Friday, January 13, 2012

Adventures in Champagne & Paris with Ruinart Part 1

It seems like just yesterday I was packing and getting ready to embark on a trip of a lifetime, but alas, it has passed but I have my memories, great friends and pictures to remind me...and of course Ruinart Champagne will always be a love of mine! I wrote this essay after I came back from my trip ( I was awarded as the 2011 Chicago Ruinart Champagne Challenge winner) this summer for the Guild of Sommelier's but thought I should share on my blog (In 2 parts...Champagne and Paris) as well..especially so close to Valentine's Day....thought it might offer inspiration!

"There is not many moments in my life where I have been left breathless...this time spent in France however touring and tasting with Ruinart's Chef de Cave, Frederic Panaiotis in Champagne and exploring the artistry and beauty of Paris was one of those moments.
Our journey began upon arrival to Paris' Charles de Gaul Airport as we were greeted by a jolly Frenchman named Jacque who escorted Nicole Burke from San Francisco and Morgan Harris from New York and myself to our hotel in Champagne. Upon arrival to L'Assiette Champenoise, the place where we would lay our heads for the next few nights, which I was absolutely enamoured with (so much that is was truly hard to leave it!) we checked into our rooms, met Dorothy Bakker Lee (Ambassador for Ruinart) and off we went to lunch at Cafe du Palais where we were to meet Fred (Frederic preferred to be called), and the other two Sommeliers Eric Hastings from Houston and Jeff Bencus from Las Vegas.

After lunch, which contained our first delightful taste of Ruinart's NV Brut (not available in the United States...yet!) we continued on our day and ventured to the illustrious Cathedral de Reims, home of over 20 coronations of French Kings. Up, and up we climbed towards the top of the Cathedral giving us a beautiful view of the town of Reims and beyond.

From the Cathedral we ventured to where we were all eagerly awaiting, to the Ruinart Estate and to explore the cellars. Ruinart is the first established Champagne House in 1729. In 1768 Ruinart acquired former Gallo-Roman chalk quarries for the purpose of storing their bottles and is classified as a historical monument. These crayères offer the triple benefit of constantly stable temperatures, absence of vibration and the perfect humidity level. This was indeed our lucky day because Fred also had Master of Wine Essi Avellan, the first Master of Wine from Finland visiting so there were quite a few special vintage wines in addition for us to sample and magnums at that. As the afternoon progressed into evening we were fortunate enough to try an array of Dom Ruinart magnums of both their Blanc de Blancs and Rose.The standouts for me were the 1969 and 1998 Blanc de Blancs and the 1985 Rose which floored me with its complexity and depth.

From there we relaxed outside on the veranda before dinner partaking in one of my favorite, simple, but classic pairings.... NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Gougères. Ruinart has a new event dining room and were were one of the first groups to dine there. Along with the divine meal we were able to chose from the Magnums we tasted earlier for each course. I absolutely agree with Nicole; " The Cheese Cart is a wondrous part of dining, but a Magnum Cart reached unparalleled heights!" After dinner it was time to catch up on sleep and prepare for a day filled with blind tasting and a visit to the CIVC.

Thursday we found ourselves back at Ruinart about to embark on a 6 round flight adventure exploring Blanc de Blancs from all across Champagne. The flights contained an extreme range of styles and vintages (including the oxidative styling of Jacques Selosse) and happily I discovered that even blind, Ruinart's NV Blanc de Blancs was one of my favorites. After a quick, but delightful lunch of NV Blanc de Blancs, Sushi and Macaroons we were off to the CIVC (Comite Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) where we were given a better understanding of their research, environmental efforts and the region in depth through a presentation in the conference building and then wandering through the glorious colors of the vineyards.... the vibrant shades of green....the crisp white from the chalky soils and the brilliant red of the poppies.

After a magical dinner at Le Jardin Brasserie in Reims the group decided we would grab one more drink at the bar back at L'Assiette Champenoise and what a good decision it was! The old saying "right time, right place" could never have been more true as Olivier Krug and the new President of Krug, Maggie Henriquez were just finishing a dinner for the press and we were fortunate enough to have a glass from a Jerobaum of Grand Cuvee disgorged in1995 courtesy of them. Then we were back to our rooms to pack and prepare for the next day's adventure into Paris..."

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