Friday, September 5, 2014

Tasting Champagne at Krug in Reims, France

After lunch in Reims at a small sidewalk cafe where I had a fresh green salad with huge slabs of foie gras, we went to the House of Krug, which is located on the outskirts of the downtown area.  Though not an official tasting room, we were received with warm cordiality by Julie and Mylene, both in charge of Hospitality and Public Relations.

Our delegation was divided into two smaller groups and we were escorted through the cellars where we saw the barrels in which Krug ferments the base wine before transferring to stainless steel tanks to finish.  Next the blends are concocted, with usually over 100 different lots combined to create the amazing explosion of fireworks on your palate that Krug delivers.  Finally the wine is transferred to bottle where it undergoes secondary fermentation for as long as 7 years.

We passed long tunnels filled with riddling racks, because much of Krug is still hand-riddled.  The storage racks of dusty bottles, including many magnums brought sighs of longing from everyone.  We were especially impressed with the wine library that exhibited Krug Champagnes going back to the late 1800’s.

After the tour we relaxed in a salon with a glass of the Krug Grand Cuvee ($150 euros per bottle) and learned more about the story of Krug and how he started the business late in life with a focus on producing the highest quality Champagne.  We were allowed to see his diary and how he described his vision for the House.

Next we were escorted into the gardens of the chateau where four tables were set up under umbrellas to shield us from the bright sunny day.  The garden was exquisite, filled with flowers and green grass, and a perfect location for a tasting.

Mylene led us through the analysis of Krug Vintage 2003 ($200 euros) and Krug Vintage 2000 ($200 euros).  It was fascinating to taste the clear difference in these two wines, with the 2003 exhibiting strong structure, clear notes of brioche and red fruit, as well as an intriguing spice and pepper component.  The 2000 was in sharp contrast with lemon, flowers, and a dancing elegance on the tongue.

Next we tasted the Grand Cuvee again, and it was clear to everyone how the glory of the blend created a symphony of taste, whereas the single vintages were more like a smaller quartet.  The whole tasting was extremely enlightening, and were we able to understand the importance and art of blending in Champagne.

The highlight of the tasting was when Oliver Krug joined us in the garden and described his philosophy of winetasting and the meaning of Krug. He emphasized it was for enjoyment of life, and not to get hung up on all of the technical details.  However, he admitted that many loyal Krug customers still asked for information on the various vintages and percentage of varietals in the Grand Cuvee.  Therefore, they had just released a new Krug app for the IPhone as well as a bottle identification number so that customers who were interested could look up the details of their bottle. Even more fascinating was the fact that app recommended music to drink with the various cuvees.

As we departed from the House of Krug and boarded the bus, it seemed as if everyone was in a state of bemusement and bliss over such a fairytale visit.  It was definitely a day we will remember and treasure for the rest of our lives, with the birth of many new Krug ambassadors amongst us.

Visiting the Champagne Region - the CIVC and Domaine Gatinois

Today was a fairytale day filled with multiple glasses of exquisite Champagne.  Our bus departed Paris at 7am and we arrive in Epernay for a visit and tasting at the CIVC.  It was extremely informative, and we learned of the huge trademark protection issues the Champagne brand battles around the world.  This concluded with a delicious glass of 2004 Moet & Chandon.

Next we walked down the street for the mandatory photo with Dom Perignon’s statue before driving to Ay.  This small village is world-renown for it’s Grand Cru status and perfumed pinot noir.

We were honored to meet with the owner and son Louis of Domaine Gatinois, where they focus on crafting fruity but highly structured Champagnes from the pinot noir grape.  We were fascinated to learn that Louis, who appeared to be in his late twenties, is the 12th generation of the family to work at the Domaine.  We relaxed in their beautifully appointed tasting salon complete with sofas, fireplace, and a grand piano while tasting the NV Reserve Brut and NV Reserve Rose.  Both were exquisite and matched the house style perfectly – fruity yet structured.

Back on the bus, we made a short stop to walk in the vineyards outside of Ay.  Everyone marveled at the low guyot trellis systems and high-density plantings of around 9,000 vines per hectare.  We noticed the small pieces of white chalky rocks mixed in the soil, and realized it was the famous chalky soil of Champagne.

Arriving in Reims we had a couple of hour to have lunch in the many cafes, as well as to visit the famous gothic Reims Cathedral.  It was cool and dark inside, except for the magnificent stained glass windows.  Everyone was quite impressed with the unique Chagall windows, which glowed with Impressionistic splendor in the dim light of the arched ceilings.

Back in Paris – Visiting the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral

How exciting to be back in France again!  This time for a two-week wine tour with 28 of my wine business students from Sonoma State University.

Our non-stop Air France flight from San Francisco touched down in Paris right on schedule at 11:40am, and we were able to clear passport control, find our luggage and pass through customs with no problems.  Francy, our tour guide, was waiting to greet us, and ushered us onto a large comfortable tour bus.

It was a clear blue-sky day, and even though the temperature was only 63 F, the bright sunlight made it feel warmer.  Fortunately the traffic into Paris was not that bad, and we arrive at our hotel around 2pm to check in, take a quick shower, and then meet again in the lobby at 3pm.

We jumped on the metro, and after about a 30 minute ride arrived at Place de la Concorde. After many photos we proceeded through the Jardin des Tuileries with a quick stop in the park for espressos.  Eventually we reached the Louvre pyramid, and then continued walking over the Seine and to Notre Dame cathedral.

Mass was in progress when we entered the cathedral and the singing was very beautiful.  Next we stopped at a quaint restaurant and had a 3 course meal of tarte d’ onion served with a Tourraine sauvignon blanc, baked canard (duck) and potatoes with a 2010 Bordeaux Rouge AOC, and chocolate mouse.  By then it was 8:30 so most of us caught the metro back to the hotel for an early evening.

A great first day in Paris.