I don’t think that I have disclosed this piece of news yet, drumroll… we are going to Champagne in June! I can barely sit still when thinking about it. We will travel to Paris and Reims on the 2nd of June (or maybe even on the first if I can change my flights) and return on the 6th. The 6th is actually the National day of Sweden, so it is an extra day off. The trip will be short, but that does not matter. We are going to Champagne!! Continue reading “In the Heartland of Chardonnay”
A three Michelin-star experience is rare. We are foodies, so we do grab the opportunity when it presents its self. However, I am not expecting it to be the best (value for money) meal I have ever had. I am expecting it to be an unforgettable experience. And that it always is, for one reason or the other.
The L’Assiette Champenoise’ is the restaurant and family business of Arnaud Lallement, the ‘chef of Champagne’. Followed by the footsteps of his father and trained by world renowned chefs, Arnaud has not attempted to innovate, but concentrates of perfect produce. His food is also characterized as a beautiful dance between the product of the region, Champagne and traditional French cuisine. The restaurant also possesses one of the most interesting wine cellars of the region holding a wide range of vintages from Krug, the Rolls Royce of Champagne. The restaurant is located close to the center of Reims in Lallement’s old family home. Sounds very exquisite, and rather pricey, but we reserved a table anyway.
We arrived at the mansion early evening and were greeted by not one, not two, but four people talking to us at the same time. It was a confusing start to the experience. After being seated, we were handed menus and offered an aperitif from the champagne cart. We were faced with a dilemma: a cart full of wonderful champagnes (Pierre Paillard, Drappier non-dose Rose and several Krug vintages), but no pricing. Our experiences in Paris had made us careful, a champagne could cost anything from 7 to over 40 euros a glass. It is not like we cannot pay for it, but I am a sucker for value for money. And what if the Krug -96 in that cart was something of a bargain, what then? Through all of this contemplation, asking for a price list still felt a bit cheap, so we opted for the two non-Krugs on the list and held our fingers crossed that we would not regret it when we received the bill (we didn’t, but you never know).
After ordering the aperitifs we received menus. I cursed (in Swedish) as I saw the menu was missing prices again. However this was just my menu. I had received the discreet girl-menu, and prices were only visible for M. I am not sure if I object to this, but in our equal-rights obsessed Sweden, it feels a bit funny. Anyway, there was a choice between set menus and a la carte. The Heritage menu has a focus on Arnaud’s fathers legacy, excellent sauces, the Truffe D’Alba is a tribute to truffle and the Saveur is a flight through the a la carte favorites. We opted for the Saveur as it was the only one that could be served without seafood, a notion well appreciated by M who is not a fan of anything that lives and breather underwater. The a la carte was a viable option as well, but the set menu clearly better value for money (as some dishes were nearing a 100€ a piece, just feels wrong).
All in all, the food was amazing, by far some of the best I have ever had. I will not go into too much detail regarding the the individual dishes, but I would like to mention a few of my favorites: the pie-shaped amuse bouche with pate, the langoustine with curry spices and ginger and the fruit tarte that we had for dessert. The bread was crusty and warm, the butter perfect with a light saltines and the ‘cheese chariot’ offered a selection that can compete with a many specialty boutiques. As with many French-style fine dining restaurants, the petit fours were plenty and delicious. It is just that at the point where you receive them, you are already stuffed like a little pig. We finished our meal with some tea at the bar. The venue was very stylish and I could see a wonderful selection of bottles behind the counter. We were just too tired to opt for any more bubbly.
Regardless of the wonderful food, service was slightly sticky throughout the evening. We were wondering if it was due to the language. Our French s non-existent, so all communication was in English but at this type of establishment I would expect them to master English. So, compared to some of my previous experiences, this was something lacking of the three star experience. However, the venue is beautiful, the food amazing and the sommelier will not rob you blind; so well worth investing in if you are in the region.
When talking about Champagnes, there are a few names that stand out and one of the is Krug. This producer falls in the same curiosity category as Selosse: I can’t afford to have it that often but I am dying to try it when I have the change. Up to now I have tasted their Grande Cuvée and the Vintage 1998 and been blown away each time. With Krug however I hold the same suspicions as with other above 100€ wines, is it really worth (to me) five or ten times more than a good grower champagne or even a premium Cava and how much is the price inflated by the famous name? I don’t want to pay for the name, I want to pay for the experience. With Krug the prices range from around 125€ for the Grande Cuvée and upwards probably to the stars for a vintage Clos du Mesnil (Krug’s grower selection from their famous single lot of Chardonnay in the Grand Cru village of Mesnil-sur-Oger)
Over Christmas we opened a bottle of Grande Cuvée that we had lying around. It was not for storing and we thought it could hold its own with the heavy Christmas food (and I wanted to drink it). I could see my mother being very uncomfortable when I told her what the bottle cost, but if anything, a Krug is worth sharing with the ones you love.
The bottle has an elegant design and always comes in a nice box. I think it is actually a great wedding or (upscale) birthday gift. Even better if you promise to store it for the lucky boy/girl to make sure it is not accidentally consumed between 2-4am in the night at that after party where you are just going to open one more bottle. The color is golden with a persistent stream of bubbles promising a fresh and crisp “first bite”.
The nose of the wine is of chocolate and nougat, and the taste toasty with honey and nuts. Not very fruity. This is a powerful and full Champagne with a lot of character. It’s unlike any other Champagne I have tasted, so I am not surprised that Krug has inspired so many wine enthusiasts around the world.
Pure quality-wise the Krug Grande Cuvée gets a 4.5 rating and value for money is to my opinion a 3. When it comes to the price, I just think I can get something I personally like almost as much for a third or fourth of the price. Take for example the Charlemagne Vintage 2008 (review here), I am very fond of that one and it cost closer to 40€ rather than 125€. However, as always, taste is taste, and people find different things in each wine. I am and will continue to be very curious about Krugs vintages. It would be wonderful to taste a -96 or a -90. Perhaps someday I will.