A champagne tour and tasting makes for the perfect Parisian experience
After a quick jaunt on the Eurostar, we arrived in Paris on a crisp but sunny afternoon to start our Nicolas Feuillatte champagne experience.
Founded 35 years ago when the now 86 year-old Parisian inherited twelve hectares of vines, the brand is ranked number one in France and third in the world. Once the champagne of choice for Jackie Kennedy and screen goddess Lauren Bacall and now sipped by George Clooney and Berenice Bejo, we knew we were in for a treat.
Our experience began at the impressive Pompideu Centre for the launch party of the latest collector’s ‘City Spirit’ champagne. Taking the escalators to Le Georges restaurant we gasped as the view got more impressive level by level on our way up to the top floor. Encompassed by a panoramic view of the city we explored the avant–garde venue. Large futuristic looking urn shaped structures dotted around the room hid different tasting bars where we sampled the various champagnes (more on that later) while admiring the amazing view of the city – to our right the Eiffel tower to our left, Notre Dame. It was a truly glamorous affair as the champagne flowed all night and cameras flashed for coveted snaps of brand ambassador and famous French actress Delphine Chanéac, and artist of the year 2012 Richard Woleck, who designed the edgy bottle sleeves.
The next day we awoke early, feeling surprisingly fresh (an added bonus of drinking high quality champagne) and jumped on the TGV from Paris’s central Gare de l’est for the easy 40 minute journey to the picturesque region of Epernay, dubbed the champagne capital of France.
Nestled amongst the rolling hills and row after row of vineyards lies the ‘Centre Vinicole’ home to the brand. Ann, our charming guide gave us a comprehensive tour of the centre explaining that the brand is a co-operative union confederating more than 5,000 grape growers and as a result has a strong familial feel. This was evident as we made our way around the factory and Ann greeted each worker by name. Walking through the factory we gazed at the enormous gleaming champagne tanks, each containing enough champagne to fill 40 million bottles, as Ann explained every stage of the champagne process from the initial hand-picking of the grapes to the lengthy blending and fermentation process to the riddling and disgorging process and the eventual ‘dressing’ of the bottles – trust the French to make the labeling of a bottle even sound glamorous! The tour had a truly intimate feel as no room was left unexplored, and the workers went about their duties, only pausing to give us a friendly smile.
Next up we met cellar master David Henault who led an informative and fun tasting session. Being somewhat of a champagne novice it was fantastic to learn what to really look for when choosing a champagne, how to identify the different flavours and even simple things like how to correctly open a bottle – don’t let the cork ‘pop’ as the shock can damage the flavour – and when pouring keep the flow as slow and as close to the glass as you can. (No more over zealous cracking and sloshing it in the glass for me!)
However, the best revealment for all us novices was the discovery that champagne can and should be drunk throughout a meal, not just used as an aperitif. Nicolas Feuillatte feels passionate about this and is one of just few champagne houses to offer a collection of grand cru champagnes aimed at delighting wine and food connoisseurs.
To further demonstrate this fact, our tour continued to Hostellerie La Briqueterie to sample the delights of their one star Michelin restaurant. Headed up by chef Michael Nizzero, who worked under Grand-chefs Michel and Alain Roux for several years, we indulged in a delicious menu. Each course was matched perfectly to different champagne. After whetting our appetite with a simple Brut – a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – the sumptuous meal began. A starter of the creamiest pan-seared foie gras on caramelised orange was accompanied with the honeyed Grand Cru Chardonnay. The richness of roasted squab was balanced with a glass of glimmering golden Grand Cru Pinot Noir. Tangy goats cheese was offset with a peppery Rose Cuvée and the sweetest praline with chocolate ganache and banana ice cream followed by petit-fours (the mystery of how French women don’t get fat deepens) was rounded off with the Palmes D’or brut vintage. Nicknamed the diva of champagnes it’s aged for a minimum of nine years. With an initial sweet aroma that give ways to a more dense bouquet of spiced and red fruit notes, the champagne has a refreshing and lingering finish. The perfect ending to an informative, decadent and fun-filled trip.
To arrange your own tour contact the team on +33 3 26 59 55 63 or visit www.feuillatte.com
Champagne tastings are also available at the Nicolas Feuillatte shop in central Paris – 254 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré , 75008 Paris. Tel: + 33 1 42 27 61 19