21 Ultimate Gifts: Get into the Mix
Travel for a group of four to France for private blending sessions at the Veuve Clicquot Champagne house and the Hennessy Cognac distillery, and for a tour of the Krug Champagne house.
Take home your blends and additional offerings from Veuve Clicquot, Krug Champagne, and Hennessy Cognac.
Lodge in VIP accommodations at the Veuve Clicquot and Hennessy estates.
Price $1 million
Champagne Maker Veuve Clicquot, founded in 1772 in Reims, France, laid the foundation for the modern Champagne business early in the 19th century, when one of Barbe Nicole Clicquot’s employees invented the table de remuage, a riddling rack that dislodges deposits from the neck of inverted bottles following the second fermentation. This more efficient means of production arrived just in time, as the widow Clicquot had expanded her business during the Napoléonic wars—shipping her goods as far as Russia by 1814. The Robb Report reader who acquires this gift will make his or her own contributions to Veuve Clicquot’s history by blending vintages under the tutelage of master blender Jacques Péters.
“What we’ll do is organize a private session,” says Péters’ associate, Frederic Panaiotis, a blender at the company for the last 12 years. “You’ll taste the different base wines and see how each variable contributes to the final quality of Veuve Clicquot.” This session will mirror those involving Veuve Clicquot’s 10-member tasting panel, which meets daily from October through January and samples as many as 28 different wines per session to determine which Clicquot blend (nonvintage, vintage, and tête de cuvée—what the house refers to as La Grande Dame) the wine suits.
The ratio of the Ugni Blanc grapes—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier—in the tête de cuvée changes with each harvest. “It is only done by taste,” explains Panaiotis. “There is no formula. It’s the decision of the tasting committee and the cellar master.” In this case, the tasting committee will comprise a Robb Report reader and three guests. You will blend enough Champagne for two bottles, one for each couple.
Péters, the master blender and chairman of the company’s tasting committee, will guide you and your guest through the centuries-old tasting process, imparting the secrets of how Veuve Clicquot manages to maintain its quality. “You have to anticipate the aging of wine,” says Panaiotis. “We don’t taste wines for what they are. We taste them for what they will be.”You and your guests will be able to toast your memories of the experience with your own blend and with a magnum for each couple of La Grande Dame 1989 and La Grande Dame Rosé 1989. Each couple also will receive a bottle of Vintage Rosé 1985 and Vintage 1988 from the Clicquot Rare Vintage Collection.
Across town you will tour the Krug winery and cellars with Olivier Krug, directeur de la maisonand head of the Champagne house’s blending team. Following the tour, each couple will receive a selection of coveted Krug vintages that includes the 1979 and 1981, plus the new, limited-edition collector’s crate, which contains six bottles of either Krug Grande Cuvée or Vintage 1995.
From Reims, you and your guests will travel 270 miles southwest to Charente-Maritime in Cognac, the home of Hennessy Cognac, for a private blending session during which you will create your own Cognac. The blend will include three of the eaux-de-vie (vintages 1975, 1978, and 1986) that go into the most exclusive Hennessy Cognacs. “You will want to think about the situation in which you will be drinking the Cognac,” Hennessy blender and tasting committee member Laurent Lozano advises, noting that the 1975 eau-de-vie, with its hints of sandalwood and cedar, complements a cigar. “If you are a smoker, I’d tell you to use more of that than the others.” He adds that a blend with a heavier concentration of the floral and light 1978 and fruity and spicy 1986 would be ideal if “you are simply sharing a glass with friends.”
In addition to one bottle apiece of your digestif, each couple also will receive one bottle of Ellipse, Timeless, and Richard Hennessy, a blend of more than 100 of the most exceptional eaux-de-vie.
Moet Hennessy USA, Jeffrey Pogash
DIFFERENT REGIONS, SIMILAR SOIL
Champagne and Cognac may be on opposite sides of France and have markedly different climates—Champagne endures a harsher, colder winter—but the two regions do share a chalky soil. “It’s funny, but the composition of soil [in Cognac] is like you’d find in Champagne,” says Laurent Lozano, a Hennessy Cognac blender. “The conditions for growing grapes are similar.” Veuve Clicquot blender Frederic Panaiotis explains that the poor soil “is actually a good thing, because you make a better-quality grape. The grapes work harder because of the harsh conditions and have more intensity and character.”
Clicquot stores and ages its Champagne in 15 miles of chalk tunnels located 60 to 70 feet underground. The tunnels, some of which date to the Roman Empire, have a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit all year. “Chalk is a remarkable stone,” says Panaiotis. “It can absorb a lot of humidity and water. It allows perfect aging conditions.” At Hennessy, the Cognac ages in a quarter of a million barrels stored in a cellar near the Charente River.