By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Champagne Itinerary #3: The Mountain of Reims and Grand Valley of the Marne
This is my third installment on travel to the Champagne region, the first covered Epernay and the Cotes des Blancs and the second the Western Valley of the Marne. For this edition, I repeat the information on the hotel Ibis in Epernay, as it a great base for exploring the region. I strongly recommend picking up a picnic lunch to enjoy on the many roadside tables in the vineyards before leaving, as a sit down lunch will take up more than half of the day! I have some tips for great places to put together a picnic in Itinerary #1.
Hôtel Ibis, Epernay
This is a great hotel for folks who have come to Champagne as travelers to taste and learn about the wines instead of hanging out in your hotel room. The rooms are clean, simple and comfortable, and the friendly, professional, accommodating staff is available around the clock. Many of them I count as personal friends. The wifi always works, so it is easy to get back in touch with home, and the location could not be more central for visiting the vineyards. Epernay is a small city, and everything is in walking distance. Given how good the food and wine is, walking to and from dinner is a must!
19 rue Chocatelle
03 26 51 14 51
Champagne Goutorbe, Ay
Just fifteen minutes from Epernay, the village of Ay is the heart of the Champagne vineyards in the Marne. Parking is tight in this ancient village, so make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to your appointments. This is the chalkiest of all the Pinot Noir terroir in the region, and also some of the steepest. Big names such as Bollinger and Deutz are here in this village as well as a roll call of great growers. Instead of visiting the big guys, going to see Goutorbe is a great plan, since it is a two for one: you can taste the wines of both Champagne Henri Goutorbe and Champagne Elisabeth Goutorbe. After more than 100 years of making Champagne, the Goutorbe family had never had a visit from an American importer. The week that I visited, I was the third! The family decided to go national with their main brand, Champagne Henri Goutorbe, and chose the great book of Mr. Terry Thiese. Elisabeth, the youngest generation of vigneron in the family, suggested working with K&L, and we have been directly importing her wines ever since. These Pinot dominated power houses have minerality like no other Champange from this grape variety. The Goutorbe wines are great examples of this grand cru.
9bis, rue Jeanson
F. 51160 AY-CHAMPAGNE
03 26 55 21 70
Champagne Philipponnat, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ
I have always felt that there is a real difference between the big houses in Epernay and Reims and the ones like Philipponnat that are in the vineyards. The people are prefer to tell you the story of the wines that they make rather than talking about their gift boxes or spinning tales of luxury. This house makes the great single vineyard Clos de Goisses, from a walled vineyard which is just up the road from the winery. When making your appointment, make sure to ask for a vineyard tour of this site, as it is one of the most spectacular vineyards in all of Champagne. It is so steep that they run stairs up it for the vineyard workers! This house is now owned by the Lanson-BCC group run by Bruno Paillard, cousins of the Pierre Paillard family who you will visit next. Everyone is connected in this region!
13, rue du Pont
03 26 56 93 00
Champagne Pierre Paillard, Bouzy
Just five minutes up the hill from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ is the village with the best name in the wine world, Bouzy. This is the number one village for making the red wine in Champagne, and a huge number of houses use this Pinot Noir for making their rose. It can also be found bottled alone as a still red wine, and the Paillards make one of the best. All of their wine comes from massale selected vineyards and they are unusual in this Pinot village for planting quite a bit of Chardonnay. The' Acte' series wines, which are single harvest, single varietal and single vineyard, are some of the best, pure terroir wines in Champagne. The two young brothers Quentin and Antoine now run the family firm with their father Benoit, and all of them are fascinating individuals. Talk to them - you will learn a lot!
2 rue du XXe siècle
51150 Bouzy - France
0 3 26 57 08 04
Champagne Marguet Pere et Fils, Ambonnay
Minutes away from Bouzy, the neighboring village of Ambonnay is equally famous for the quality of its wines. The Marguet house is across an alley from Krug's "Clos d'Ambonnay" and is surrounded by producers like Billiot and Egly-Ouriet. Benoit Marguet is one of my oldest friends in Champagne, and no one in the region is more dedicated to the craft of Champagne than him. You can see his dedication and attention to detail in my video interview with him where he speaks about his custom made egg shaped barrels. His wines are some of the most streamlined, dry and multifaceted that we carry, and the 2007 Marguet Pere et Fils Brut Rosé Champagne ($49.99) is my favorite rose at K&L. He also has a great sense of humor, and speaks better English than I do, so you are bound to have a great time with him!
1 Place Barancourt
F - 51150 Ambonnay
(0)326 537 861
Restaurant Patrick Michelon at Les Bercaux, Epernay
After a big day of tasting you will be ready for a great meal. Chef Patrick Michelon serves the most elegant dinner in Epernay. Park the car under the Ibis, drop off the Champagne that you bought in the room and walk across the square and around the corner to the restaurant. The wine list is exhaustive, with too many Champagne’s to even read through properly at the table. I usually show up ahead of my guests to have a ratafia and read ahead! They also have a very nice selection of Burgundy for their excellent meat courses, and the last time I dined there I enjoyed an excellent 2000 Pommard from Parent with my lamb course. As with any really great restaurant, I recommend the tasting menu as it offers the best of what the market has to offer and the best inspiration of Mr. Michelon. This is the sister restaurant to Bistro 7, and right in the same building.