The best occasions to enjoy Champagne, according to Charles Philipponnat
What does Champagne mean to you?
Champagne and the Champagne region are my life. I have an organic relationship with Champagne; for me it is not symbolic of something else, it is far more than that. Champagne encompasses my job, my youth, my family, it brings back the memory of my parents who were professionally involved in Champagne before me… in short, Champagne embodies my whole environment: I fell into it when I was a child!
Which Philipponnat wine do you particularly enjoy on a terrace in summer?
In summer, I especially appreciate Royal Réserve Non Dosé; this cuvée has even greater liveliness and freshness than other Champagnes, and it really comes into its own in summer.
What is the ideal place for you to share a glass on a summer evening?
The terrace of the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa on the hills above the village of Champillon offers fantastic vistas of the Champagne landscape, and is a wonderful place to enjoy the fine weather and sunshine, and take in deep breaths of the fresh air that always abounds up there. The place is high up, very open, and you feel immediately at ease: the terrace is huge and offers a spectacular view of the Marne valley and the UNESCO listed hillsides. It is without doubt the most beautiful terrace in Champagne and probably one of the most beautiful restaurant terraces in France. And this altitude, breeziness, and prominent position remind us that there is something ethereal, spiritual and elevated about Champagne. The lightness and freshness of Champagne make it an inspirational wine. Some wines have weight, they are gravitational, they connect to the earth. Champagne has a great dimension of elevation, from the earth to the sky. Champagne goes up, not down. Metaphorically and symbolically, at least, this is true.
What is the perfect summer wine and food pairing?
After hot days, I always prefer fresh matches, cooked or lightly-cooked fish, or even sashimi. The perfect match is fish tataki, especially tuna: lightly marinated in ponzu or lemon and rolled – rather than coated – in roasted sesame seeds, then lightly browned in a dry frying pan. It’s delicious. The small roasted seeds, combined with the sashimi fish in the middle and very lightly cooked on the outside, go very well with Champagne. For tuna, a fish with texture and a great deal of substance, we would choose a 2013 vintage 1522. The combination is superb; 1522 is a little more powerful than a non-vintage Champagne but very fresh, and the 2013 vintage, a little spicy, goes very well with Japanese tataki and soy sauce. With white fish I would choose a Grand Blanc; at Philipponnat, the Chardonnays are slightly creamy, and richer than the average in Champagne, so the pairing is ideal.
Could you tell us about one of your special memories?
A happy memory shared with a great taster and critic, Michel Dovaz: the day I opened a 1911 vintage Philipponnat Champagne without knowing what it would be like. The bottle must have been disgorged in 1918 and I had no idea how it had kept. So we both tasted it, and this Champagne with barely any effervescence left in it was still absolutely delicious… so much so that we not only enjoyed it with great pleasure but we finished it together! We spent an hour sipping it in our tasting room overlooking the vineyard at Mareuil-sur-Ay. There was something magical about this wine, with aromas between honey and apricot, notes of almond… something like the aromas found in Tokay wines but dry, without the sweetness. It was absolutely delicious. Whenever I come across mature Champagnes that have this slightly old-fashioned character, I think back to that absolutely unique moment.
Champagne embodies my whole environment: I fell into it when I was a child!