Champagne and Bordeaux. a visit to world class wine regions

Published 01 December 2016   

Herman Von Bernhardi has the opportunity to visit two of the most famous French wine growing regions and lives to tell the tale.

champagne-and-bordeaux-3Arrival at Bollinger
The group from Jakarta and Bali.

Coming from a wine producing country like Chile and working for a wine supplier in Indonesia for many years, I have had the opportunity to visit many wine regions and wineries. Last October I had the chance to travel with a group of our customers from Bali and Jakarta to visit wineries in two of the most important wine regions in the world, Champagne and Bordeaux in France. We had a great time and the opportunity to enjoy some amazing wines.

Our first destination after landing in Paris was Champagne; this region is located in the North-Eastern part of France and only 45min by TGV (high speed train). Champagne is the name of the world famous sparkling wine most wine drinkers and especially bubble aficionados know very well, and it is also the name of the region where it is produced. This area has a great history of winemaking but it also, as we had the possibility to discover, has beautiful landscapes, forests, wonderful vineyards and many small charming villages. The main cities of the region are Reims (185,000 inhabitants) where we stayed and most of the tourist attraction are located and Epernay (26,000 inhabitants).

By French law, the name Champagne in the label of a sparkling wine is under a strict regulation and the term can only be used for wines produced in this region using the traditional method of naturally fermenting the bubbles in individual bottles (Method Champenoise) and only using Chardonnay, Pinot Meuniere and Pinot Noir grapes. As in all wine regions of France following the AOC rules (Appellation d’Origine Controlee), the area where Champagne grapes are grown is delimited to 5 sub-regions: Aube, Cote des Blancs, Cote de Sezanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallee de la Marne. Any sparkling wine produced with other types of grapes or grapes grown out of these five regions cannot be called Champagne.

champagne-and-bordeaux-2Oak barrels are a key element
The production of world class wines.

After arriving to Reims our first stop was for a visit and dinner at Bollinger. This Champagne house has created prestigious champagnes since 1829 and during our visit we had the pleasure to taste almost their full range. We all enjoyed their hospitality and having the opportunity to taste a wide variety of their champagne allowed us to understand the differences of aromas and taste between them.

The Bollinger vineyards cover 165 hectares, most of which are classified Grand or Premier Cru. Pinot Noir grapes with its intense character predominates in all their blends becoming the backbone of the Bollinger style. Continuity of style for their Non-Vintage Champagne is ensured by an extraordinary collection of over 700,000 reserve magnums, making Bollinger the only champagne house with such a wide and precise palette of aromas for their blends. In addition the house lets their wines mature for twice as long as the appellation requirement to be able to develop each bottle’s full character.

After a tour of their winery and underground cellars (which extend for over 5 kilometres) we were invited for dinner at the property where we continued tasting some limited edition bottles before we went back to Reims.

The next day it was time to visit Lanson in the heart of Reims. Champagne Lanson is one of the oldest existing Champagne houses and they have been making some of the world’s finest champagnes since 1760. Over the years, the winemakers behind Lanson have carefully perfected their art, passing down the secrets of their craft from one generation to the next as explained by our host during our tour of their winery and beautiful underground cellars.

champagne-and-bordeaux-1During the visit to Champagne
The view inside one of the many beautiful cellars.

Champagne Lanson is quite unlike other champagnes. It’s made predominantly with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation as most other champagnes do. As a result, the flavours of Champagne Lanson are distinctly fresh with an intense fruitiness. But how do they do this? Because malolactic fermentation transform crisper malic acids into softer lactic acids – by choosing not to let their champagnes go through this process the freshness is retained, the purity of fruit is preserved and the wines can age for longer. Our visit to Lanson ended with a taste of all of their portfolio available in Indonesia and a couple of limited edition vintages, it was the perfect end for an excellent learning experience in this region.

Our visit to this area was great but it was the time to leave the bubbles behind and head to Bordeaux to discover what this region had to offer. After an almost 5 hour ride in the TGV we finally made it to Bordeaux and began enjoying some of the excellent wines produced in this world famous area.

Bordeaux is a much larger provence than Champagne so for this part of the trip we were divided into smaller groups to be able to visit more chateaux. In my case I had the chance to visit wineries on both sides of the river (St-Emilion area on the right bank and the Medoc area on the left) and I had a great time doing the tastings and learning from the people working to make the wines. All the winemakers we met were great hosts and they spent a long time showing us their passion for making wines and explaining all the details that make for a great bottle of wine. We also visited the beautiful town of Saint Emilion to learn a bit of the rich history of the region; visiting the town almost felt like going back in time.

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In General when talking about Bordeaux wines we could say in a simple way that Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend in red wines produced in the appellations located in the left bank of the Gironde River. In this side of the river, blends are usually 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot and sometimes Petit Verdot as well depending on the winemaker. This is typically known as “Bordeaux Blend.”
In the other side of the river Merlot tends to predominate in Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations. These Right Bank blends from top-quality chateaux are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

White Bordeaux is predominantly, and exclusively in the case of the sweet Sauternes, made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Other non-sweet white wines from the region also include grape varieties such as Sauvignon Gris and Ugni Blanc.

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I personally had a great time visiting Chateau Gros Caillou, Chateau Lamote and Chateau Qvintvs in St- Emilion (right bank) and Chateau Palmer, Chateau Pontet Canet, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau D’estournel in Medoc (left bank). Tasting wines from different areas, range of prices and talking to the people responsible for making them made me and the rest of our group understand a little bit more about this great region and the reasons why it is recognized all around the world as probably the most important wine region of all for red wines.

If you are a wine lover and if you ever have the chance to travel there you will personally discover and understand the huge amount of work and passion that goes into creating some of the best wines in the world. We did it and we loved the experience!

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