Posted by: lucylastic | July 21, 2009

Living the champagne lifestyle on a cider budget!!!


Hi Everyone!

Well, freshly back for a small sojourn in Champagne with 4 of my close drinking buddies, (no, sorry, I mean discerning wine tasters) there are a number of things I have to report:

NOT all champagnes are the same – now, I knew that before and I’m sure you did too, but now I know WHY they aren’t all the same – it’s all do to with the grape mixture. There are 3 grapes used in the making of champagne – Chardonnay, a white (green) grape with white juice, Pinot Noir a red grape with white juice and Pinot Meuniere, another red grape with white juice. All the grapes MUST be grown in the designated champagne area of northern France otherwise, it’s NOT champagne – only ‘method traditionelle’ – like Cava, Prosecco, Sekt and so on. By the way, not all champagne have all the grapes in them either – it depends and it’s variable by Champagne ‘house’, more of that later.

I have long been a fan of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin – but I never knew that ‘veuve’ means ‘widow’ in French. Named after the feisty, go-getting ‘widow of Monsieur Clicquot’ and further described by her maiden name, Ponsardin – this famous Champagne house was built by the single handed determination of a 27 year old widow who decided that after losing her beloved husband to a mystery illness, aged only 30, (probably cancer, but not diagnosed or treatable in those days) she would build the business in his memory and would be faithful only to the grape – and never married again – despite many offers that increased along with her wealth, (I wonder why that was)!! The vintage ‘Grand Dame’ champagne is a single harvest, Chardonnay only champagne. All bottles of Veuve Clicquot carry a portrait of the widow on their caps.  Unfortunately, no one seems to have captured the widow’s image as a young woman – the portraits that grace the walls at Veuve Clicquot HQ are all of her as a much older woman, (she lived to be 89 – quite an achievement for a woman in the late 18th century – especially one who liked a tipple!  I also admire Mme Clicquot for NOT leaving her business empire to her feckless daughter and son-in-law, but instead leaving it to a German employee of 20 years standing who she knew would be a good bsuiness bet!  Amazingly, daughter and son-in-law continued to work as ‘ambassadors’ for the brand, (presumably with a good pay off) but couldn’t get their mitts on the main money – just as well, as son-in-law was an inveterate gambler.

I now know why I don’t like Moet and Chandon, (sorry, Moet lovers) – it’s because they use the Pinot Meuniere grape much more than most other houses – a short-lasting, honey and toasty toned grape that leaves a strange after taste, (on my tongue at least) that I find unpleasant and unpleasing to drink. Excellent caves at Moet though – all the caves we visited were 20 metres underground and stayed at a constant 10-12 degrees C all year round. All champagne grapes are grown on chalk and limestone – which means they don’t need watering and can survive both drought and wet conditions – the former because the ground retains water the latter because it only retains so much and the underlying water table has enough height to rise. ‘Moet’ is one of the most mis-pronounced champagne names – because there is an accent on the ‘e’, it’s ‘Moette’, not ‘Moay’.

Other biggie wevisited was Taittinger – not a champagne I have consumed much of, and I won’t be running to start now – it left a burning sensation on the back of my throat, (also noted by 2 or my other buddies) that I can do without – another blend containing a lot of Pinots Noir and Meuniere.

I could carry on but it’ll start to sound repetitive – visit the cave, taste the champagne, buy the champagne, drink some more. The big houses were lovely – all very corporate, (especially Veuve which even brands it’s underground lighting in pink and orange – the house colours), all very professional – but most fun were the independent growers – especially recommended is the lovely Jackie Simonet – we stopped at Jackie’s little place quite at random – in the town of Villers-Marmery, on the champagne trail – we were greeted by Jackie himself – a lovely man – grey haired, rugged, tanned, with a real sparkle in his eye and a fabulous champagne which he sells to the public for a very modest 13 Euros a bottle. Not only that, but Jackie is one of Veuve’s selected ‘special contract’ growers – so his own blend is very similar to the widow’s brew – at a fraction of the price – that’s a find if ever there was one!!! If you’re interested, Jackie is stocked by a small wine merchant in Monmouth – sadly, not at Jackie’s home grown prices – but still pretty competitive.

Another smaller house we visited was Gobillard & Fils – lovely vintage champers at under 20 Euros a bottle – we just had to buy a few – would have been rude not to!  And guess what?  Champagne doesn’t explode if you put it into your checked-in baggage – I always thought it did – but allowed myself to be convinced otherwise and risked a few bottles in the suitcase – and safe they were, (till I got them home and just had to try them out and see how they travelled) 😉

On the champagne trail is a very appropriately named village, called Bouzy – we all stopped for a photo call at that one – I’ll post some photos when I get them sent over from pals – managed to forget my own camera.

The best bit of all? Champagne really doesn’t create a hangover – all 5 of us reported being completely hangover free for the whole 5 day visit – and on a couple of days, we consumed liberally. What better recommendation could there be? Maybe not the best bit, but a treat to top lots of other treats – eating Foie Gras every day for 5 days – I know, a heart attack on a plate – but yummy scrummy!!!!!





  1. Very interesting read Lucy. I’ve never been a big fan of champagne and I don’t like Moet either (unfortunate seeing as J won a jeroboam a while ago but it doesn’t fit in the fridge!).
    I’ve always gravitated towards Taittinger but mainly because, years ago, they were very gracious and kindly travelled all the way to Devon to do a short live radio interview about champagne.

  2. We also stopped at Jackie Simonet’s champagne house by chance. I still have one of the bottles en years later. Any info on where it can be purchased?

  3. I agree wholeheartedly.
    We’re strong supporters of Jackie Simonet for its no nonsense taste and price.
    Another house we always visit is Mailly; the “blanc de noirs” is scrumptious!

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