To say that I was excited about my first trip to the Champagne region of France is an understatement. Not only is it my favorite tipple, the famous Madam Lilly Bollinger quote “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty, comes to mind and perfectly sums up my feelings towards champagne.
On our first day in Reims we had the exceptional opportunity to visit the Cattier family vineyards, and then the piece de resistance the Armand de Brignac cellar, an absolute paradise, if they had locked me in and thrown away the key, I would have died happy!
The Cattier family have resided in Chigny-Les-Roses, a Premier Cru village of the Montagne de Reims since 1625, their main trade has always been the production of wines, and they have been manufacturing for thirteen generations.
The Cattiers, father, Jean-Jacques and son, Alexandre, are a dynamic little duo, hospitable, kind and with incredibly extensive knowledge. They are not just the figureheads of the company, this duo knows every aspect of the business in great depth. What they don’t know about champagne you could fit on the back of a postage stamp.
The brand Armand de Brignac was created by Jean-Jacques mother, Nelly Cattier. Mounsier Cattier tells the story of how she was inspired by a novel she was reading in the 50s and the main character was Monsieur Armand de Brignac. Jean-Jacques set out to create something unique and settled on the name Armand de Brignac as a tribute to his mother Nelly.
The champagne is packaged in a very unique bottle and certainly stands out from the crowded market. The Cattier family began experimenting with metallization in the mid-1980s, with a goal to break conventions by bringing a new aesthetic to what was a very traditional looking category and to bring attention to the quality of the champagnes inside the glass. They certainly succeeded, you can spot a bottle of Ace of Spades at a hundred paces! They produced a very distinctive metalized bottle featuring pewter spade motifs.
Armand de Brignac is known for its innovative approach, it is part of its DNA and the history of the house of Cattier. The Cattier adopted a handcrafted approach and their metallization and also the hand –applied French pewter labels clearly communicate a difference from the industrial brands in the category, breaking the mold in an industry dominated by conglomerates with brands selling bottles by the millions.
Without any pressure on volume, the Cattiers can afford to hand finish their bottles in this manner. They decided to use the metalized bottle because not only does this aesthetically look pleasing, but the metallization also provides a functional purpose – to protect the precious champagne from a light strike.
The light strike is the technical term given when the wine is exposed to blue and ultraviolet light. This results in the flavor becoming distorted. Protecting the wine from light is the main reason that it is stored in dark cellars. Learning that bottle color has a huge influence on how much of this light reaches the wine itself was the main reason that the Cattiers set out to solve the problem. As much as it aesthetically pleasing to the eye and also conveying a “bling, bling” image, the reason behind the metallization is a very practical one.
The first bottle hit the shelves in the USA in early 2006. Rapper Jay-Z featured it in one of his music videos and it becomes hugely popular, the demand for Ace of Spades rocketed. It has become quite the status symbol. And in this generation of Instagrammers etc, no image is complete without featuring a coveted bottle of champagne, with Ace of Spades leading the way.
However it is not just a pretty bottle, Armand de Brignac Gold Brut was awarded the best Champagne in the world in 2010 by the international journal, Fine Champagne Magazine, beating off tough competition. It was a blind tasting conducted by sommeliers, Masters of Wine, winemakers and other experts, the finest in their field.
I had the opportunity to label my very own bottle of Ace of Spades, a once in a lifetime where money can’t buy experience, and despite having Papa and Alex’s intense gaze watching my every step, I think I pretty much nailed it! Will I be employed as a “Labeller”? Apparently, my application is under review!
On our final evening in France, we were treated to a sensational culinary treat, a superb meal cooked up by Michelin starred Chef Arnaud Lallement at the L’Assiette Champenoise, he had devised a unique pairing menu, champagne with every course, what’s not to love!
Reims, I will return in fact, I have my sights on retiring there one day!