For most of us, with the exception of the most distinguished connoisseurs, drinking champagne is simply part of a party lifestyle, but how much thought do we really give to what goes into our glasses?
To get more of an idea, The Luxury Channel was invited by Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte on an exclusive trip to France to get a bit of a taster.
Arriving in Paris in the late afternoon, with the weather not a million miles away from the grey of London we’d just left behind, we decided to take a quick whistle-stop tour of one of the most beautiful cities in the world by boat. Warding off the growing chill with glasses of vin chaud – hot, sweet mulled wine – we were swayed along the Seine to marvel at the beauty of the architecture which surrounded us.
Since we were here first and foremost for the champagne, we called in at Espace Nicolas Feuillatte – the company’s boutique on Rue du Faubourg – to sample a sweet, refreshing Cuvée 225 Rosé.
That evening, The Luxury Channel was privileged to have been invited to Nicolas Feuillatte’s La Bohème Chic party at Salons France Ameriques on Avenue Franklin Roosevelt. Not only an annual event celebrating everyone’s love of bubbly, this was also a chance for the company to showcase their new La Bohème Chic champagne. Although not as sweet as the rosé, this glided down smoothly, and the cool, eclectic guests reveling in the party atmosphere, including UK TV’s Lizzie Cundy, certainly seemed to agree.
An early rise the following morning saw us dashing across Paris to catch the train to Reims, where we would be taking a tour of where Nicolas Feuillatte champagne is made.
A co-operative comprising of some 34,000 hectares of vineyards, Nicolas Feuillatte is one of the largest champagne houses in France – despite being a relative newcomer in the business, with just 40 years of heritage behind them. Although bound by the laws of the CIVC, who dictate when grapes should be harvested and when the champagnes should be bottled, Nicolas Feuillatte maintains a refreshing sense of a seemingly youthful spirit.
We were given a guided tour of the Nicolas Feuillatte factory facility, where the champagne is created. Their output is astonishing and makes Nicolas Feuillatte the third biggest producer of champagne, with some 21 million bottles produced each year.
Three hundred stainless steel vats, averaging at around 100,000 litres of liquid, allow the pressed grapes to ferment, with a single vat producing 133,500 bottles of bubbly. Yes, precisely – enough to make your head spin! – and that’s before they add the yeast and sugar combination known as liqueur de tirage, which gives the champagne its characteristic fizz.
Now that we were all in a champagne-quaffing frame of mind, we were able to enjoy a tasting session with Nicolas Feuillatte’s chief winemaker, David Henualt. So, first things first – coupe or flute? Henault prefers the aesthetic elegance of the coupe, but warns that the gas escapes quicker this way. He also recommends that champagne should be served at a chilled 8 degrees, and recommends keeping your glasses cool in the fridge beforehand – the instant you put champagne into a room temperature glass, it will in turn warm up by a couple of degrees.
As Henualt opens a bottle of champagne with a practiced flourish, I’m keen to know – how does one actually open a bottle precisely, without ending up looking like a Formula One driver on the podium? The answer, Henualt says whilst demonstrating, is simple. Holding the bottle at a 45 degree angle, with the label facing up, he untwists the wire, but keeps his thumb on the cork – with 6 bars of pressure in a bottle, the cork could explode out of its own random accord. For the same reason, Henault doesn’t twist the cork either, instead twisting the bottle from left to right, enabling the cork to come free with a rewarding pop. I’ve yet to put this into practice, but as Henault made it look so easy, how hard can it be?!
Following our tasting enlightenment, we adjourned for lunch to the beautiful Hostellerie La Briqueterie, a spa hotel affording fabulous views of the vineyards beyond. The food was exquisite – as was the flowing champagne!
We were joined for coffee by Nicolas Feuillatte’s CEO, Dominique Pierre. He explained that the reasons for the company becoming as large as it is in such a short space of time were three-fold. Firstly, being as young as they are affords them the freedom to do things a little differently, and as a result, stand out from the crowd (such as annually appointing an artist to create a special commission – this year is the turn of Mexican visual artist Alicia Paz, whose work is pictured above). Secondly, they have forged close relationships with their suppliers (they remain in constant contact with their growers all year round). Thirdly, they have built up a close relationship with their clients, too – allowing them to demystify the champagnes they are selling. This is not a stuffy, elitist brand, but a dynamic co-operative. It’s clear to see why they’ve done so well so young – and that’s got to be worth raising a glass to.
Visit www.nicolas-feuillatte.com for more information, and to see the full range of champagnes.