*This post was the grand prize winner in the cork’d contest to win tickets to attend the Independent Champagne and Sparkling Wine Invitational (ICSWI).
My Most Memorable Experience While Drinking Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine. What can I say? It is the primary reason I drink wine in the first place, the beverage that got me into wine, and remains my favorite style. No other beverage makes me happier then a glass of bubbles and I continue drink more sparkling wine than any other kind of wine on the planet. At any given time of any day, any season, there is always a minimum of two bottles of chilled bubbles in my refrigerator, ready for consumption. When guests visit my house, they are offered a glass of bubbly before any other beverage. I jump at any opportunity to learn more about, and taste more, sparkling wine and I would die for the opportunity to go to the Independent Champagne and Sparkling Wine Invitational (ICSWI).
So when I am prompted to write about a “most memorable” experience while drinking sparkling wine I am honestly stumped. Most of my “most memorable” moments in adulthood involve bubbles: my first bottle of Dom Perignon drunk directly out of the bottle, hidden behind a paper bag, at Disneyworld new years 1999; my graduation party from my masters program at the Bubble Lounge in San Francisco watching six people trying relentlessly to open a Jeroboam (3 liters, or equivalent of 4 standard bottles) of bubbles; my wedding bubbles; my 30th birthday party with a sparkling wine theme and dozens of bottles of my favorite sparklers provided by my guests; teaching my first wine education class on sparkling wine; or just an average Monday evening in the middle winter, sitting on the couch, snuggled up by the fire, reading a book and drinking a glass of, yes, bubbles.
I guess if I had to choose one, it would have to be my first trip to Épernay France, in the Champagne region, about two years ago while on vacation with my husband. It was a visit we were not intending to take and could have arguably caused rifts in our marriage. After four days sans car in Paris, we rented a car with the intent to drive southeast to Beaune, in the Burgundy region for a few days, then west to Bordeaux for a few more days. When I looked at the map (see below at the end of this post) and noticed how close Épernay was (one of the major towns in the Champagne region) I argued that we should take a day trip there on our way to Beaune. The husband wasn’t into it at all and didn’t want to sway off our planned course. “But we are on vacation and I want to visit Champagne!” I demanded. After getting lost outside the airport rental car area, spending close to an hour trying figure out how to program our GPS, arguing the entire time about directions, I somehow figured out how to use the darn thing and “accidentally” programmed the device to take us to Épernay, and not Beaune. Innocent mistake.
Thus, we finally were on route to the place where dreams are made of (unbeknownst to my husband of course). He had no idea, and didn’t speak nor read a word of French, we could have been going to Germany for all he knew. After he finally caught on and realized we were, in fact, on our way to Épernay, not Beaune, he got feisty and threatened to turn the car in the direction of Burgundy, but I refused to hand over “Geraldine” (the name we gave to our GPS because of it’s pretty female British accent).
Tension was rising.
Things, however, quickly changed after I made him stop at the visitors’ center for him to take a walk and calm down and perhaps have a coffee (he fell in love with the coffee in France so I thought I might distract him with that temptation). Plus, I promised I would make it up to him when we got to his own “dream destination”, Bordeaux (on schedule for a few days later). Since we were already there, we may as well take advantage of it, right? Besides when he saw how my eyes lit up when I saw a road called “Avenue de Champagne” how could he possibly still be mad? I had arrived at my happy place and I was in awe.
We only had a few hours to visit so we asked the visitors center for recommendations. We were right next to Moët& Chandon, which they said offered a lovely tour, but if we wanted something uniquely French we should skip Moët and go to Mercier just a few blocks away. Mercier, they informed us, is one of the largest producers of Champagne in the region but less than 10% of it ever leaves the country because they have such a strong and patriotic following by the French, therefore we were unlikely to ever see their wine in the US. I like them already!
We took the Mercier tour and, with a super sized grin on my face the entire time, we learned about their history and their pioneering founder, Eugene Mercier, who started the business at the ripe age of twenty! We also learned about his idea to build 18 km of underground tunnels stretching from the winery to the Paris-Strasbourg railway to give access to tourists, and many more of his pioneering ideas that helped put Mercier on the map. We toured the underground caves in a trolley-type ride that was reminiscent of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland (seriously), and ended in their tasting room for a flight of their amazingly delicious Champagnes.
It ended up being an incredible experience, fun, and if you ask the hubby, very much worth the detour. To this day he still talks about it as one of the highlights of our trip to France (although he will never admit how much of a sourpuss he was leading up to it).
It taught him a very important lesson.
How to relax while on vacation, and to not rely on a schedule so much, because sometimes the best parts of a vacation are the ones that are impromptu, and not scheduled in advance. And it taught me that sometimes it’s okay to start a fight… as long as it is in the name of Champagne.
Next time we’re in France, however, will most certainly schedule quite a few days in Champagne and visit more than just one place!
So I guess out of all of my hundreds of memories with my favorite beverage, visiting my first real Champagne house in France would have to sit very high on that list.
Seriously, does that look “out of the way” to you? A. Paris -> B. Épernay -> C. Beaune