance to Reims cathedral
The Chagall windows, Reims cathedral
Lunched at Le Carnot – croque madame and a glass of tired red wine. (Croque mesdames is a croque with a fried egg on top.) Then on to the premier cru village of Villedommage for a visit to Fresne Ducret, a vigneron independent. Pierre Fresne and his wife Daniella (who comes from Oakville, Ontario) farm six acres, mostly Pinot Meunier with some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pierre’s family traces back 10 generations and has not moved more than five kilometres from the ancestral village. To accompany the champagnes we tasted, Daniella had cooked a delicious pâté en croute (rabbit, pork and veal), a mushroom and cheese tart and pâté with a beetroot slice. We tasted Fresne Ducret Champagne Brut Origine, Brut Réserve and the 2007 Vintage. I bought a bottle of the vintage and the reserve. Really delicious bubblies with redcurrant and lemon flavours.
Daniella and Pierre Fresne
Daniella’s pâté en croute
Dined at the hotel’s restaurant. Their wine list offers 160 champagnes. I ordered Le Chevalier Ladoix Les Gréchons 2013 and Chantal Lescure Côte de Baune Le Clos de Topes Bozots 2013. The amuse bouche was a mousse of red pepper and carrot, followed by cod ceviche and then breast of duck, a blackcurrant and red fruit sorbet trou normand and a dessert of three chocolate mousse with mango sorbet.
Monday, October 19th: Election day back in Canada. On the road by 8:45 am heading for Dijon. A foggy drive but the sun came out as we arrived in Dijon. Walked around the city to find a restaurant and finally fixed on Esprit Bistrot O’Bareuzai, where we ordered snails and French fries with a bottle of Cave de Viré Viré Clessé 2013. Did a bit of shopping in Galeries Lafayette and the famous mustard shop, Maillé.
Frites in Dijon
Then we drove on to the Clos Vougeot for a tour of the château that dates back to the 12th century. We watched a film explaining the history of the Chevaliers du Tastevin and saw the ancient wood presses that look like instruments of war.
Clos de Vougeot
Checked into the Hotel de la Poste, where we had dinner in the dining room – ham persillé, boeuf bourgignon and pasta, with Butterfield Vin Blanc de Bourgogne 2012 and Butterfield Vin Rouge de Bourgogne 2012, followed by the cheese tray (including époisses) accompanied by a glass of Veuve Armbal Crémant de Bourgogne.
Tuesday, October 20th: After breakfast we drove to Nuits-Saint-Georges to visit Boisset’s L’Imaginarium, an exhibition and museum site that explains the process for making sparkling wine by both the champagne method and the Charmat process. The interactive displays are imaginatively put together. We learned that there are 30–35 bubbles created per second and they rise at a speed of 35 kilometres an hour! When a bubble bursts it makes the shape of a flower.
After the half-hour sound and light presentation on the history and process of winemaking in Burgundy, called Sacrée Vigne, we settled in a circular tasting room to sample the followng Crémant de Bourgogne with Marcel Combes:
- Charles de Fère Cuvée Jean Louis Brut
- Charles de Fère Brut Mérite Blanc
- Charles de Fère Brut Mérite Rosé
- Louis Bouillot Crémants:
- Perle d’Ivoire Blanc de Blancs Brut
- Perle de Nuit Blanc de Noirs Brut
- Perle de Vigne Blanc Brut
- Perle d’Aurore Rosé Brut
- Perle Rare Blanc Brut 2011
- Perle d’Or Blanc Brut 2008
- Grands Terroirs Les Trois Saints 2003
A great Cremant de Bourgogne
They also have a riddling game that assesses your proficiency and speed at riddling bottles of champagne. Next stop: Clos de la Vougeraie, where we tasted the following wines in the cellar with winemaker Pierre Vincent:
- Clos de la Vougeraie Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot 2012: spicy, mineral nose; beautifully balanced apple and citrus flavours with delicate oak tones. (92)
- Clos de la Vougeraie Pommard Les Petits Noizons 2013: bright ruby colour; spicy, black raspberry flavour with new oak notes. Still tight and firm. (90–92)
- Clos de la Vougeraie Volnay 2013: firm, tight, cherry flavour. (89–90)
- Clos de la Vougeraie Nuits-St-Georges Clos de Thorey 2013: ruby colour; floral, earthy, rhubarb and raspberry bouquet; elegant and spicy, tobacco and red fruit flavours; beautifully balanced and firmly structured. (91–92)
- Clos de la Vougeraie Clos de Vougeot 2013: elegant, vanilla oak, blackcurrant and raspberry notes; light yet full on the palate, lovely mouth-feel; lively acidity with a firm finish. (91–93)
Clos de la Vougeraie winemaker Pierre Vincent
Next stop, Jean-Claude Boisset’s Les Ursulines property in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Winemaker Grégory Patriat showed us the ultramodern new winery that is being built for next year’s harvest. Its dome-like roof is covered with a metre of earth and grass and will ultimately be planted with vines. Everyone is telling us that this is the best time to visit Burgundy, as all the vineyards have turned golden, hence La Côte d’Or.
Gregory Patriat, Jean-Claude Boisset’s winemaker
In the cellar Grégory poured the following wines before lunch in the Caveau Saint-Charles:
- Jean-Claude Boisset Meursault Limozin 2013: spicy, nutty, buttery nose; rich and full-bodied flavours of apple and lemon, beautifully balanced. (91)
- Jean-Claude Boisset Meursault Charmes 2013: anise, grapefruit nose; elegant with great length; lovely mouth-feel, fresh acidity. (92)
- Jean-Claude Boisset Nuits-St-Georges Les Chardonnieres 2013: deep ruby colour; rose petal, raspberry nose; elegant and light on the palate with a note of lead pencil on the finish. (91+)
- Jean-Claude Boisset Gevrey-Chambertin 2012: eathy, blackcurrant nose; flavours of black cherry and vanilla oak; tight and firm at the moment. Needs time. (90–92)
- Jean-Claude Boisset Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 2012: deep ruby colour; elegant, black raspberry and black cherry flavours underpinned with subtle oak flavours; great balance with a firm tannic finish. (91–92)
Venerable vintages at Les Ursurlines
Then we sat down to lunch in the cellar with Boisset’s CEO, Jean-François Curie. The menu:
Jambon persillé, sucrine et crème de moutarde
Boeuf Bourguignon et pommes vapeurs
Assiette de trois fromages
Tarte amandine aux coings confits
The wines: Jean-Claude Boisset Savigny-les-Beaune Blanc 2007 in magnum, Jean-Claude Boisset Aloxe-Corton Les Valozières 2012, Jean-Claude Boisset Morey-Saint-Denis Monts Luisants 2008 and a mystery wine served blind that turned out to be Pierre Ponnelle Bonnes Mares 1974 (102-year-old vines) which was still lively and delicious.
Next stop, Bouchard Aîné et Fils. We tasted in their 18th century cellars.
- Bouchard Aîné et Fils St. Véran 2013: easy drinking, fresh citrus and apple flavours. (88)
- Bouchard Aîné et Fils Puligny-Montrachet “Champ Gain” 2007: spicy oak, green pineapple flavour with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (89)
- Bouchard Aîné et Fils Maranges 2013 (the last village of the Côte de Beaune): simple, dry and fruity raspberry flavour, firmly structured; easy drinking. (88)
- Bouchard Aîné et Fils Pommard 2011: evident oak on the nose; dry, lean and sinewy, raspberry flavour with a firm tannic finish. (89)
- Bouchard Aîné et Fils Clos de Vougeot 2008: old style red Burgundy; a nose of leather and tobacco and cherry jam; dry red and blackcurrant flavours, velvety mouth feel and a firm finish. (91)
Greg and I ran into Moray Tawse and his daughter Robin as we were walking in search of a restaurant. He suggested we try La Maison du Colombier, which served small dishes and had a great wine list. Tiny rooms with an assortment of living-room furniture and tiny tables. Ordered glasses of Jean-Hugue & Guillaume Goissot Sauvignon de St. Bris 2012 and Leroy Bourgogone Rouge 2012. Met a woman there named Charlotte Horton who grows Pinot Noir at Castello de Pontentino in Seggiano (30 km from Montalcino).
The Ramparts of Beaune
Wednesday, October 21st: Mid-morning tour of Hospices de Beaune for the group while I stayed back at the hotel to type up my notes. Lunched at La Ciboulette with Greg Owen (pumpkin soup, pot au feu of duck with a half bottle of Domaine Roger Belland Maranges Le Fussière 2013 and crème brûlèe for dessert).
In the afternoon Greg and dropped into the Marché au Vins to taste a few wines out of their Enomatic machine. We paid 12 euros to taste 3 mL samples of Château de Marsannay Puligny-Montrachet Cuvée de Masière 2012, Château de Meursault Meursault 2008, Château de Marsannay Gevrey-Chambertin 2008 and Château de Meursault Meursault Volnay Clos des Chênes 2003. The resident sommelier came over with an open magnum of Château de Meursault Pommard Clos des Epenots 2012 and poured us both a glass (which was the best wine we tried) as we walked around the art gallery attached to the wine store.
Wines by the glass at Loiseau des Vignes
In the evening a group dinner at Loiseau des Vignes, a one-star Michelin restaurant, 31 rue Maufoux. It was the 80th birthday of one member of our group, whom we toasted with a magnum of Albert Bichot Blanc de Blancs Crémant de Bourgogne. The restaurant serves 70 wines by the glass dispensed by Enomatic machines. The menu: an amuse bouche of chickpea soup with a foam emulsion; foie gras terrine; poulet de Bresse; a selection of cheeses from a massive board and dessert, crêpe soufflé with hazel nut ice cream. The accompanying wines: Domaine Michel Viré Clessé 2012 and Anne Gros Bourgogne Rouge 2013. With the cheese course: Anne Gros et Jean-Paul Tollot Minervois La Ciaude 2010.
Poulet de Bresse
Cheese tray at Loiseau des Vignes
Crêpe soufflé at Loiseau des Vignes
Thursday, October 22nd: A morning tasting at Remoissenet Père et Fils conducted by Pascal Trimaille. A tour of the old cellars with wines dating back to 1947.
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Blanc Montagne St Désiré 2013: light straw colour; minerally, struck flint nose; lemony, green pineapple flavour; great length. (91)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet “Morgeots” 2006: creamy, caramel nose with oak spice, developing barnyard notes; dry butterscotch flavour with a soft mouth-feel. (92)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Clos du Roi 1969: ruby colour with a tawny note; smoky, tarry, raspberry and violets on the nose with a barnyard note; delicate yet powerful, very elegant with lively acidity and very much alive; a note of blackcurrants on the back taste. (93)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Les Marconnets 2000: light ruby colour; spicy, raspberry and blackcurrant nose; light on the palate; not very intense but light on the palate with a firm finish. (89)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Chevaliers de l’Arquebus 2009: ruby colour; mousey nose with an earthy, cherry and blackcurrant flavour. Rather flat (a bottle problem). (86)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Maronets 2002: ruby colour; earthy, raspberry, spicy, white pepper nose; round on the palate with sweet fruit and a firm structure; lively acidic spine; still youthful, needs time. (91–92)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Bressandes 2010: ruby colour; spicy nose of violets, raspberries and vanilla oak; elegant, soft mouth-feel, beautifully balanced. A semless wine with a firm tannic finish. (92)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beanue Grèves 2011: ruby colour; spicy, raspberry nose with floral notes; lean and sinewy on the palate, light-bodied, dry and firm with evident tannins on the finish. (88– 90)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Toussaints 2012: ruby colour; raspberry nose with hints of violets and pencil lead; elegant, dances on the palate; oak forward on the palate at the moment. Very elegant. (92–93)
- Remoissenet Père et Fils Beaune Vignes Franches 2013: ruby colour; spicy, vanilla, milk chocolate nose with notes of struck flint; soft on the palate, well balanced, raspberry flavour; fresh with ripe tannins. (92)
Pascal Trimaille in Remoissenet’s cellar, Beaune
Lunched at La Ciboulette – pumpkin soup followed by pork cheeks. The wines: Bizikot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013. Then on to Bouchard Père et Fils for a cellar tour and tasting, guided by Viviana. She told us they have 2 million bottles in their 4000 square metres of cellars. The oldest wine they have is a 1846 Meursault Charmes.
- Bouchard Père et Fils Pouilly-Fuissé 2014: straw colour; minerally, green pineapple and lemon on the nose; crisply dry, apple and pineapple flavours; lovely mouth-feel and good length. (89+)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault Genevières 2013: straw colour; minerally, lemon and apple bouquet; fresh and crisply dry, elegant, grapefruit and green apple flavours, firmly structured with understated oak. Good mouth-feel with a grapefruit pith note on the finish and a hint of oak spice. (90)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Chevalier-Montrachet 2012: pale straw colour; minerally, citrus nose with a forest floor note; well integrated oak, spicy orange and apple flavours with toasty notes; beautifully balanced with great length. (93)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Corton-Charlemagne 2012: straw colour; spicy, forest floor, vanilla oak bouquet; rih, butterscotch, green pineapple and citrus flavours; elegant, beautifully balanced ripe fruit. A seamless wine. (94)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Fleurie Villa Ponciago Cuvée Les Hauts du Puy 2013: ruby colour with violet notes; black cherry and rhubarb nose; spicy, white pepper and cherry flavour; medium-bodied, fruity, dry and firm with an earthy finish. (88+)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune du Château 2012: a nose of violets, beetroot and raspberries; medium-bodied, dry, velvety mouth-feel with a firm tannic finish. (89+)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune Grenes Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus 2012: ruby colour; vanilla oak, spicy, tobacco, cherry and raspberry on the nose; dry, elegant, beautifully balanced, firm structure with a red plum note on the finish. (90–92)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Le Corton 2012: ruby colour; violets, leather and cherry nose; mouth-filling and firmly structured; dry, fresh and lively on the palate with a tannic finish. Needs 5 years. (91–93)
- Bouchard Père et Fils Chapelle Chambertin 2012: deep ruby colour; black cherry, white pepper nose with a floral grace note and well integrated oak; mouth-filling and powerful, well-structured and seamless in the mouth with a note of cinnamon on the finish. (92– 94)
Bouchard Père et Fils coat of arms at the entrance to their cellar
Dinner at Bistro Les Cocottes, 3 Place Madeleine. Ordered escargot, steak tartare, fries and salad with a bottle of Domaine Jean Baptiste Ponsot Rully Molesme 2013.
Friday, October 23rd: After breakfast we drove up to Chablis for visit, tasting and lunch at William Fèvre. The outgoing Alain Marcuello, who runs the wine shop and is hospitality manager, showed us the cellars and conducted the tasting.
- William Fèvre Champs Royaux 2014: pale colour; light floral nose of green apples; crisply dry, soft on the palate but finishes firmly. (87+)
- William Fèvre Montmains Chablis 2013: pale straw color; minerally, smoky, white flowers and citrus nose; earthy chalky, lemon flavour with a fine mouth feel. (89)
- William Fèvre Chablis Vaillons 2013: pale straw colour; mineral, gun flint and citrus nose; apple and lemon flaovurs; round on the palate with a fresh finish. (88+)
- William Fèvre Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 2013: pale straw colour; ripe bouqut of apples and white flowers; full on the palate with more richness than the 2012; dry, apple flavour with good texture and lively acidity. (90)
- William Fèvre Chablis Vaulorent 2013: pale straw colour; chalky, minerally, white flowers and citrus nose; crisply dry and beautifully balanced. (89+)
- William Fèvre Chablis Bourgos 2013: pale straw colour; minerally, white flowers, citrus and apple bouquet; elegant, green apple flavour with a thread of minerality; full in the mouth. (91)
- William Fèvre Chablis Bourgos Côtes Bouguerots 2013: pale straw colour; minerally, citrus and floral nose; core concentration than the Bourgos; beautifully balanced, elegant and rich with great length. (92) (I bought a bottle.)
- William Fèvre Chablis Les Preuses 2013: pale straw with green reflections; minerally nose of green apples; round on the palate, earthy and firm with touch of bitterness on the finish. (90)
- William Fèvre Chablis Les Clos 2013: (William Fèvre owns 4 hectares of the 28 ha. Of Les Clos – the best vineyard in Chablis): pale straw colour with green reflections; spicy, apple and toasty nose; elegant, beautifully balanced and full on the palate. Lovely mouth-feel, a seamless wine. (93)
William Fèvre’s house
Then to lunch across the hall in Fèvre’s restaurant, Le Bistro des Grands Crus. I ordered pumpkin soup, andouillette in a mustard and cream sauce with a glass of nameless Pinot Noir.
Our final dinner was at Château de Montvillargennes in Chantilly (a 25-minute drive from Charles de Gaulle airport). Montvillargennes is the largest château hotel in France, set in a 15-acre park and built in the Norman style in the last century by the Rothschild family. Here we had a farewell dinner in a huge private room. A glass of Charles Heisieck Brut Reserve Champagne to start, then foie gras with strawberry jelly, filet steak (or guinea fowl) and citron tarte for dessert. The accompanying wines: Domaine Pellé Sancerre Croix au Garde 2013 and Guigal Saint Joseph 2012.
Château de Montvillargennes in Chantilly
Saturday, October 24th: Up at 6:30 am to pack and leave for the airport at 7:15 am, several pounds heavier myself and my luggage.