Hello, everyone! Well, here’s a question for you. Is there a better way of spending your day than tasting Champagne? Discovering the unique aromas of a barrel room? Enjoying a picnic in a French manicured garden? If there is, I certainly don’t know what it is.
Last July I was invited to visit the prominent Champagne house Veuve Clicquot, and I absolutely loved it. I learned so much and had such a marvelous time that Champagne has risen to the top spots of my favorite French destinations of all time. Here’s how my afternoon went.
REIMS, A MAGICAL CITY
It all starts in the beautiful city of Reims, which is worthy of the visit itself. From the awe-inspiring cathedral where king and kings were crowned for centuries, and the breathtaking Palace of Tau beside it to the colorful Musee des Beaux-Arts that guards 500 years of pictorial art. The city is lovely, but you know you’re here for the Champagne houses.
The prestigious Veuve Clicquot Champagne house, made famous for the entrepreneurial spirit of the renowned widow, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot, is one of the most prominent estates in Champagne. It played not only a vital role in the region’s history, it’s still a leading house in both tradition and innovation.
Although Veuve Clicquot offers tours to walk the vineyards, we visited the cellars instead, where the magic happens. This is where Champagne ages to develop all those biscuity, nutty and fruity flavors we love, sometimes for more than a decade! The management arranged us a tour with a private guide Luigi who clearly lived and breathed Veuve Clicquot champagne — he knew the answer to anything and everything you could ever ask about.
We’re talking about 24 kilometers of intricate tunnels, all 20 meters underground. Here the humidity and temperature are perfect for aging Champagne.
Understanding the labor-intensive process that makes every bottle of Champagne special, from grape to bottle, really connects you with Champagne and everyone behind it.
In 1816 Madame Clicquot invented the riddling method for gradually shaking down the sendiment, formed by yeast during the maturation process. Today it's all mechanized, but the bigger bottles are still riddled by hand, allowing the yeast to settle to the neck by slowly turning the bottle upside down in precise movements. Skilled riddlers can turn between 45,000 and 55,000 bottles a day.
One of the things Madame Clicquot did was honor long time workers with plaques in the craters with their names, dates of service, and jobs. Madame Gerard worked for the company for 44 years!
Not every year produces a Millesime, or vintage year, but the ones at Veuve Clicquot are each marked on the stairs out of the cave. I was the lucky girl to find my year of 1989.
You’ll also get the chance of enjoying a glass of the super-famous Yellow Label Brut Champagne, the house’s flagship wine, made with over 50 to 60 different Crus; it's always a treat. The tasting also included some great vintage.
Luigi arranged us a spot in the most exclusive experience Veuve Clicquot offers. A wine tasting at the very gardens of the Manoir de Verzy, the 19th-century house and former residence of the Clicquot family. Crudites, farmhouse bread, charcuterie and fruit are the perfect lunch as you enjoy a verdant view of the estate’s Grand Cru vineyards, but there’s more — more Champagne!
We tried the summer specialties, the berry-scented, Rose Champagne, and the sweet and enticing Veuve Clicquot Rich, which you can even enjoy with a few ice cubes and fresh fruit. Our last bottle was one to remember, the Grand Dame, an homage to the very own Grande Dame of Champagne, Madame Clicquot. As Luigi guide explained, it’s made with 90% Pinot Noir, so it’s rich, complex and intensely flavored.
We ended our afternoon with a few good laughs, fizzy Champagne and the most astounding views. The people behind the Champagne house proved to be masterful Champagne makers, but they've also shown they’re great hosts. Thank you, Veuve Clicquot, for a wonderful time.