You are using an old browser that may not function as expected. For a better, safer browsing experience, please upgrade your browser.

Log in Become a Member

My wine friend Max-Georg always speaks of "sparkling water" when he means champagne. With this, he has already created many a misunderstanding. Is champagne really "only" an expensive "sparkling water" or is it quality wine after all? This question has been bothering me for a long time.

20 million bottles of champagne in the vaults of Pommery

So I followed an invitation of wine enthusiasts to Reims, right in the heart of the Champagne region. As a student of art history, I once visited this city several times. But at that time, I neither noticed the many champagne producers with sounding names, nor the famous vineyards of the "Coteaux de la Montagne". My whole attention was focused on the culture: on the Gothic cathedral "Notre-Dame" from the 12th century. The Basilica of Saint-Remi, where the twin brother of Romulus (founder of Rome) is buried, or the buildings of the former monastery of Saint-Remi from the 17th and 18th century, where now historical monuments are kept. and 18th century, where now historical testimonies from prehistoric times to the Second World War are presented.

Today, forty years later, I see nothing of all this. There is not enough time for even a cursory glance at the world-famous cathedral. But even the vineyards, where the grapes for the champagne grow, remain hidden from me: fog, fog, fog...

116 steps to the 18 km underground cellar
Therefore, I visit three famous champagne houses to approach the secret of champagne a little bit. "Louis Roederer", one of the few large traditional companies that is still family-owned and does not belong to one of the large corporations for luxury goods, such as "Pommery", where you can reach 20 million stored bottles via a staircase with 116 steps at a depth of 30 meters and encounter an incredible variety of modern and older art on the way through the catacombs. Not in Reims, in Aÿ the Domaine "Bollinger" is at home, founded in 1829, again one of the last world famous estates, managed by the same family for decades. This already unique tradition is documented by today's patron, Ghislain de Montgolfier, a great-great-grandson of the founder, personally welcoming us in the style of the committed entrepreneur, a relic from the "founding era" in a place where otherwise as polished as possible, but mostly arbitrarily interchangeable managers stand.

For the first time, I have the impression that champagne can be something more than just a "luxury good" or sparkling "bubbly water", as a companion in noble moments: New Year, birthday, wedding, or simply intermission of a concert, opera, or theater.

Ghislain de Montgolfier's welcome at Bollinger Castle

Still moving in the realm of cuvée without vintage, I dare not speak of vintage champagnes. The price alone prevents a somewhat broader tasting experience. A "Bollinger" "Brut Grande Année 1999" costs a proud 85 euro, a "Brut RD 1996" almost double, 140 euro (guide prices). Pommery is a little cheaper, but far less exclusive: "Brut Cuvée Louise 1998" is available for 116 euro, the Brut Crand Cru 1998 even for 37 euro. And Roederer can be compared with Bollinger in terms of price: Brut Cristal 1999, for example, costs 132 euros....

It's only now, when I look up the guide prices in the wine guide, that I get "chills down my spine". This reminds me of Bordeaux.

At the end of the Reims journey, we are served a "Cristal 1999" (Roederer) from a Jéroboam before an eight-course menu. Sparkling, fresh, classy, beautiful even in the aromas, changing, evolving on the palate. I enjoyed it! But did I really respect and enjoy this drop as much as a Bordeaux from the same price range? No!

Art in the cellar of Pommery

Champagne remains an unknown beauty for me: attractive, enjoyable, noble, and - with a little longer engagement - definitely as excitingly nuanced as a great Bordeaux.

With a tentative first step, I set out in search of good non-vintage cuvées. Comprehensive tastings, such as usually appear in wine magazines before the holidays, were helpful to me. Recommended: Henriot: Brut Souverain (26 ), rated with 17/20 points in the "Revue du Vin de France". Then, however, also - despite my naivety concerning champagne extensively tested: Louis Roederer: Brut Premier, very fresh, with much finesse and above all beautiful length. And Moët et Chandon "Brut impérial", from the world's probably most famous house of champagnes: idiosyncratic in character, nothing of "sparkling water", rather elegant, in the finish with almost salty notes ... All these wines cost around 30 euro.

Ready for tasting

But what am I writing, what am I - amateur - quoting from my spontaneous notes? Imposture or an attempt to turn "sparkling water" into a differentiated, French top wine that can be enjoyed and described with just as much nuance as a great Bordeaux? There's a long way to go before that happens. I will practice, practice, practice..... That's where the coming festive season will be most welcome to me. Cheers!

Yours sincerely, Peter
Züllig) NB


I also drank a Bollinger "R.D" (récemment dégorgé) 1996 in Reims. But there it left me speechless!