Read below to learn about my recent visit to the historic house of Champagne Taittinger and why it should be top of your list for your next visit to Reims!
First, the location is very convenient as we finished lunch across the street at Brasserie le Jardin located at two Michelin star Le Creyeres.
After lunch, we took a short walk to the magnificent Champagne Taittinger house, one of the few remaining family owned and operated Champagne houses.
It’s quite a large complex with a spacious courtyard where tourists and locals can relax and enjoy the beauty of the house. Upon entering the foyer, I got a sense of pride and history as the bottles are on display and friendly greeters are ready to check you in.
In the entrance lobby there’s also a model of what this place once was. Abbey Church built in the 13th century by Benedictine monks. The church was destroyed by the French Revolution, however, the cellars were preserved. As we continued the tour, history kept getting richer and richer.
First, we had a private showing of the rich history in the theater. What a feeling to be in the same place of the monks creating the early days champagne!!
We proceeded down many many stairs along the windy staircase. Down into the cellars we went. My ears literally popped as we went down!
An original piece from the Abbey Church. And the ancient grave of Saint- Nicaise.
As we continued through the ancient caves and chalk quarries, we were surrounded by aging bottles. The traditional method of making champagne is quite complicated. After the first round of wine is made and the blending is completed, the wine is bottled along with the tirage which is a mixture of yeast, sugar and clarifying agents to create a second round of fermentation. This is where the bubbles are created. Once the fermentation has stopped, the wines can rest “on the lees” or “sur-lie” aging. The is a clumped up matter of the dead yeast cells.
The longer the wine rests on the lees, the more the bready, toasty, nutty aromas are developed in the champagne. These notes are considered to be very prestigious as they add a beautiful complexity to the wine. Some rest on the lees for 7 years or more! Once it’s time to remove the lees sediment from the bottle, a process called riddling will begin. The cellar manager carefully turns the bottles over and over again over the course of several weeks. While turning the bottles, they also turn the bottles gradually upright so they are resting with the neck on the bottle down. This process takes 8-10 weeks.
Here we see 100,000+ bottles resting on the lees. Once the lees has been settled to the neck of the bottle, the cellar manager or winemaker will begin a process called disgorgement. The neck is soaked in a freezing brine solution for 10 minutes so the lees become a solid chunk. Once the cap is released and the bottle is opened, the pressure from the bubbles shoot out the yeast matter and the wine is clarified. It is then topped off with the dosage which determines the sweetness level of the wine. This is why we see the terms Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Sec and Sec to notify us of the level of residual sugar in the final product.
Just when we thought the tour couldn’t get any cooler, we went farther into the ground to 80 meters below. Down here is even more rich history. As we walked through the caves, our tour guide pointed out faces and figures carved in the walls.
People hid in these caves during World War I. What a mystifying experience to be so close to history!
As we continued through we saw ancient doorways and staircases from the Abbey Church.
We explored the chalk quarries from the 3rd and 4th century. At the conclusion of the tour, we thankfully took an elevator back up for the tasting!
Taittinger was so generous to offer us a private room for the tasting. We tasted several outstanding wines from premier cru and grand cru vineyards. Taittinger is distinguished for its extensive vineyard holdings of 752 acres, including prestigious Grand Cru vineyards. We tasted several wines with long aging periods. Taittinger is also known for its highest-quality production: exceeding minimum aging for all cuvées, high percentage of estate grapes and sustainable practices.
I was blown away by the Prelude made of solely grand cru vineyards from the Cote de Blanc. It’s 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir with 6 years aging on the lees. It’s a very elegant wine with notes of white floral and white peach.
And what a treat to finish the tasting with the Tete de Cuvée Comtes. It is pronounced like Cōmt. It is made of 5 single Grand Cru vineyards and is 100% Chardonnay. Taittinger uses a higher proportion of Chardonnay grapes in its blends than other large houses expressing the unique personality of the house. For this particular wine, 5% of the wine is aged in oak before blending. It is aged for 10 years on the lees in the ancient chalk cellars. The bottle shape is the shape the ancient monks used and it has been preserved by Taittinger. These wines are absolutely outstanding and consistently receive 90+ points worldwide recognition among connoisseurs.
Another thing you should know about Taittinger is that it is female run by the house President Vitalie Taittinger who continues the family lineage.
Finally, if you can’t make it to Champagne any time soon, you can experience the richness of this house right in California at Domaine Carneros who is owned by Taittinger and has 30 years of women winemakers.
Thank you Taittinger for the extraordinary experience and I hope you get to visit soon.
Your personal sommelier,