Our coach was not due to pick us up until 1pm so with around 3-hours of spare time we grabbed a couple of taxis between Royce & Jenni Everett and Craig & Jill King, Virginia and I and headed across Paris to Rue de Magdelaine to visit the world's finest wine store; Lavinia. It covers 3-floors and offers the most extensive range of wines & spirits you will likely see under one roof anywhere in the world. If you're looking for that special, rare, aged wine then why not a 1917 Grand du Puy Bordeaux for €26,000 or a double magnum of Romanee Conti 1998 Burgundy for €60,000. We however purchased an Alice et Olivier De Moor Bel-Air et Clardy 2012 Chablis along with a Phillipe Pacalet 2010 Pommard red Burgundy then adjourned upstairs to Lavinia's in store restaurant. There you can present your wine purchases for service with your lunch and pay the store retail price without additional charges. A fantastic service, especially when you have such an amazing selection of wines and the food is outstanding. Our waiter was aware of our need to get back to meet our coach and was very attentive with his service.
Our coach driver Herve was early (a good sign heading into an 18-day tour) and so were our group; all packed and in the lobby ready to head to Champagne. We arrived in Reims ahead of schedule, which gave us extra time to relax, freshen and don our good garb so to speak before boarding our coach for a 25-minute drive to the Champagne village of Chigny Le Roses where the Maison Gardet is located. Greeted by owners Christophe & Nathalie Prieux we were taken on a complete tour of the Maison from the winery reception to the cuvee aging room, the tank room, the main and secondary underground cellars and finally bottling hall. Christophe delivered a comprehensive picture of the Champagne process from beginning to end and from that was able to paint a clear picture for our group of why Gardet Champagnes are so outstanding and clearly without peer when it comes to quality and value. Gardet Champagnes are drier than most and therefore more elegant, revealing of their complexity and with finer bubbles. They can only achieve this through a huge commitment to longer ageing on lees in bottle post-secondary ferment; in most instances they are double and sometimes treble the time on lees to that of their Champagne style peers (see FWD Co. June brochure to view the lees ageing comparison graph). Our group were intrigued by the underground cellars and as is my experience are always fascinated with the large format styles of Champagne. We exited the cellars into the gardens where the famous Gardet white Rose was flowering beautifully. Christophe & Nathalie then led us into their conservatory and poured us a glass of their Gardet Byzantine NV Champagne; it is deliberately made in a more forward fruit driven style which is only aged for 2-3 years on lees and given a higher dosage (sweetening at the expressing of the lees where a small dosage of wine and cane sugar is added before corking and made ready for sale) to make it a very attractive aperitif (easy drinking) style. A fun Champagne if you like; perfect for entertaining, pre-dinner drinks and ideal for service in bars. Poured over fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries with a touch of basil leaf it proved a delicious aperitif; as Christophe had earlier said, Byzantine was a Champagne designed for moments of light heartedness and good company and not to be seriously contemplated like their other house offerings. Even though it is made for easy consumption it still spends greater time on lees than many big brand NV Champagnes. Post a quick peek at the Gardet Champagne bar we boarded the coach for a 15-minute drive to the Michelin restaurant ‘Le Grand Cerf' where Christophe & Nathalie had reserved a special room for our group to enjoy a degustation dinner matched with several of the Champagnes of Gardet. We first enjoyed the Charles Gardet Prestige Cuvee 2004 (new release); this is the prestige cuvee (the finest) of the house. What is compelling about this wine is the 10-years of lees ageing that give it superb complexity throughout the palate yet it finishes with such incredible elegance, freshness and lightness. A couple of plain but quite delicate pastries made a delicious accompaniment. Four outstanding courses followed served with the ‘Brut Selected Reserve NV' (aged 7-years on lees), the ‘Premier Cru' (aged 6-years on lees) and the ‘Charles Gardet Prestige Rosé Cuvee 2006' (aged 8-years on lees); the fourth course of petit fours was served with coffee and of course a top up of Champagne if so desired.
The food was sensational and the Gardet Champagnes equally so; it was a compelling example of the diversity and chemistry of Champagne and food matching and why we should be doing it ourselves at home more often. It was time to extricate ourselves from this superb evening so I seized the opportunity on behalf of our group to officially thank Christophe & Nathalie for their generosity and gracious company. Their passion and commitment to their family owned Champagne House is infectious and it was evident they appreciated a group of Kiwi customers travelling around the world to visit their Maison and dine with them and I know our entire group felt the same way. It was just a 15-minute coach ride back to our hotel in Reims and we were soon tucked up in bed and contemplating visits to the Maison's of Louis Roederer & Billecart-Salmon tomorrow. Cheers Jeff