Champagne foraging is my new favourite pastime!
I wish I had more time for it in my day to day life, but I am on holidays now, in France, and my time is my own. Foraging champagne I will go!
So what is champagne foraging? I kind of don’t really want to say too much, because if everyone cottons on, there may be nothing left for me to find, but I have a generous heart, so am willing to share my secrets.
Champagne foraging involves going into a local wine shop and simply spending time looking at what they have on their shelves. I am in Corsica at the moment, and it is a bit cold outside, so spending as much time as I can looking through wine racks in from the cold is a good option. But even if you want to escape the heat in the southern hemisphere, the technique will work just as well.
The thing is, with some smaller regional wine shops, although they may have a great collection, and staff know a great deal about a large variety of wines, they are not always as well versed in champagne specifically, and sometimes they get the prices wrong. Or not even necessarily wrong, but if they have some well kept vintage champagne, the prices have stayed the same since they were new releases, even though the champagnes themselves have increased in value.
I also have a new favourite wine shop in Corisca. In years past I would have spent time looking through my favourite clothing boutique in Bastia searching for a bargain. Now it is an unobtrusive shop on a busy road that is almost too easy to miss and not worth the effort to find a park to go in. But it really is worth the effort.
It is an Aladdin’s cave of French wine and gourmet food – wine from all regions of France, an unrivalled collection of Corsican wines, rare whisky’s, rums and gin. A disproportionate amount of prestige champagnes, as well as a large selection of gourmet items such as truffles, caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras and hand made chocolate.
Did I mention champagne? They even offered me a glass of Laurent-Perrier to sip while I was foraging. And a chocolate. And another glass of Laurent-Perrier when my first one seemed to evaporate.
What was astounding in the shop was the best Corsican wines in bottles and magnums where kept behind locked glass cabinets. The most expensive I spotted was a magnum for €60. But laid out on the shelves in plain site and touchable was the most incredible line up of champagne.
Just lying there, minding their own business a Krug Clos de Mesnil 2006, a Vintage Krug 1995, a Dom Perignon 1993, a Salon ‘Le Mesnil’ 2006 and the holy grail of champagne as far as I am concerned, the Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises. Almost $AUD 5000 of champagne on that one open shelf. With in my reach. Sadly not in my budget!
At the end of the 1800’s, the phylloxera epidemic reached France. By the end of the First World War, it had destroyed the greatest part of the champagne vineyards. Three parcels of land in the Bollinger estate survived unscathed. The rest of champagne was replanted with vines grafted to American rootstock which is resistant to phylloxera.
Bollinger still has two of these parcels with pinot noir vines planted in the traditional method – vertically up a stake, rather than horizontally along trellises.
The yield is incredibly small, only a couple of thousand bottles per vintage are produced. They are incredibly hard to come by and understandably very expensive. I do not think that in my lifetime I will ever actually taste it. But I got to hold a bottle in my new favourite wine shop lost along the road in Corsica! And that is a memory I will never forget.
I was lucky enough, though to be able to find hidden amongst the racks two bottles of 1996 vintage for less than €50! A ‘D’ de Devaux and a Henriot. It’s almost impossible to find a 1996 vintage in a wine shop in Australia, let alone at that price.
After dragging ourselves away and not falling into the temptation of purchasing at least the Dom Perignon 1993 (our wedding anniversary year) we had to stop at the supermarket for some supplies. And being France, there was more foraging to be done! There is a huge selection of wines and champagnes in the supermarkets, especially at Christmas time. The prices are generally reasonable and the latest release vintages of the major houses are usually all available. This is where the foraging starts. Because, being a supermarket, sometimes when the shelves get restocked the newer stock is packed in front of the older stock. So if you are prepared to go through all the bottles, you just might find yourself a treasure.
While looking for the milk aisle, I got distracted by the wine fridge with the ‘good’ bottles. Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque was on special for a very reasonable price. They had the 2006 vintage, and a few bottles of 2004. Well stored in the wine fridge, not just on the shelves. So I had a look behind, and low and behold, there was one 2002 hiding at the back for the same special price of around €100. Now 2002 was a very, very good year in Champagne. The Belle Epoque from 2002 is exceptional, and I couldn’t quite believe that there was one just lying at the back, quietly waiting for me to find it.
All in all it was a very successful foraging day.
Three beautiful bottles to share with family and friends over Christmas without breaking the budget!
I’d love to hear your champagne foraging stories and of any of the great bottles you have been lucky enough to find!