Mark Twain, the great American writer was spot on when he claimed: “too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right”.
Ever since it was “discovered” in France in the 17th century, just about everyone has fallen under the spell of the effervescent wine. It can only be made in Champagne, north east France to have the status of Champagne the drink. There are more than 100 Champagne houses and 19000 grape growers, of these only around 2000 make and sell Champagne. There are an astonishing 50,000 different Champagne labels, so, if you thought Champagne was Champagne – think again. Tastes and prices vary widely. Part of the fun of being a Champagne drinker is working out which one you like best.
Raise a glass to Ruinart
Ruinart (pronounced Reenart) was founded in 1729, and it was the first established Champagne house and is therefore the oldest in France. In fact the company started on 1 September 1729. We know this because Nicolas Ruinart, the 32 year old founder, wrote in his ledger book that day that he was starting a business devoted to “wine with bubbles”. The ledger book takes pride of place in the entrance to the house.
History of Ruinart
Nicolas Ruinart’s uncle was a monk, Dom Thierry Ruinart, born in Champagne but sent to an Abbey in Paris. Whilst there he learned of a new “wine with bubbles” that the young nobles enjoyed. At that stage it wasn’t known as Champagne. It’s entirely possible that Dom Ruinart knew Dom Perignon the “inventor” of Champagne. They lived at the same time, shared the same interests and in fact both are buried in nearby Hautvillers.
Dom Thierry told his brother about the new-fangled sparkling wine and his son, Nicolas, picked up the idea and ran with it, 20 years after his uncle died in 1709. The Ruinarts were textile merchants at that time and Nicolas owned some vineyards. He started out making Champagne for clients as gifts. But, the sparkling wine was a runaway success. Just 6 years after producing the first bottle, he gave up the textile business and concentrated on the Champagne.
Visit to Ruinart
A visit here reveals a fascinating slice of Champagne history. Around a mile from Reims city centre, Ruinart is established in the legendary crayères, the quarries where the Champagne is matured. Visit the cellars, the oldest and deepest in Reims. They date back to 1 AD when the Romans dug out the chalk to create the city walls and buildings. Ogle the bottles slumbering in the dark in perfect conditions. Strolll some of the 8km of caves, some of which have an almost Cathedral like feel to them. You’ll learn about the process of making Champagne. Find out how the bottles are turned by hand and see medieval heads in the walls! Discover what goes into making classic Ruinart – Chardonnay is king here. And you’ll see some fabulous art. Ruinart is a patron of the arts and offers a residency to an artist each year. Amazingly Ruinart were the first company to advertise Champagne. They also came up with the idea for Champagne as a Grand Prix celebration drink.
I’m not going to ruin your visit to Ruinart by telling you everything you’ll see and do. It is a little more expensive than the other houses, but it does include a tasting and it is a fascinating couple of hours that you’ll spend in this historic Champagne house. Worth the money.
They don’t have a shop as such but a rather swanky boutique where you order your Champagne on a tablet and someone will get it from the cellar for you. Guide Francoise Sastre explained the different types of Ruinart, and they are not many, the company chose to keep to just 5 different types of Champagne – and make them perfect. The Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is one of the finest I’ve ever tasted and Ruinart “R” is one you can “drink from 9 am to 9 pm” is superb and “it goes with anything” says Francoise.
This is not cheap Champagne but when you know just how much work has gone into preparing it, you’ll really savour a glass of this very special “sparkling wine”. You won’t find it in supermarkets, only in fine wine establishments – and there’s a reason for that. The bottles are clear glass, not the dark glass that’s normally used. So, stockists must be experienced enough to store the bottles properly so as not to spoil the taste. It really is exclusive, and it’s a Champagne that the French love.
So next time you’re in Reims, nip to Ruinart and discover this amazing Champagne for yourself.
Book tour through the Ruinart website
Discover more to do in Reims and Champagne
How to spend 48 hours in Reims, Champagne
Take the train from Paris to Reims and enjoy the Champagne lifestyle
Some of the best Champagne towns you can visit by train
Langres, Haute-Marne, the secret part of Champagne
Guide to Epernay France