Cellars of Champagne

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This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, of the Los Angeles Mumbai Sister City Affiliation and author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.

Last month I visited Reims and Epernay in France’s Champagne region, my first time in this bubbly paradise.

While Reims has the look of a bustling city, Epernay wedged between the Marne River and rolling vineyards exudes the wine country charm. However, these towns share one thing in common – a labyrinth of underground caves where the celebratory wine sleeps. Epernay sits atop 62 miles of caves and Reims on 90 miles.

Dusty bottles in the cellars of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.
Dusty bottles in the cellars of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

My husband and I start our morning tasting toasty vintage champagne at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in Reims (we hear that locals drink champagne with croissants!) Founded in 1772, the house is renowned for the widow Clicquot who became the first businesswoman of modern times. At age 27 she took over the reins and expanded the family business – she increased exports to Russia and invented the riddling table.

Our guide Kanu tells us that over 24 miles of caves traverse under Veuve Clicquot and points to the  three oldest vintages – 20 bottles each of 1904,1906 and 1919 rest behind locked bars.

In Epernay we visit the popular Moet et Chandon. A bottle of Moet is popped every two seconds somewhere in the world. The underground caves stretch over 32 miles, but we get a short cellar tour that starts in the oldest part of the cave dug in the 18th century and ends in the newly constructed 20th century wing. We taste the 2003 vintages – the Grand Vintage and Rosé served in the beautiful English garden – once a gathering spot for 19th century European royalty.

Jean Manuel Jacquinot
Jean Manuel Jacquinot

Our third visit is at a small producer – Jean Manuel Jacquinot, a cork’s throw from Moet’s impressive property. He produces a mere 3500 cases annually in concrete tanks that date back to 1924 housed in a circa 1873 building. After walking more than 100 steps down to his cool cellar we head to the upstairs salon for tasting. The 2009 Symphonie has a hint of oak, 2004 Rosé, good acidity and the rich creamy 1995 Harmonie – a delicious pairing with foie gras and caviar.