Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Adventure in Wine Country - Taittinger Champagne

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Chateau de la Marquetterie
The white cellars of Taittinger.
Taittinger Estates - fields of Chardonnay.
Taittinger - Comtes Blanc de Blancs
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger among the vines.
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Mike Turner outside the Chateau de la Marquetterie.
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Over the next few months, join Outlook as we relay the adventures of Tom Tyler, CEO of CPJ, and Mike Turner, wines category manager, as they travel across France to some of the world's finest wineries.

The house of Taittinger was born from humble origins. A young Pierre-Charles Taittinger first discovered the region as a liaison officer during World War I. His passion for wine and gastronomy drew him back to the region years later, and with his brother-in-law, he invested his life savings into developing his own wine. In 1932, Taittinger Champagne was founded.

Pierre's love for the estate was not only for the quality of the terroir, but also the infamous 'Chateau de la Marquetterie'. A magnificent property on the outskirts of Epernay, the Chateau is a glorious representation of 18th century architecture. Anchored to the slopes of one of Champagne's finest hillsides, the vineyards surrounding the property hold some of the most elegant Chardonnay grapes in the region.

Pierre was a man of innovation and vision and he used Chardonnay as the most dominant grape in his champagne. It was an audacious and risky move. But the decision was a wise one - as the modern, light and crisp style of the wine became the hallmark for the house.

  • Our day at Taittinger

Team CPJ: Tom Tyler & Mike Turner (CEO & Wines Category Manager at CPJ)

Team Taittinger: Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (chairman of Taittinger Champagne), Rachel Debenham (export manger of Tattinger)

Where: Taittinger Winery, Reims, Champagne

Our day at Tattinger began relatively early. As we made our way through the narrow streets of Reims, I began to truly appreciate why it is known as the capital of Champagne. We passed iconic brands left and right.

Every shop and restaurant window display is filled with the infamous 'houses' of the region. I cannot wait for my second 'Champagne Experience'.

Arriving at the winery, we noticed the incredibly modern surroundings. Both outside and in, the buildings are clean, light and contemporary.

Our host for the morning was Rachel Debenham, an English expat with a beaming smile and two cold glasses of champagne in hand. I immediately considered her my best friend. After introductions and our first glass of champagne downed, we began the tour. From the main foyer, we were led directly into the cellars.

Unlike the dark, red-brick cellars of previous wineries, Taittinger has not covered its walls, and so they remain brilliantly white. The exposed chalk is cool and soft to the touch. Rachel explains that the winery is actually sitting on the foundations of the Saint-Nicaise Abbey, which was destroyed in the French Revolution. Prior to its demolition, the monks of the abbey carved out the cellars underneath to age their own wines, which at the time, included champagne. The cellars have been preserved through the Revolution and both World Wars. As we continued our tour, I noticed carvings, dates and even small poems inscribed on the walls. Rachel explains that, through some of the wars, the cellars were a place of refuge for both soldiers and families. Most of the carvings are notes to loved ones. Within the vastness of these cellars, I was in complete awe of these small markings.

As we approached lunch, it became time to start drinking again. The tour ended in the showcase room of the winery. We were not only greeted by the full selection of wines made by Taittinger, but also a wall of plaques representing the many countries and companies that sell their champagne all over the world. All of the wines reflect the finesse, elegance and balance that defines this incredible winery. The presentation is a testament to the quality and prestige of their product.

Rachel had one final surprise in store for us. Though our tour was over, our time at Taittinger was not. She presented us with a formal invitation to dinner with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger at the Chateau de la Marquetterie. I collected my jaw from the ground and thanked her profusely. In a few hours, I would be drinking with a direct descendant of Pierre-Charles Taittinger, in the very chateau where the Taittinger story began. You can probably guess what my 'highlight of the day' was!

  • Highlight of the day - Dinner with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger

We
arrived at the Chateau de la Marquetterie just after 7 p.m. The house
is breathtaking. I was nervous as my mind was finally catching up with
the gravity of the situation. Thankfully, this was immediately
dismantled by the gracious welcome from our host for the evening -
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger.

His humour and warmth were completely
disarming. From the vineyard to the dinner table, we were treated with a
tour of the complete property by the owner himself.

Of course,
this was not a dry tour. We tasted through the Brut Reserve, Prestige
Rose, Blanc de Blancs and many more - all while Pierre reeled off a mix
of facts about the champagnes and hysterical anecdotes from his travels
around the world. He conducted the evening with intellect, wit and
charm.

At the close of dinner, he left me with one final, lasting
remark: "Life is very serious, but don't take it too seriously." For
him, this is the reason champagne exists, so that we all don't take life
'too seriously'.

  • Mike's pick … Taittinger - Blanc de Blancs

Composed completely
of Chardonnay grapes, aromas of pear mingle with white flowers and zesty
citrus on the palate. The bubbles are extremely fine and abundant. This
is the ultimate reflection of Taittinger's spirit and style. The wine
is lively, direct and beautifully balanced.

Contributed photos