Now that I’ve finally kicked my jet lag, I’m able to sit down and make an attempt at distilling the images, memories and tastes of the last week into a somewhat coherent entry to the Sauced blog.
Here I go . . .
From Saturday to Saturday I was in France, staying in Chaville-Vélizy at the house of my boyfriend’s sister (about 30 minutes from the St. Michel/Notre Dame stop), with day trips to Paris, Épernay, Riquewihr and Versailles thrown into the mix. We kicked things off with a Sunday trip to Épernay in Champagne via France’s excellent (when not on strike) railroad system. This is also where my boyfriend had the opportunity to see the stressed-out version of me (which I’m sure he found endearing and charming) as I realized there was a distinct possibility we might not catch our train to Épernay at the Gare de l’Est station. Usually, it wouldn’t be such a big deal as the trains run fairly frequently, but we had made plans to be met at the Épernay station by Christian Pol Roger of the Pol Roger Champagne house and it was an appointment to which I did not want to be late.
I hesitate to use the word “wine tour” because it felt more like spending an afternoon with a charming long-time family friend (although we had only just met) who is wonderfully engaging on the subjects wine, entertaining, travel, business, house restoration, history, politics, agriculture and familial relationships within business. Christian, recently retired, now carries a card with the delightfully tongue-in-cheek title Vin Reserves embossed beneath his name. He is now (as I imagine he always was) on reserve to be the ultimate host.
And what a host! We started by driving to the vineyards that overlook the village of Épernay as Christian spoke about the recent decision to expand the Champagne domain and upon arriving, were treated to a bottle of the 2004 Pol Roger Rosé (nerdy side note: Pol Roger only produces rosés in vintage years, ensuring an unparalleled quality of the final product) that we drank as we walked along the vines that produce the Champagne in Pol Roger’s catalogue. Pol Roger owns nearly half of the vineyards used in the production of its Champagnes and the other percentage is owned by families that have worked with Pol Roger for generations. This means that year after year, Pol Roger produces Champagne that is good enough for, well, royalty and prime ministers, as well as the rest of us.
I could write endlessly of our afternoon in Pol Roger, but I’m afraid I’ll lose your attention as I ramble on, so in an attempt at brevity, I’ll try and highlight the moments that stood out:
- Christian handing my boyfriend a headlamp as we descended into the 7 km of caves beneath the Pol Roger building on the L’Avenue de Champagne (that hold 40 million bottles of bubbly – um, yes please) in case the lights should go out (they didn’t, by the way, in case you were concerned).
- Christian sharing the story of the time he and his brother, as young children, thought it would be fun to explore the caves in the dark, aided only by disposable lighters and lost, were lucky enough to find their way out, only to be busted when the workers found their lighters the next morning (boys will be boys, even in Champagne).
- Lunch at Bistrot Le 7 that started with a bottle of Pol Roger NV White Foil and ended with me getting a mini MBA as Christian shared the wealth of his knowledge with me as it pertained to running a successul business (Pol Roger has been around since 1849, barVino since 2008 . . . I shut-up and listened with a capital ‘L’).
- Retiring to the Pol Roger headquarters and sharing a bottle of 1999 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (another nerdy side note: this is only the 12th vintage of Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill that has been released since 1975 as a way of honoring Pol Roger’s long friendship with Churchill – who had many quotes pertaining to his love of this cold, bubbly beverage, including, “Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”)
Each Champagne that we tasted made a lasting memory because it is irrevocably linked to the moment and place in which we drank it, and the people with whom we drank it. So the 2004 Pol Roger Rosé with its unexpectedly earthy nose, dense mousse and fine bubbles makes me think of blue skies (the only ones that we saw during our trip) that belied the chill in the air as we walked the perimeter of an ancient church as Belgian tourists spilled from rented cars. And the Pol Roger NV White Foil will now always remind me of stories pertaining to the liberation of France, Christian’s travels through 1960s American aboard Greyhound buses and him sitting across from the Queen of England as her Scottish guard played bagpipes. As for the 1999 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (gorgeously golden with a stream of pretty bubbles, toasty, round and beautifully structured from start to finish), it was the perfect ending to a perfect day as we sat in a room surrounded by photographs of generations of Pol Rogers, taking in the history not only of a family and its wine, but of a country and a place.