Champagne is a luxury drink that is not only served in a five-star hotel. Among the many well-known types of champagne, there is Salon and Ruinart – which shine forth for me. A vacation of mine led me to the basement of an exclusive base of homes. I here share my experience with you.
For Mark Twain, it was the "happiest inspiration", for Napoleon Bonaparte one had it "earned after victory" and "after losing hand", and for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, it had to be "quite bubbling”. We are referring to the champagne, perhaps the most festive of all beverages. Due to its status of an Appellation d' Origine protégée – there is an accepted stipulation that it must be grown and pressed only in the French wine region of Champagne.
It has been my long held desire to visit the Champagne once. So I (accompanying my wife) used my vacation recently to spend one week on the ground of the secret of a fine, long-lasting Perlage. For us, it was time to perform a quality check.
In the Grand Hotels of the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, we lead Laurent Perrier as our house champagne. In the cellar of our host and sommelier Francesco Benvenuto however, one can discover 54 champagnes, which he gladly serves for the guests at IGNIV. He has a well-stocked menu, which also contains non-sparkling champagne. The collection of 600 champagnes is a key distinguisher. Basing on my various conversations with him, I decided to visit the house champagne Salon. For Benvenuto personally, Blanc de Blanc champagne is probably the best ever of the existing lot. Coming to my visit, the house was built in 1905, after having emerged from Delamotte. It was later acquired in 1989 by Laurent Perrier and, now in 2016, discovered by me as a tourist destination. Our bags were packed to visit the House.
"S" stands for quality
"It could hardly be more exclusive" – I read this as a part of my travel preparations, and later, turned out to be a promise that was kept. Even the weather played along well and favourably – presenting the Champagne at its best. Door to door with Champagne Delamotte, iron gates open with the big "S". It was still not the last door that opened up for us, though. We were expected to get there, and be in and out through the vines and the cellars of the house. We felt honoured – for not everyone can make it here – neither the guest nor all the grapes. Over here, only grapes, which meet the quality requirements of the winemaker, are selected. If not, they land the harvest (rest of it) at Delamotte. However, that is also not the last resort. The house processes only exclusive Chardonnay grapes from the Grand-Cru-Lage le Mesnilsur-Oger; and of which only the best quality is selected. Since 1920, only 38 vintage champagnes have made it straight to the market – which means: On average every three years.
What is worth waiting for
For ten years, the bottles are stored in the vaults beneath the estate – this is the earliest when they are ready for sale. Yet even after so many years of maturity, they have not exhausted their potential. Depond recommends the wines usually after storing it for 15 years. When the vintages are released for sale, there is a huge interest among people, which also means that the demand in most cases exceeds the supply. Factually, from 2002s, a mere 60,000 bottles came into the trade.
What an extraordinary experience to be able to taste a wide range of vintages – an experience that our sommelier will be jealous of, I thought, and to be able to enjoy the Aromatic fresh of these durable champagnes. Orange, brioche and ginger notes – a Perlage of which not only Goethe would have been inspired. These are superlatives – with no exaggeration. With each sip, we soak in the philosophy of the house – created by the Blanc de Blanc grape – the noblest of all drinks.
The oldest champagne house
Although the history of Salon Champagne with Delamotte goes back to 1760, Salon nevertheless is one of the newer houses. We were excited to get to know an older home. We used the time to visit the oldest champagne house in Champagne: Ruinart.
The Maison Ruinart, which goes back to a visionary monk, was the first champagne house founded in 1729. 8km long are the gears of an old chalk mine where shelf on shelf is lined up – and supports the treasures of Ruinart. In the cool subterranean cathedrals of limestone, the wine slowly matures in the bottle. A visit to the chalk cellars – belonging to the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015 and a protected monument since 1931 – is a truly extraordinary experience.
An exceptional experience was ending, but also the journey home via the Burgundy was comforting. I returned home with a bouquet of experiences and knowledge about champagne. Now that I know how complicated the production of champagne is and that I can unfold different champagne on the palate, my next glass will be even more pleasant!
And when have you last drank champagne?