To say our recent trip to France was a whirlwind would be a huge understatement. In the space of 6 days we had travelled from Paris down to Chateauneuf du Pape, back through Beaujolais, Burgundy, Chablis and Champagne, sampling about 200 wines along the way. Our final stop in Champagne was, therefore, a welcome effervescent intervention.
We began at Olivier Collin’s estate, Ulysse Collin, in the village of Congy in the Sézannais, south of the Côte des Blancs. Prior to going to the Ulysse Collin estate we were to meet Olivier at a restaurant to re-fuel both body and mind. This was my first meeting with Olivier and what a lovely chap he is too. He has a wonderfully infectious passion about wine making and it’s hard not to just get sucked into his world. After lunch we were on the road again to Ulysse Collin. Upon arrival we were escorted down to the cellars where Olivier took us on a pitch dark tour. We must have been about four or five meters down into the chalk and flint bedding, however thankfully with today’s technology, we were able to use our phones to light the way through the labyrinth of dark tunnels.
Once back in the comfort of natural sunlight we were shown the way to the tasting room where we sampled a few of his wonders. We had the 2013 Les Enfers and Les Roises amongst an array of other absolutely beautiful Champagnes. Not forgetting the freshly disgorged 2014 Rose de Saignee which was so approachable even at such a young age- a real treat.
Our final stop of the trip was to Chartogne-Taillet, which surprised me as one of the highlights of the trip. Chartogne-Taillet was established in the mid 1800’s and has been in the family ever since. In 1978 Philippe Chartogne took over the estate and since 2006 his son, Alexandre has been in charge.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by Alexandre, a lovely chap who was quick to welcome us all with open arms. We found ourselves immediately engrossed, listening to Alexandre’s philosophy behind winemaking, and how he follows in the footsteps of how the monks respected the terroir and listened to the land.
We then went on a brief tour of the estate, which included a beautiful family farm house. Construction is also underway to build a vast additional cellar/barrel room many metres down into the natural sandy, clay and limestone soil.
Finally onto the wines, which was a wonderfully casual affair with us all being led through the tunnels of the cellars clutching our tasting glass, while Alexandre pulled bottles at random to try. Often, it was difficult to know which particular wines we were tasting as most the bottles were without skins (no labels) but they were beautifully mature – one was a 1993 which was incredibly fresh and vibrant with a long life ahead. After disappearing into the dark wilderness of the cellar for several minutes, Alexandre emerged with a 1973 – the bottle covered in dust and cobwebs, a clear sign that it hadn’t been moved since bottling forty or so years before hand. This was one of the wines of the trip for me, it was just sensational. There was plenty of life in it yet. The wine jumped out of the glass with incredible richness and rounded flavours. It was dark caramel in colour with some serious ageing characteristics of toffee and nuts, all underlined by wonderfully precise tropical fruits and wrapped up in a delicate coating of tiny effervescent bubbles. This was an absolute treat and what a way to end the trip!
– Hugo Spencer