My fearless editor, I think it’s safe to say, knew that I would come around to the idea.
‘James, fancy a Saturday tasting trip to Prestige des Sacres Vineyard in Champagne with Global Grapes? You’ll have to do me a write-up, of course, but, well…’
…well, I had to think about it for all of ten seconds, check off my proposed absence (and potential state of inebriation upon my return) with my beloved (check), and I was in.
I mean to say, I have already had the privilege and pleasure of attending one of Global Grape’s excellent wine tastings, at the home of one of the institution’s co-owners, so I really couldn’t see how a trip to the heart of Champagne near Reims would be any less of a joy.
It wasn’t. True, it was a touch painful having to be at the bus pick-up point at 06:45 on a Saturday morning but, given that the trip was around three-and-a-half hours, and we all wanted as much of the day to enjoy as possible, you couldn’t really complain. And under the very capable leadership of a couple of the Global Grapers whatever discomfiture I experienced at being on the road so early was very quickly put to bed with coffee, croissants and, before very long, more than a couple of glasses of the good stuff.
The Prestige des Sacres champagnes that we were en route to discover the origins of had been very conveniently situated in a cool-box, and we were to have an ample taste of three of their finest before and after our visit to the vineyard – Brut Prestige (very big on the fruit, but with a delicate, easy-drinking charm), Rosé Prestige (one of the best rosés I have tried in a long while) and Cuvée Privilège Brut Millésimé (a belter, in keeping with its ‘vintage’ label, which is only awarded to the champagne house’s finest years).
So, it’s safe to say that I was well in the mood for more but, before we arrive, a brief history lesson (with thanks to Prestige des Sacres’ website): ‘The kings of France coronations used to take place in the Cathedral of Reims – Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi in 498-499, which gave birth to the tradition of most of France’s subsequent kings being crowned in Reims. Our vineyards became the kings’ wine birth place and this well before Champagne became, well, champagne.’
There are 300 acres of Prestige des Sacres, in which each variety of grape so essential to champagne’s wonderful flavours, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, find their own expression. From Massif de Saint Thierry through Monts de Reims, as far as Montagne de Reims, the different types of soil and the choice of varieties provide grapes with uniquely expressive qualities.
But that’s enough of the ad spiel for now – our genial host and Master of Ceremonies, Frédéric, was waiting for us at the vineyard, and a full programme was in store. We had a truly delicious afternoon awaiting us, but we were going to have to earn it.
First, Frédéric showed us the press from which comes the first juice of the grapes, be it noir, meunier or chardonnay – the first press juices, which is called the cuvée, is absolutely vital to the future Prestige des Sacres blends, and holds a privileged place in the process. Care must be taken to avoid excessive oxidization, so the pressed juice is quickly lowered in temperature to around 17 degrees Celsius, before allowing the time required for the wine to age after the vital secondary fermentation (which produces the magic bubbles), the time provided after disgorging to find the right balance in the cuvee and to create conditions to assist the subtle ageing of the flavours in the bottles. Prestige des Sacres champagnes offer a fruity and fresh range, offering everything from fruit to subtle power and elegance.
Then, it was time for lunch. Wow, just wow – a delightful entrée of a half-cut (!) melon served with a champagne alcohol resembling a dry, heavy port, followed by a simply delightful, hearty repast of the finest bacon, ham, sausages and seasonal vegetables that is apparently the fayre frequently enjoyed by the grape pickers (which we were shortly to become). In addition, while we had enjoyed champagne by way of aperitifs before the meal, our accompanying wine was in fact of the rare, still variety – a red wine from Champagne that complemented the meal to perfection. Lots more drinks, a delicious flan-style pudding and an excellent coffee later, and it was time for us to join the harvesters.
We were in fact extremely honoured to be invited to the vineyard in grape-picking season, which had just begun – normally, nothing is allowed to interfere with bringing the booty home but, thanks to Global Grapes’ reputation and their very good relationship with Prestige des Sacres, we were allowed to don our ‘blue team’ official pickers’ T-shirts and get stuck in.
We were picking the pinot meunier grapes, and I was finally able to realize a long-cherished dream of tasting a bunch (or three, or four) of real wine grapes at harvest time. And they did not disappoint – while very different from the standard eating grapes to be found at the greengrocer, they nevertheless had a startling contrast between sour and sweet that was amazing, and I still have a couple of bunches in my fridge that I am working through as a flavourable memento.
Then, there remained only to thank Frédéric, Prestige des Sacres and Global Grapes – if any of the above has whetted your appetite for enjoying a trip of your own, all you have to do is make contact with either the vineyard direct or Global Grapes, contact details below.
For me, it was back to Brussels with another lovely memento of the day, kindly provided by Prestige des Sacres. See if you can guess what it was, and how long it will last in my fridge?
Champagne Prestige des Sacres
T. +33 3 26 03 63 40
Global Grapes sprl.
Avenue des Sittelles, 103
T. +32 (0)495 81 53 77
For Global Grapes’ full selection of excellent champagnes, click here.