Taking the advantage of being in France and in Paris especially, I suddenly thought of making a trip to Champagne in the Grand Est region. Being an avid fan of this prized wine, I definitely could not miss up the opportunity to head to the Champagne region which is just one hour by train away from Paris and try some bubbles right from the birthplace. The main two cities in the Champagne region are Reims as well as Epernay. I will be visiting both cities and one champagne house from each of them! Before I get to my champagne visit itself I will also share a little on Reims. I visited Taittinger in Reims, Taittinger. Founded in 1734, Taittinger is a family brand, even up to today. I love how rustic the place is and even in the cellar caves, which I will share with you later. It is much smaller and less touristy champagne house in comparison to brands like Moet! I would also like to give a shoutout here to Taittinger as well as Sandrine for inviting me to visit Taittinger Champagne house in Reims. Much appreciation for the VIP Private Visit! My trip was an invitation from Taittinger! After having bottles of champagne, I am so happy to be finally visiting one, a dream come true for me!
Reims is actually the largest city in the Grand Est region, it is also the main place of business in the area. Reims is definitely worthy of a visit even if you are not visiting any champagne house by itself. The city itself is very charming, with clean and quiet buildings. It felt very imperialistic, a little like Vienna. Walk by the city centre and you can also not miss out on Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. The grand cathedral is known for its stained-glass windows and Gothic carved portals. Very imposing! It is easy enough and the train station let you out right in the city centre. Reims is also a popular shopping place. Check out some of the pictures here.
Taittinger Champagne House is located in the south of the city, a little walk from the city centre, roughly about 20 mins. We took the opportunity to check out the city while walking from the train station. Soon the champagne house come into sight immediately with the Taittinger brand etched on the walls. It looks a little of colonial style. the grounds are rather huge and the white buildings are pretty. Walking onto the grounds I was rather bemused by seeing a Singapore Flag as I was entering the champagne house. But I didn’t give it much thoughts. Once again I would like to thank Taittinger for the invite as well as the VIP Private Visit.
Taittinger is open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm. While tickets can be bought on site, I will definitely recommend everyone to make a booking first to prevent being disappointed. Prices ranges from 21 Euros for the basic one. Private tours can also be arranged. My tour was confirmed at the host desk and the guide met us over there as well. There is a little showcase on the main area of the house with some collections on display as well as a little model of the whole Champagne House. I actually have no idea that we were getting a private tour beforehand. We were first shown to our private tasting room which I will say is super gorgeous for us to place out belongings since it is reserved for us. I was amused by the Singapore Flag out there although it turn out to be an extensive honor for me later on! Read on!
The tour started with our guide telling us the history behind Taittinger, how it all started from the monks of the Saint Nicaise Abbey and the destroyal of place during the French Revolution. The house that we are on was rebuilted on the grounds. From the 4th century, the chalk quarries were painstakingly carved out to extract chalk blocks for building work, before, 900 years later, becoming the cellars for the Saint-Nicaise Abbey. These chalk in the ground are the speciality of the region and what makes the area of Champagne so special and unique to be able to store these wines for ageing. The cellars are still intact till these days and will be the exact ones that we will be visiting later on.
Next up we enter a room to see a video on the Champagne House. Taittinger is currently still one of the last family owned and managed champagne house. Traditions are definitely not forgotten here.
Then comes the highlight of the visit, the cave cellars of Taittinger. These cellar caves are the most prized assets of every Champagne house. They are where the millions of bottles of champagne are aged and kept. They are located 18 metres below ground. Taittinger caves have its roots since the 4th century. The champagne cellar caves in the area are also an UNESCO world heritage site. These caves and chalk here in the ground make the champagne region so special and why the grounds are so conducive for the production. Please dress warmly as the caves are 12 degrees everyday down there. This is all natural from the chalk!
The Taittinger family built up of more than 280 ha of vines in the area and this only represent half of all their production with the other 50% of demand being outsourced. The guide also shared with us how these natural chalk keep a constant temperature in the cellars and enable the ageing of the champagne. With the 12 degrees and the humidity being crucial to the production. It is also said that the chalk would be tasted by some cellars masters and they are able to tell the taste of the wine from tasting the chalk. Here are some pictures of the cellars.
We learned about the making process with everything starting around September each year. The grapes are pluck 100 days after the first flower appear in the vines. Another unique point about champagne is that the vines are not watered here, everything is natural, with the chalk again providing the water supply even if the weather is dry since they hold water well. The grapes are press immediately and transferred to tanks where the first alcoholic fermentation take place.
2 weeks later the vats are left open and then the cellars masters will blend them according to village and years to make sure that they taste all the same throughout the years for non vintage champagne. Vintage champagne are of course not blended. The wine are then bottled for their second fermentation by adding yeast, sugar and wine. This stage is also how bubbles are formed. They are left horizontal to aged and in the meantime a bye product, lees are formed and the ageing with lees is what gives the champagne its flavour.
Champagne being highly regulated, it is a requirement to aged the wine for a minimum of 15 months for non vintage ones and 3 years for vintage champagne. This is only the most basic requirement. For example, the showcase product of Taittinger, the Comtes de Champagne is aged for 10 years in this cellars. Now you know why they are so expensive given the amount of effort into each bottles. We were also told that due to the high pressure inside each bottles, some of them might explode, which you can see from some empty spaces in the nicely stacked bottles of champagne. It is also the reason why the bottles are specially designed to handle 6 atmospheric pressure.
I am sure you have seen bottles of champagne held by their neck in this specially designed racks over time. This is the riddling and disgorgement process once the champagne house have decided to release the bottles. It can be any time from 15 months to 70 or 80 years. The placement of the bottles is to get rid of the lees sediment. It is also slow process taking up to 2 months when they are turn a quarter and a eight every now and then. Finally the sediment will be removed by gently dipping into a freezing solution at the neck. It is then released from the bottle and the internal pressure expels the frozen sediment.
Taittinger have close to 32 million bottles being aged in the cellars at any time. with more than 6.5 million bottles released per year. The signature flagship product is the Comtes de Champagne which is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. We end of the visit by heading back to our private tasting room. It is a comfortable place with space for 6 people.
Here comes the favourite part of the visit. The tasting! We are going to taste 3 different champagne, I really appreciate that every bottle was fresh and right from the chilling. It was pop right in front of us. I feel so fortunate. We started with the classic one, the main champagne of Taittinger, the Taittinger Brut Reserve that account for 70% of the production. These are aged for 3 years and made from 40 % Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. Then we also tasted the 2013 Vintage Taittinger, this vintage champagne clearly show more depth in flavours it is also more golden in color. It is made with Chardonnay as well as Pinot Noir. Citrus and flowery.
Last but not least we got the opportunity to taste the Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. Made fully from Grand Crus wines, this is the flagship wine of the house. We got the 2007 vintage, I am so happy right now. This Comtes de Champagne goes for more than 250SGD per bottle, they are perfect to be drunk at 10 degrees.
It is also the only one to be aged in wooden barrels for 4 months, adding so much flavour to it and depth. I love the nutty smokey taste, so delicious, a good comparison with Krug and Dom Perignon. It is more of a mellow gold color. This is aged for at least 10 years in the cellars. Every bottle is pop fresh for us!
Before we end of the tour, while sipping our champagne and comparing notes. Champagne actually taste a little different when freshly out of the chiller and when it is slightly warmer. We try it at both temperature. My guide told me to look out the window and asked if I had notice that Singapore flag! They had actually raised the flag for my visit today! OMG! Unbelievable. I was totally shocked and at first in the beginning and only thought that it is a nice coincidence. I am super impressed, the first time that it actually happen to me! Thanks TAITTINGER! Mind blown. I will also like to thank my guide, she is a gem and super knowledgeable on Champagne.
Although I was invited for a private visit. Will definitely recommend you guys to come for a try! It was pretty crowded as well so do book beforehand. The whole tour took about 1 and a half hour including tasting. Recently SQ started serving Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs as well!