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…

CHAMPAGNE J DE TELMONT B. LHOPITAL

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!!

CHAMPAGNE J DE TELMONT VENDANGES 1912

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 🙂

 

2014 Best Belgian Sommeliers Trophy

Wine has now more than ever become such a great deal of my life and I keep learning every day. Watching this year’s finals of the Best Belgian Sommelier competition made me realise there is still a very long way if I ever want to be as good as the finalists :-). What made this year’s final extra special is that for the first time the “Belgische Sommeliers Gilde”, “Prosper Montagé” and “VVS” have joined their forces in organising 1 collective competition (instead of all separate contests).

Every year again I am surprised how tough the finals of the Trophy of Belgian Sommelier is. Lots of people despise it a bit and don’t get the whole sommelier thing or the importance of it. Trust me when I say a good sommelier who knows what he’s talking about and how things should be done is a world of difference with one who doesn’t! During a dinner for example. I dear you to check it next few times you go out for dinner or lunch and after a while you’ll know what we’re talking about and their importance of making your food experience more complete! Another possibility would be to come and see the 2015 finals as they are open for everybody to come and see. You’ll be surprised of the level these guys work at. before I continue I must introduce this year’s victims 🙂 🙂 : Benoît Couderé (Karmeliet), Antoine Lehebel ( Villa Lorraine) and Jasper Van Papeghem ( Hostellerie L’ Esco )

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Some parts of the competition might seem simple, but they’re not. What first of all makes it so difficult is that there are so many different types of wine from so many countries each having their uniqueness but also similarities.Also there some ways/ rules on how bottles should be opened, decanted and served… On top of that all stages of the competition are to be done in certain amount of time going from 3 to 15 minutes. The first “test” is for example a very good example of seeming simple… Just like last year the finalist had to serve according to the rules of the art a particular bottle of J.L Telmont champagne. So far nothing special might think, which is true if it weren’t for the fact the finalist has to explain what is special about the champagne he is serving, taking into account that the oldest person at the table is celebrating its birthday and that all of a sudden somebody from the public joins the table and asks a Belgian beer (and yes here again the finalist has to tell something about)… still taking into account he only has I think it was 10-15minutes (not sure anymore) to fulfill this task and there is a whole room full of top sommeliers, journalists and “regular” people watching your every move .

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The most difficult part according to most spectators was where the finalist has to make corrections to a wine list. The errors on the wine list can be grammatical, a wine being in the wrong section of the menu, as well as that for example there is written a wine is Millésime but according to the other specifications it is not possible this wine is a Millésime. Me personally I always find the most difficult part the tasting and recognizing wines or alcoholic drinks… where they have to tell as much as possible about what they taste, like country, grapes, vintage, etc… knowing they (the jury) try everything to confuse the finalist by for example serving the drink in a black tinted glass. FYI the whole completion gets followed by a bailiff to make sure every happens correct and that all 3 finalist get treated in exactly the same way. Also the jury judging the finalist exists out of a international group of people of Top Sommeliers, Top wine journalists (no, not talking about myself ;-), but about somebody like Fiona Morrison for example). After all 3 participants did their thing the answers are show, this sometimes gives big surprises.

Antoine winelist

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Again, I think I still have to learn a loooooooot before I could ever participate or to maybe even get close to level of the participants. This year’s winner was Antoine Lehebel ( Villa Lorraine)!!!! Last year he was 2nd and before the start already a favorite. All 3 participants were very good, but Antoine gave the most correct answers and seemed the most fluent of all 3. Congratulations to Antoine! I must admit I was jealous about all the gifts he got :-). Another advantage of the joined forces of the organizers of the contest is that the winner gets even more gifts than last year 🙂 I hope to see you guys next year to get a new view on the world of sommeliers!

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More about the celebration of the victory in my next post …