We have meticulously planned our first trip to Champagne region. You can find plenty of useful information on Rue de Vignerons where you can also book your champagne and wine tastings. That is exactly what we have done!
We stayed for 6 days in Épernay – “the capital of Champagne” – and every day was a carousel of emotions and new horizons. Épernay is a commune in the Marne department in northern France. It is located some 130 km north-east of Paris on the main line of the Eastern railway to Strasbourg. The town sits on the left bank of the Marne river at the extremity of the Cubry valley which crosses it.
That morning was sunny, and the blue sky was inviting us for a nice breakfast outside. We were planning to have our first champagne experience soon…
After a wonderful breakfast in the garden, we met for the first time the majestic Avenue de Champagne which hosts many leading champagne producers such as Moët et Chandon, Mercier and De Castellane.
Our first stop was at Alfred Gratien which is a family champagne house since 1864. Alfred Gratien champagnes are handcrafted for guaranteed quality and consistency. A few miles away from Epernay’s bustling town center, deep in the heart of a Champagne vineyard, are the Alfred Gratien champagne cellars. It was here, on Rue Maurice Cerveaux, that Alfred Gratien set up his business and created his first cuvées in 1864. For over a century and a half, Alfred Gratien champagnes have remained a family affair perpetuated by the expertise and know-how of their founder.
Upon entering the courtyard, we turned left through the heavy wooden doors. That was the beginning of “a journey into the heart of the story and heritage of champagne”, as Champagne Alfred Gratien describes its house and wine experience. You will be very soon surrounded by nice oak barrels, as the champagne here has been vinified in oak (‘sous-bois’) since its very beginnings.
A very nice lady welcomed us and invited us for the tasting in a nice and cosy lounge upstairs. It was then when our passion for champagne started. We had each a three-cuvées tasting and we were able to try in total six amazing wines. All bottles were opened for us, so we enjoyed that effervescent sound six times! You should know however that you do not pop the champagne just like that… the sound should be more of a soft hiss. And this is because the bigger the pop of the bottle, the more fizz the actual drink will lose. How to open a champagne is an art, but no worries it will become easy with some practice!
Back to the six-amazing-cuvées-tasting-adventure which was waiting for us. We tried: Brut, Brut Nature, Brut Rosé, Blanc de Blancs Grand Crus, 2012 Millesime and Cuvée Paradis Rosé 2007. Although all cuvées were of a great quality, we would pause on two: the sensual Blanc de Blancs and the voluptuous Cuvée Paradis Rosé.
Vintage 2012, this surprising Blanc de Blancs is made partially from Chardonnay Grands Crus from Avize and Cramant and unfolds all the nobleness and specificities of Alfred Gratien Champagnes. The nose has discrete notes of grapefruit, white flowers and crêpes, followed by a certain smoky tinge with notes of fresh butter. The taste is concentrated and dense and underpinned throughout by an intense acidity. Effervescence and sweetness discretely accompany the wine’s sensory qualities to create a silky texture, with an impressively long finish of chalky minerality. As the house itself describes it… “Taut, silky, long and pure, this ‘chardonnay en champagne’ is seemingly unbeatable.”
Vintage 2007, the Cuvée Paradis Rosé is a true gastronomic champagne. The nose has floral and mineral notes revealing saffron, toast and new leather, with closing notes of orange blossom and red berries. The taste is fresh and full-bodied. This wine is expansive, concentrated and bold in the mouth, revealing a heavier taste underpinned by clay minerality. Its intense character gives it a creamy texture, accompanied by a long finish of 8 to 10 seconds.
This is how we ended our top-notch champagne tasting at Alfred Gratien. During the tasting we learned that classic brut cuvées remain in the cellar for four years, vintages for at least ten years and the cuvée Paradis spends six to seven years in the cellar. The 1,000-odd barrels are matured in oak, yet the cuvées from the Champagne Alfred Gratien house do not undergo malolactic fermentation. This choice preserves the fruit’s original character and the liveliness of long-ageing wines.
If you are visiting the Champagne region and you find yourself in Épernay, do not miss a visit to Champagne Alfred Gratien. For us it was the first visit and we all know that first love is never forgotten!