Written by Mr Oystercatcher on 21 Sep, 2001
The invitation from our friends the ‘Loueries’ (noisy South African birds) to join them and some friends for a weekend of sampling in Champagne was too good to miss. As Mr Oystercatcher was due to spend some time on business in France anyway this seemed…Read More
The invitation from our friends the ‘Loueries’ (noisy South African birds) to join them and some friends for a weekend of sampling in Champagne was too good to miss. As Mr Oystercatcher was due to spend some time on business in France anyway this seemed an ideal way to start the week. A quick trip through the tunnel with the car (still the most enjoyable way to go) saw us deposited mid-morning on Friday at Calais. The Citie Europe shopping centre, being so close, was an automatic choice to visit, enabling Mrs O to acquire a couple of fleeces (the weekend was looking colder then anticipated) and our usual visit to Tescos to stock up on wine.
(For readers outside Europe our stupid taxation laws means that an English supermarket chain can sell wines at about half the price in France. The Calais store is therefore full of English people buying by the case enabling Tesco to sell over 20% of its total wine volume through one store).
Our friends had selected a Gite (French for Bed and Breakfast plus) close to Epernay about two and a half hours drive from the tunnel. French motorways are toll roads so therefore unused by the French (Gallic pride) enabling us foreigners to pay up and drive fast. Some caution must however be applied as the police sit at the tollbooths and any car that has averaged over the speed limit (80mph) is fined.
The accommodation was splendid (see entry for Domaine de Patrus) and the region, though not as picturesque as we might have expected was a pleasure to drive through.
Our companions for the weekend were an assortment of colourful noisy migrant species and were fully determined to try as many of the local champagnes as possible. Mrs O and I happily joined in and the weekend flowed from vineyard to cellar to table to bed in a happy cacophony of bonhomie.
Our hosts arranged for us to visit two family vineyards where we were made most welcome and sampled the best of the regions wares. The whole champagne thing, when you get to the core of it, is a myth built around the fact that the local Chardonnay grapes are not good enough to make still wine so another way of marketing them was required. We visited the great Moet et Chandon cellars and came away convinced that the whole champagne mystique is a complete con. We were buying far better champagnes from single family growers at half the price of the Moet and Dom Perignon marques. The best vineyards blend and sell directly to the finest French restaurants and have no bottles to sell to Joe Public. Even so we tried them all just to make sure.
Others of the party had extended their breaks either before or after the weekend and were enchanted by the beauty of Reims and Troyes and deeply moved by the memorials to the fallen of both world wars especially at Verdun. We were all moved deeply by the enormity of the losses particularly the first world war and were all moved to tears at some private moment during the visits. It could do humanity no harm at all if we were all to visit these and other moving reminders of mans inhumanity to man found in Europe to help us understand the need for tolerance and appreciate the suffering of our forefathers.
Our own suffering in this pleasant weekend break was purely self inflicted. Good wine, food and company made this a very Epicurean weekend. The wit flowed like wine (or so it seemed to us) and the lack of good weather, whilst concerning to the vintners, in no way detracted from our enjoyment.