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April 2023

It's a cool, fairly dry Spring in Champagne, which is why we've had to be happy for a bit of drizzle in Reims. Overnight, it's been very cold, with temperatures as low as -6 deg C in the vineyards. As the vines have started to bud, this could be dangerous, but low winds and high humidity have probably prevented serious trouble. 

Meanwhile in Reims, we've enjoyed special treats at Le Crypto (delicious bistro food and a 10+ page champagne list) now deservedly included in the Michelin Guide. 

Also in Reims, there are some new bars with very cool names. CUIVRÉ (cuivre = copper), ‘cuivré' therefore means ‘coppered’  and that’s usually hammered. You can get hammered on beer there. Only one champagne, a grand cru grower, by the glass. Another bar just near the Place du Forum, 'COUDRES SUR LA TABLE’ translates as 'ELBOWS ON THE TABLE’. It’s easy to do a champagne flight there - all good growers, plus excellent snacks.

We also fared better at well-known Les Crayères than on our last visit. In the beautifully appointed dining room, we were presented with a light and delicious champagne menu – although we chose the champagnes ourselves as they're all hard to find in Australia. And what treats they were!

  • Philipponnat Close des Goisses Juste Rosé 2006 (37% Chardonnay, 63% Pinot Noir; 40% oak fermented, Extra Brut dosage of 4.5g/L) fruity, chocolatey; creamy, dry and long
  • Charles Heidsieck 2008, which I missed out on as we were moving cellars, and there was very little in Australia, 40% Chardonnay, 60% Pinot Noir; deliciously fresh but with the complexities added by time
  • Dom Ruinart 2009 (Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs + Sillery) from a warm enough year to make it supple and rounded enough to perfectly accompany our cheese and restrained desserts, but with a balancing freshness

More over-indulgence will no doubt be reported as my journey progresses, along with visits to meet the new chef de cave at Charles Heidsieck, who comes with an excellent pedigree via Moët & Chandon, plus research at Lanson, Philipponnat and Ayala amongst others. And of course, there's the huge growers' events of Printemps de Champagne, for which one needs quite a good level of fitness.
But already, there's so much to learn – new wine bars, many growers of whom I've never heard before, and tastings tastings tastings.......

Kaaren Palmer
Kaaren Palmer Champagne

Dame-Chevalier des Côteaux de Champagne
Winner International Gourmand Awards Best French Wine Book
April 13, 2023

The dining room Les Crayères....copyright © Les Crayères


Before my departure from home, Sara Underdown and I were lucky enough to be invited by esteemed Penfolds winemaker, Peter Gago, for a tasting of the newly arrived Champagne Thienot x Penfolds releases. There are two 2013s – a blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs, both offering promise of cellaring and immediate enjoyment for an experienced palate. But the most readily quaffable right now is a relatively inexpensive rosé ($85 at Langtons or Vintage Cellars if you'd like to try it) brimming with berry aromatics, and nicely offset by citrussy marmalade ('grenadine' says Peter, precisely characterising the dominant fruit). 

Penfolds Chief Winemaker Peter Gago and Champagne Thienot Winemaker Nicolas Uriel...copyright © Penfolds


Taittinger has begun holding tastings in its beautiful building, the 13th century residence of the Comtes de Champagne, located in rue Tambour in the centre of Reims, during the closure of the crayères at St. Nicaise. Extensive works will transform the buildings and outlook of their historic home, with the setting in a park becoming more apparent, and adding to the general ambience. 
The Comtes de Champagne tasting experience is open Tuesdays to your tasting 

Veuve Clicquot, the historic house which was founded by the amazing Madame Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, manages an impressive range of reserve wines, enabling them to make rich and complex non-vintage champagne. Now they are offering an extremely varied visiting schedule. Choose from vineyards, rosé (it was Veuve Clicquot who came up with the clever idea of adding red wine to the cuvée), the art of ageing, the story of Madame Clicquot, cellar tours, food + champagne experiences – even organise a private here and scroll across the screen to see the full offering.

Nicolas Feuillatte, the enormous co-operative at Chouilly on the outskirts of Épernay, is an impressive place to visit. Its sheer size, the gleaming tanks, the laden trucks at harvest, the number of offices and meeting rooms, the range and volume of champagnes. Book the usual excellent tours.

Besides standard visits, a new initiative named the Effervesense workshop aimed to excite all the visitor's senses, allowing a discovery of the process of producing Nicolas Feuillatte cuvées, from the vine to the glass. Designed as an educational, immersive and sensory journey, the experience begins with a dive into the mysteries of champagne creation. The visitor circuit passes through the different spaces where each stage of the production is explained: the spectacular vat room and its vats for vinification, blending, then riddling, and the cellars where the wines rest. The visitor is then invited to stop in front of a vineyard, for a presentation on the notion of terroir and its fundamentals and the notion of geological impact of chalk and clay-limestone soils on the grape varieties. Then (your choice – see the special booking form via the link below) try the blind tasting!

Head to the Oenoteka room, a warm place after the cold of the storage areas, with dimmed lighting to put you at ease and perhaps instil confidence in an atmosphere of sharing and friendliness. Installed around a beautiful tasting table, you'll find in front of you twelve opaque containers corresponding to 12 sensory elements – smell, touch or taste – in order to discover in detail the characteristics of the main champagne grape varieties. One of the staff and an illustrated educational desk pad will assist in your sensory exploration. Then, taste three cuvées in black glassware. There will be three different wines including single grape varieties and a blend. Perhaps you'll now be on your way to be a blind tasting expert!

To book Effervesense tickets click here or via email or phone +33 (0) 3 2659 6461 allowing two hours for your visit, which should be in groups of 2 – 7.
Nicolas Feuillatte....image © Nicolas Feuillatte


Cellars in the Sky Awards as reported by Business Traveller
Best First Class Sparkling
Oman Air, 97 points, Champagne Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires, 2007
Qantas and Singapore Airlines, 96 points, Champagne Tattinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc, 2008
British Airways, 95.5 points, Champagne Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle NV, France
Best Business Class Sparkling
Air Tahiti Nui, 95 points, Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV, France
Singapore Airlines, 94 points, Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, 2014, France
EVA Air, 94 points, Champagne Castelnau Brut Millésime 2006, France
Finnair, 91 points, Champagne Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut NV, France
Qantas (internationally only), 91 points, Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque NV, France

The terrace Les Crayères,, Reims where there are always fabulous champagnes available
by both the glass and the bottle...copyright © Kaaren Palmer Champagne


Frèrejean Frères in Adelaide
Vine & Bubbles' Sara Underdown, in conjunction with Arkhé's highly regarding sommelier, Bhatia Dheeraj*, and chef Jake Kellie (delicious food made more so by flame and smoke), will be hosting a dinner 17th May, featuring the champagnes of relatively young house Frerejean Frères, which is based in Avize. I have been impressed by the champagne myself over a few tastings now, so there's something more to it than beginner's luck. To book click here

Or click here for for the Sydney option at Restaurant Nel

Meanwhile, The Buyer has some news about the house here and it should be noted that the chef de cave, who was born in Avize, is the very experienced Didier Pierson, who was instrumental in the revival of British wine producer, Hambledon, which moved into sparkling wine production in the 2000s. 
There will be more detailed news about this small champagne house in a future edition of this newsletter.

* 'Our own' Bhatia Dheeraj was one of the winners of the Ruinart sommelier challenge, with a recent result reported here by The Drinks Business.

’Spring’, Place du Forum, Reims April 2023


The Wine Enthusiast's 137th podcast is all about champagne ('About time', you might say), with an explanation from Mathieu Billecart about the rules of the region, the changing climate, and the history of the house...find it here


A warning that this link is full of advertisements, but it's worth reading for the text, and Charles Curtis MW always knows what he's talking about.

Indeed, I have collected – and shared – all of the champagnes mentioned, but these days they're very hard to find, and very expensive. My tip is to drink them when you find them in Champagne, or add a bottle or two to your suitcase prior to leaving France.

But if you really want to drink well cellared old champagne, Christie's Wine Department in America is auctioning the contents of a famous, temperature and humidity controlled private cellar. Delivery is only within California, but just check out what's on offer as you might think it worthwhile to ship a pallet in a temperature-controlled container. Note that you'll have to pay all taxes in Australia i.e., 29% WET, 10% GST and California (a minimum of 7.25%), plus freight.

Champagnes shipped last year amounted to in excess of 326 million bottles, one of the three top sales figures recorded since just prior to the millenium. Following a restricted harvest in 2020, and a poor harvest in 2021, many top brands have moved to an allocation system – and sometimes you just can't find what you'd like to buy. Moreover, the prices have already risen noticeably, and it's becoming harder to find bargains. However…..

Dan Murphy has Lanson Black Label NV $55 for members (membership to Dan's is free) – you could try a bottle of the Joseph Perrier at $50 and check it out. A new shipment could be good.

Vintage Cellars has Piper-Heidsieck NV $58 for members (membership is free – just ask to join) – you could try a bottle of the Canard-Duchêne at $50 and see if it's to your taste.

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Kaaren Palmer

Champagne Editor
Regular news is posted monthly on my website



Kaaren Palmer
Kaaren Palmer
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