Tour de France without bikes but with wine and bubbles: J de Telmont

The initial plan was to just drive home after visiting the Beaune vineyards, but then I saw the Champagne region wasn’t an enormous detour to get back home… so what else could I do?? I just had to make the little ‘detour’ via the Champagne region to visit my 2nd Champagne vineyard aka J. de Telmont. I wanted to visit the J. de Telmont vineyard for a while now, it is one of the 3 champagne vineyards on my ‘wish /to do’ list (the other 2 are Bollinger that I visited last year and the 3rd vineyard I’m not gonna say yet 🙂 ). I know there are more than 3 vineyards in this region, but these are already for a long time the only ones I feel like visiting…. (it is like with everything else, you always have a few favorites)

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When most people think of the Champagne region they automatically think of Reims or Erpernay, but there are many more little towns around those 2 bigger ‘cities’ where Champagne is made. I know this is only my 2nd time in this region, but I do find it funny to see how close all the Champagne houses are to each other… no matter how you turn your head, you’ll always see another/ different one 🙂 Just made something clear, there is Champagne and champagne. I’ll clarify, it is not because on the label there is written ‘Champagne’ that it means it is a good champagne… Drinking a good champagne is a totally different sensation. In a good champagne there might be lots of bubbles, but they don’t disturb you or don’t get acid reflux or a headache the day after like you sometimes get when drinking ‘lesser quality’ champagnes. In case you were wondering,  J. de Telmont is one the good ones, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about them 😉

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What I like and admire about J. de Telmont is that besides making very nice Champagnes, they also try to teach people how the whole ‘making-of’ process works. (BTW this is also the motto and philosophy of the house: conviviality, hospitality and sharing)  They even go that far that you can blend your own champagne aka ‘Les Ateliers J. De Telmont‘ … I can hear you think that this is probably something only for professionals?? Wrong! This is something they do for and with everybody who is interested in it . Even the best sommeliers learn a lot from these workshops. For our visit we were honored to be guided around by mr. Bertrand Lhopital himself, 4th generation of the Lhopital family to lead  the company and to work (together with his team) to make every champagne they make their best champagne. He told us that from time to time some couples who are getting married come to make their own champagne for their wedding…

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I did already tell you this but just in case you forgot, champagne gets made from 3 grape varieties:Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These grapes must come from the area/region defined by the Champagne heritage board, if they don’t the finished product may not wear the name ‘Champagne’ but rather ‘Crémant’ (like Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Bourgogne). Champagne gets made in 2 fermentation periods. During the first fermentation the champagne makers will be making an actual (normal, but slightly more acidic) wine and it is only during the 2nd fermentation (aka Malolactic fermentation) by adding sugar that over time the bubbles will get in the wine and it will be come a Champagne. The assembling of different wines (from same or different grapes) happens just before the 2nd fermentation. Then what makes that not all champagnes taste the same?? Well because every champagne maker will just like any other winemakers ‘play’ with assembling  wines from different vintages, age their wines in wooden  barrels or stainless steel tanks and age wines longer etc…. all of this also in combination with working with the best grapes and traditions (FYI these are just a few examples)

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J. de Telmont was founded in 1912, but it was not until 1959 that André Lhopital (Bertrand’s grandfather) decided to change their name from Lhopital into Telmont… Why Telmont??  Well, it might seem like it corresponds to a person (I also initially thought this), but this is not true. As new name he wanted to use the name of his best parcel of land with historic vines from the vineyard on them aka “Beaumonts”. Unfortunately this name was already in use and there was refused by the CIVC. Mr Lhopital then opted to chance “Beaumonts “into “Belmont”, but again CIVC refused as there was still too much resemblance with the name“Beaumonts”. As Mr. Lhopital was no quitter he decided to try one more time by change “b” into “t” and adding initials to make it more special with as a result that in 1952 finally CIVC approved the vineyard was known as J. De Telmont 🙂 talking about perseverance!!

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It was not my first contact with J. de Telmont as I was already able to taste some of their Champagnes during the yearly ‘Best Belgian sommelier’ trophy from which J. de Telmont since a few years is sponsor. It was during these first contacts that J. de Telmont came on my ‘wishlist’ of vineyards I definitely wanted to visit as the few things I tasted gave me taste for more exploring of their selection 🙂

Telmont Champagnes

I don’t want to sound cliche because I keep saying this, but I love hearing a passionate person like in this case mr. Lhopital speak. It is so contagious, I mean you just want to keep listing to what they have to say. They can make the most technical things sound like some the easiest and explain it in such a way that you can actually understand it as they really want to you to understand it (without only throwing around with fancy terms that sometimes make things more confusing). This is also what I always try to do in my blogpost of when explaining something in person. A good example was that we got to taste some wines before their 2nd fermentation to understand how the wines keep developing and change over time and during the 2nd fermentation. The frosting on  the cake for me (besides tasting the finished product) is always walking through enormous cellars where maybe millions of bottles are stored from all vintages… a walk through Telmont’s history basically.

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To celebrate this exceptional anniversary, the family Lhopital wants to share some of their history by reselling some of their older (best) vintage from 1964, 1969, 1975, 1976, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1990 and 1992. Champagne from ‘Collection Héritage’ as they are called are elaborated with 100 % Pinot Meunier grape variety You would expect this would be for exceptionally high prices, but you are wrong. They Lhopital family wanted the prices reasonable as they want everybody to be able to enjoy this and not only the happy few… it is part of their philosophy (sharing).  It speaks for itself that they won’t be giving them neither, but can be bought ,depending the vintage, from 70 to 150EUR… Just as comparison if you would want a Burgundy or Bordeaux wine from 1964 you’ll have add a few zero’s.. J. de Telmont just wants everybody to be able to enjoy a bit of that legacy. SOOO if you want to know how 1985 tasted like… here is you chance 🙂

Old vintages

My absolute favorite champagne of the Telmont selection would be the Centenaire which unfortunately is not for sale and can only be tasted in exceptional cases like this year’s Gala diner after the ‘Best Belgian Sommlier’ trophy where fortunate enough to be part of :-). This one does without any doubt get followed by the O.R.1735 which is has the wonderful smell grilled/ freshly baked brioches or bread with notes of vanilla and a taste that makes every sip of champagne a feast… the O.R. 1735 is in a few words a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Grapes come from Grand Cru area’s). If you afterwards compare it with the ‘regular’ Blanc de blancs, you’ll find the same notes, but less complex and less vanilla notes.

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From the non 100% Chardonnay champagnes my preference went to the Grande Réserve Brut which had and is the perfect balance between all 3 grape kinds as it exists out of equal shares of all 3 grape types (Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir). A very round full bodied wine with notes of fresh hard white fruits. I guess it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that by miracle the just mentioned champagnes found its way to our homes (both mine as Carlos’) 🙂 🙂 My excuse was my daughter’s birth and being able to celebrate it with a good glass… not sure what Carlos’ excuse was 😉 ???

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After our visit we can confirm that their philosophy isn’t only a few words, but in fact their way of work as it felt like visiting friends for whom they took all their time and we were the most important (hospitality and conviviality)and we learned a lot about champagne making and got to taste some real beauties (sharing)….Just the way I like it!!

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The end 🙂 We go back home with lots of new knowledge and a trunk full of wine 🙂

 

Not just your average Champagne

What does Queen Elizabeth II have in common with James Bond (aka 007)? Their love for Bollinger Champagne. Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the vineyard of the in 1829 founded Bollinger Champagne, it is an honor as you can only visit the vineyard upon invitation! Thanks to this visit I got a totally different view on champagne. The strength of Bollinger is to my opinion that it is still run by the Bollinger family… I know lots of people find champagne expensive (although if you want a really good cava of prosecco you’ll also be paying more than before), which is true… But for me there must be made a distinction between (I won’t be using names)  Champagne makers! Some Champagne makers only assemble as they don’t have their own grapes. Others only care about selling and making as much as possible and sell their champagne at astronomic/ exclusive prices for no reason (as they make over 10 million bottles a year, so that for me isn’t exclusive anymore). And then there are houses that prefer making quality instead of quantity like Bollinger. (For more info on the history of this Champagne maker check link)

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And even in the group of those houses Bollinger sticks out as they work in an even more special way.  For instance Bollinger uses 70% of its own grapes and the remaining 30% is bought (from farmers that passed the strict Bollinger requirements). On top of that the grapes they use are all from Grand and premier Cru vineyards.  Normally when making champagne the grapes are picked together and all pressed together. Bollinger will be picking and pressing all grapes that are from a different area in Champagne region and type of grape (cépage) separately. So basically from every bottle they are able to tell you exactly from which “lot” the grapes where from. They do this to have a better control of the quality of the Champagne as some grapes might have had more sun than others and therefore are sweeter and will produce more alcohol. They do admit it is a lot more work, but in the end it pays off. I’ll try to keep it short, but no promises 🙂

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I’m sure you probably already know this, but just in case I’ll tell you. Champagne gets made out of 3k kinds of grape: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay (Bollinger will be using a higher % of Pinot Noir in their Champagnes). What follows would be the 2nd thing that distinguishes champagne makers who choose to go for quality or quantity. When champagne is made there are 3 pressing to get the juice out of the grapes.

1st pressing: is the best part as it will only be existing of 100% juice

2nd pressing: will be having some pulp in the juice (so quality is a bit less)

3rd pressing: here mostly only the pips and skins remain and are used to make alcohol.

Bollinger only uses the 100% juice, the remains from the 2nd and 3rd are sold to other Champagne makers (Big names). And again here they will be pressing all grapes from a different “lot” differently.

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After the pressing the  grapes into the “first fermentation” process, where they will basically make a white wine aka “still wine” or “vins claires” (so no bubbles yet). For this fermentation Bollinger will be using for the “Special Cuvée” (their “base” champagne) Inox tanks (like most champagne makers). Or better 70% in inox and 30% in old oak barrels, if that particular pressing has the power to handle the  oxidation and malolactic conversion…For the more special champagnes they make (Millisimées , La Grande Année and RD) they will be 100% having a first fermentation in old  burgundy barrels (which is unique for champagne makers). The old burgundy won’t be giving a wooden flavor/scent, but rather a light oxidation which will give a richer aroma and a product with a long aging potential (the champagnes can age over 40 years…). For the first fermentation they will still be keeping the “vins claires” separate according to origin.  This will give Bollinger a large assortment of “vins claires” (some sweeter, some with more acidity) to assemble the Champagnes or in this stage still wines.  To guarantee that quality Champagne makers will be mixing the still wines from the current year (95%¨) with what is called “Reserve wines” (5%)  . Bollinger will only be mixing 1/3 from current year, 1/3 of the still wine from the past 2 years and 1/3 of the reserve wine. FYI the reserve wines age in Magnum bottles with cork and knowing they keep their reserve wines up to 15 years per cépage and per region you can imagine they have a huge “reserve” 🙂 🙂 (oooh yeah a little word game)

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I hope you guys are still with me?? I know I’m being a bit more technical than I usually am, but now more than ever you need to know the whole picture… but next time somebody starts babbling/showing of about their champagne knowledge you can impress them with what you know  (snap)

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OK, so after the assembling of the cépages (or grape types) they will be adding yeast and cane sugar that will help the still wine to get its aroma and the bubbles during the 2nd fermentation.  BTW for Bollinger’s Rosé champagne they will be assembling the still wine with 5% actual strong red wine (100% Pinot Noir Grand Cru from their own vineyards and that can also be bought on its own “LA CÔTE AUX ENFANTS”) instead of leaving the skins of the grapes to give the color to the champagne.

According to the CIVC champagne can be sold after 15 months of 2nd fermentation (mostly cheaper champagnes) as for Bollinger will at least be fermenting 4 years (48 months) for the Special Cuvée and between 8 and 25 years for the RD. After the “15 months” the bubbles will still be too aggressive (just do the test yourself I ‘d say if you don’t believe me 🙂 )

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Now during our visit we first had a tasting of some of the still wines (so from the first fermentation), but best is when you taste these that you don’t drink too much of it as they are a bit more “acid” than a normal wine (it will get “sweeter during 2nd fermentation) otherwise a close-by bathroom wouldn’t be a luxury 🙂 (except for the red wine as that is a like regular red wine). Anyhow it was really interesting to taste the difference between the still wines from same year and grape but from different vintages.

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Although I enjoyed the visit a lot and learned that Bollinger Champagne is made with a lot of care and patience, my preferred moment was lunch 🙂 with of course the finished product paired with the dishes.  These are the moments I cherish the most!! Surrounded with international sommeliers, wine dealers, etc… and we even had a special guest at our table Gilles Descotes who is Bollinger’s ‘chef de cave’. (very interesting guy!). I think there is no better way to learn everything there is to learn about champagne

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We started with the Special Cuvée that got served with Scallops prepared in 3 ways with petites Rattes du Touquet, Guérande salt and a Parmesan crisp.

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Followed by the 2004 La Grande Année that was served with Iberian Filet mignon, saffron and chorizo rice.

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With the 2002 RD came an cheese assortment Comte de Reserve and Gruyère de Garde.

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For with the dessert they had foreseen Bollinger Rosé… which was a perfect ending of a great meal.

But the perfect ending of the day in Ay was after visiting the vines in the sunshine…

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My personal favorite Champagne is the 2004 La Grande Année if I’d have to pick one. My private wine collection will be growing again 😉 😉

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I could keep going on and on about Bollinger or Champagne… but I promised to keep it short 🙂

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So next time you’re buying champagne you can compare and find out Bollinger (taking into account what I said above) isn’t the “exclusive” overpriced champagne, but a bottle filled with love, care and lots of patience aka Quality!