Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Champagne Academy 2013

Maison Belle Epoque
Holy shit sauce. What a week!
Last week, I was incredibly lucky enough to have been selected to go and spend 6 days in Champagne on behalf of The Champagne Academy - if you follow us on twitter you will probably have noticed as I didn't shut up about it all week.

For those of you who don't know, The Champagne Academy was founded in 1956, the idea being to promote the appreciation of Grande Marque Champagne in the UK and Ireland, it being the biggest market outside of France, and to educate younger members (generally 25 - 40 years old) of the wine industry about Champagne.
There are now 16 houses who are involved with the Champagne Academy and therefore there are 16 places, which are filled with us lucky folks who were picked by each house.

With 16 houses involved and all of them to visit within 5 days, it was a busy one to say the least.

Just to prove there was SOME work involved
Visiting so many producers and drinking so, SO much good wine is hardly a tough job, so there were some lectures and exams thrown in there too, just to avoid it becoming a total jolly. But since the lectures were hastily followed with more Champagne, none of us complained too much.

Every single element of the week had been organised so well, with bus transfers from one house to the next and the most incredible meals laid out by different houses throughout the week. This year, G.H. Mumm was the presidential house, with Mumm's Hugues Le Marié, the coolest guy in the whole of Champagne, as the President.

Because writing about all the good stuff that went on would take me days, I thought I best condense it down to just a couple of highlights.

The setting for dinner at Maison Belle Epoque
After a busy day visiting Bollinger and Heidsieck Monopole, for me eating at Perrier Jouët on the Monday night was absolutely epic. We were lucky enough to appear out of the cellars from our tour, into Maison Belle Epoque, the incredible house owned by Perrier Jouët. Straight away, we all thought we were in for an awesome night as it's normally only very special guests that are allowed in here and as soon as the first bottle of Belle Epoque Blanc de blancs was opened, our suspicions were confirmed. To be in the garden of Belle Epoque, drinking PJ's top Champagne wasn't too bad. Certainly beats staying in and watching repeats of Top Gear.

At this point in the week, this was still the first evening meal of that we'd had outside of the hotel we were staying in, so nobody really knew what to expect, however unsurprisingly the food was epic, everything cooked perfectly and paired expertly with the Champagnes we were drinking. The good thing was that it was clear Hugues, who was entertaining us that night, was really willing to pull out all the stops. Before we knew it, at the end of the meal he had the waiter passing around cigars and more fizz was flowing.
Outside, someone muttered 'A glass of Cognac would be perfect right now', to which Hugues replied 'You want Cognac? I'll get you Cognac'. Not too shabby.

The icing on the cake with Perrier Jouet was when we were all about to leave and Hugues made an announcement that he had a little present for us each. Expecting something along the lines of a Perrier Jouët coffee mug, it was a nice surprise when we were each handed a bag with a £150 bottle of their 2004 Belle Epoque Rosé. I went home a happy chappy that night.

As far as wine tasting goes, we did a hell of a lot within the week, so much so that all the acid of the Champagnes gave me pretty painful burns in my mouth. Which I know is a very first-world problem but fuck you, it hurt.

The best tasting of the week in my opinion goes to Krug. I had never been lucky enough to try any of their Champagnes before but when I turned up at their HQ early on the Thursday morning, hung-over as hell from the previous night, after throwing up in the very expensive looking toilets at Krug (something which will sure as hell not be going on my CV) I was raring to go.
Still a bit shaky, I managed to hold it together through our exam and lecture, although I still wasn't feeling 100%. It wasn't until our first glass of Krug Grande Cuvée when I started to feel on top of the world again. As Olivier Krug told us stories (less "long story short", more "short story long") about the history of the family and the setting up of the company, I felt like the Champers was working on me like Spinach does on Popeye. Apart from I didn't throw a sofa over my head or punch a baddie.

This was the day I learnt that Krug is not only incredible but is the best cure for a hangover in the world.

Olivier stayed with us to host a whole morning of tasting, which started with Clos du Mesnil 2000, which was unbelievably good. Having seen the circa £600 price tag for a bottle of this back in the UK, I thought it surely can't taste that good. It SO did. The best way to think of it is like taking a Bugatti Veyron out for a spin. All the other Champagnes are really bloody good, like Mercedes, BMW or even Ferraris but taking a Bugatti out would be on a whole new level. Krug in general is that Bugatti and the top Krug is a souped up Bugatti with shinier wheels.

After tasting some stunning wines with the most captivating host of the week, Olivier Krug, I thought I may as well jump infront of a bus because life doesn't get much better. I even got Olivier to sign a Krug book for me too because I'm a complete fan-boy bitch.

Granville the legend
Those are just two of SO many highlights of the week, If i could write about them all and say about all the amazing people - Benedicte at Pommery, Nicole at Laurent Perrier, Hubert at Pol Roger etc etc - I so would, but my fingers would be worn down to stumps and no one wants a computer keyboard covered in blood and finger-fragments. Too much cleaning.

The whole group that I got to share the week with were all such amazing people, from all different parts of the industry and from all different corners of the country, I couldn't have asked for more.

And just as the icing on the cake, when I got my Champagne Academy Diploma Certificate on the last day, it turns out I'm the youngest that they have ever had since the academy started. Awesome.
At that point though, all I was thinking of was wanting to drink some milk to sooth my mouth burns.

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