We love visiting smaller wineries, but the larger producers have a lot to offer, too! After exploring some boutique champagne houses, we decided to check out one of the landmarks of the champagne region: Champagne Taittinger!
Champagne Taittinger is the one large champagne house that EVERY tour book recommends. The facility, the tour content, and, of course, the champagne all come together for a memorable visit. After gliding down an incredibly narrow road (our GPS tried to kill us nearly every day of our trip) we easily found a parking space and made our way into the tour headquarters. There were several levels of tour tickets available for sale, with the primary difference being the number of different champagnes to be tasted at the end of the tour. The price differences, times the four of us, more than covered the purchase of entire bottles afterward, so we decided on the “one taste” tour tickets. We purchased our tickets and waited a few minutes before our English-language tour began.
After a brief video describing the history of Champagne Taittinger, we filed out of the cinema and wound our way down an amazing spiral staircase. Yes, even the stair treads had a champagne theme!
At the bottom of the stairs we found ourselves in ancient-looking caves. Safe, to be sure, but looking like the Romans of centuries past had just stopped work for the day. Laura gathered us together to provide more history of the caves and give us an overview of what we were about to see.
The ancient Romans discovered that the chalk that made up the region was easy to quarry and great for construction. The resulting caves were later adopted by Benedictine monks as ideal temperature-regulated storage. The Taittinger family purchased the grounds in the 1930s as they transitioned from wine merchants to champagne producers.
Around every corner of the caves, Laura had something unique and interesting to share. For example, what are the names of the various sizes of bottles that champagne can use? In addition to the typical 750ml bottle and the double-sized Magnum, there is the Jereboam (4 bottles) 3 litres, the Rehoboam (6 bottles) 4.5 litres, the Methuselah (8 bottles) 6 litres, the Salmanazar (12 bottles) 9 litres, the Balthazar(16 bottles) 12 litres, and the Nabuchadnezzar (20 bottles) 15 litres. That’s a lot of champagne, but clearly a challenge to be accepted!
Although Taittinger uses automatic riddling machines for the vast majority of its champagne, the larger format bottles and some of their ultra-premium lines are still hand riddled. We walked past what felt like miles of big bottles that were in the midst of their voyage toward collecting the lees in the neck of the bottle. I was told in a firm voice that I should not attempt to take a bottle out with me!
Champagne Taittinger uses these caves to age and store over 12 million bottles. We walked past most of them.
Following the cave tour, we climbed the stairs to the tasting/retail room. Here, we all received our champagne tastes, per whatever ticket had been purchased and examined the art and artifacts collected for our review.
Taittinger champagne is exported around the world. The company has a fun practice of memorializing each of their importers in a panel on their wall of fame. It is nice that the number of importers works out evenly into a rectangle. We wondered about the planning required to make that happen.
No tour is quite complete without a gift shop, and Champagne Taittinger did not want to skimp. There were lovely Taittinger-themed products for every visitor and budget. The merchandising was beautiful.
The little metal cap on the top of the champagne cork, under the wire cage (called the muselet), is called the plaque. It seems that collecting these is very popular. The Taittinger gift shop had a number of collectors’ display cases and we saw cases of all sizes and types are our tour of the region continued. Here is an exhaustive display of Taittinger plaques, in case you are wondering:
Touring and tasting complete, we set off toward our next champagne house. So many options! What should we choose?
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?
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