Whilst vacationing in Paris, my wife and I were invited for an overnight visit to the Moet et Chandon Chateau in Epernay. Given the legendary hospitality of LVMH, world leaders in luxury, we knew we could expect a weekend of indulgence. What remained to be experienced was just how decadent things would get.
A chauffer driven limousine arrived at our hotel on a crisp April morning and whisked us through the French countryside to Champagne country. We alighted an hour later at the estates of Moet&Chandon and went on a tour with the Chef de Cave or Master of the Cellars who led us around the temperature controlled interiors explaining the painstaking precision and expertise required to create fine Champagne. Besides soil, climate and grapes, years of experience and passion go into creating such sparkling genius. Fermentation is vital to the art of creating bubbly and bottles are stored upside down and turned by hand ever so slowly over a seven year maturation period. In what manner the bottles are turned and to what degree is a specialised skill. For premium bottles, Moet applies a special process of fermentation to carry on longer, which imparts a rounder and more complex taste to the wine. This is called Oenotheque Champagne and the wine so matured is more flavourful and rich than a normally matured sparkling wine.
Having worked up an appetite in the atmospheric cellars, we were ready for lunch at the stunning Trianon Chateau where Napolean would dine when he visited the region. A delectable meal was served up with Croustade de asperger and a superb Mignon de Veau served with a Moet&Chandon 1999 Vintage Rose.
Then we were in for a treat as our hosts had organised a private tour of the Abbey of Hautvillers. This is where Dom Perignon, the 17th century Benedictine monk lived and grew different grapes and experimented with wine making. The brittle glass bottles in which he would store his effervescent concoctions would often explode due to the build up of carbon dioxide inside. The locals, frightened by these detonating bottles, believed that Champagne was the Devil’s wine!
Over the years, the bottling got better and the content more refined. It was surreal to stand before the grave of the fabled priest best remembered for perfecting a bubbly drink that is today synonymous with hedonism.
Thereafter, we checked into the sumptuous Château de Saran where select guests are invited to spend the night. The Chateau was resplendent, florid and very French, oozing opulence and old world charm. Our magnificent bedroom, with a canopied four-poster bed, was one of only six and commanded a spectacular view of rolling vineyards. Expectedly, luxury permeates every corner of this historic 18th century mansion and even our sprawling bathroom was fitted with gilded faucets.
Dressed formally for dinner, we descended the sweeping staircase to make the acquaintance of our host, Monsieur Patrick Vandermarcq who is very much the French aesthete. A two-star Michelin chef was at hand to conjure up an exquisite meal to complement the three different Champagnes being served.
The Dom Perignon Vintage 1998 was served simply with scrambled eggs and caviar and the pairing was as delicious as it was unexpected. This was followed by a
dazzling Rose Vintage 1985 that complemented perfectly the Blanc de turbot roti au vin de Bouzy that the chef had prepared to perfection.
A platter of artisanal cheese and an extraordinary dessert of glace with pistas and figs followed. This came with the piece de resistance, the Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1976 that was a revelation in terms of sheer complexity and refinement.
Later the chef came to take a bow and we discussed among other things, the pairing of Champagne with world cuisines, particularly Indian fare. When I teased the maestro with a query on pairing French wine with German cuisine, he retorted with a classic ‘Pah!’ Indicative as much of the chef’s contempt for Teutonic cooking as it was of traditional Franco German rivalry.
Sated after the sublime meal, we proceeded to the ornate lounge for a post-prandial round of vintage Hennessey Cognac, cigars and animated conversations about art and culture. We retired woozily in the early hours and were awoken to a sumptuous Champagne breakfast served by French maids in our oversized bed.
At the end of our supremely indulgent weekend, we felt very much like Dom Perignon, who famously exclaimed on the first taste of his sparkling invention. “I see stars!!”