In September 2018 I ran a tour to three wine regions in northern France: Champagne, Chablis and Sancerre, the ‘Golden Triangle’.
With people flying in from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Southampton and Luton our first day happily started bang on schedule as we drove east from Paris Charles de Gaulle for a Champagne lunch at Château de la Marjolaine. Beautifully situated right on the river Marne, Bruno and the team did us proud with a delicious lunch pairing Blanc de Blancs and Blancs de Noirs Champagnes with a vegetable feuillette, some super fresh pollack and a tarte tatin to die for. With Champagne in mind, it was a short hop to the family owned Domaine Leguillette-Romelot for a tasting.
Owner Christine hosted a superb visit which gave us an unexpected insight into some the ‘anciens cépages’ or traditional grape varieties that can still be used in Champagne – Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Having tasted through the range, we also took the opportunity to taste some fermenting wines straight from the tank and to watch a gyropallet in full rotation mode!
A terrific start to the tour as we settled in for the journey down to Auxerre where we were based for the three nights.
On Friday morning we took a short 20 minute drive through the glorious vineyards of Chablis, resplendent under blue skies with a slight nip in the air. Domaine Laroche was our destination and Regis, who hosted our visit, was the perfect companion. We learnt an extensive amount about the history of Chablis and witnessed some very picturesque streets and churches before arriving at L’Obediencerie, the home of Laroche. Amazing cellars greeted us and Regis expertly took us through the different processes and explained the subtle nuances of terroir and premier and grand cru before tasting through an excellent selection of their wines.
From Chablis we continued east and found Le Marius hotel in the very pretty village of Les Ricey. Lunch was taken in a very atmospheric cellar and we devoured some delicious ham, mignons of pork, a superb local cheese selection and a rich creamy dessert accompanied by Champagne and the rarer local Coteaux Champenoise Pinot Noir.
Our final visit was to the Biodynamic estate of Jean-Pierre Fleury. I have been a big fan of these Champagnes for many years so it was a pleasure to at last have the opportunity to visit. Emmanuelle showed us round and explained the history of the estate’s conversion to organic and biodynamic practice and then hosted an utterly superb tasting of champagnes. If there was an occasion to convince the sceptics that organic and biodynamic viticulture can produce the highest quality – this was it. The bus was quiet on our return to Auxerre.
Saturday saw another beautiful day with stunning cobalt blue skies and not a cloud in sight. A busy day was in store as we headed west towards Sancerre. Our first stop was in the small village of Verdigny. Here you find Jean Reverdy – an estate that I have been involved with for nearly 20 years and has been producing stunning wines throughout that time. The winery is pared down to the absolute essentials. No frills, bells or whistles. Christophe Reverdy runs the estate without fuss. The white and rosé were sublime – demonstrating the absolute benchmark that all Sancerres should aspire to. The Pinot Noir was a bit more of a challenge but we were left with no doubt about the quality and the down to earth approach.
We headed from Verdigny to the famous village of Chavignol. Renowned for Sancerre and the little Crottins de Chavignol cheese, we headed into the Bistrot des Monts Damnés – the restaurant owned by Henri Bourgeois. We washed down some of the lesser known Reuilly and Quincy appellation Sauvignon Blancs with a lunch including plenty of local goats cheese of course.
Having enjoyed the sunshine around the village fountain, we strolled up to the Henri Bourgeois estate. A fascinating afternoon unfurled as we followed the route of the gravity fed winery – starting at the top and finishing at the bottom in the tasting room. As we tasted through three reds, we realised this would be no ordinary event. Wine after wine was passed around as we explored every aspect of Sancerre terroir, as well as the nuances of oak ageing. We lost count after 12 wines – it ceased to matter! It was an extraordinary occasion! And the day had more to provide…
As it was Saturday night, on our return to Auxerre we walked round to Le Jardin Gourmand – the best restaurant in town – and enjoyed a quite exquisite gastronomic experience that was enhanced by the flamboyant Maitre d’. Delicious amuse bouche, a melting beef carpaccio, stunning veal, a trio of desserts, and petits fours – enough surely, yet the Cheese Chariot deserves special mention. Heaving with local and other French regional cheeses, everyone was invited to choose their own wine and then select their choice of cheeses. It was great theatre and contributed to a truly outstanding final night dinner.
En route back to Paris on Sunday we had time to venture into Chablis for a final time and visit Domaine des Malandes. I was last here in 2002 so it was a pleasure to be back. The daughter of Lyne Marchive, Amandine, has taken over the running of the estate with her brother. Amandine hosted a superb visit and a truly monumental tasting of 12 wines – giving an in-depth insight into the varying 1er cru terroirs and building substantially on our knowledge acquired at Domaine Laroche. Another top class tasting experience.
From Malandes we drove into Chablis for one final Chablis fuelled lunch and the set off for Charles de Gaulle.
A fabulous tour – though I say so myself!
What my clients said about this tour
“Thank you Tim for a well run and most enjoyable wine tour. Trevor and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – good wine, delicious food, great company! It’s invaluable to actually be in the area of production to appreciate the terroir which influence the style of the wines.” – Helen Farquharson
“The trip surpassed our expectations (although they were pretty high to start with) – fabulous wines and wineries which were all exceptional and run by such knowledgeable and interesting people. Many, many thanks – we loved the trip and are already looking forward to the our next one.”– Sue and Brian Tilley, London