Last weekend, myself and three colleagues had the great honour of being invited to Champagne to visit Gilles Dumangin (our man in Champagne) for the dual celebration of his 40th Birthday and 10th Anniversary of taking over the reins of the family business from his father, Jacky, at J.Dumangin Fils. Although I have been lucky enough to visit Champagne on several occasions, this was my first visit to see Gilles and the village of Chigny-les-Roses.
The festivities kicked off on Saturday at 1pm with an extensive tour of the winery, with Gilles ably alternating between French and English for his diverse audience. There were 30 or so of us in total, hailing from far and wide. Gilles' champagnes have rightly garnered plaudits from around the world and this was reflected with his guests. As well as a fair few French and Brits, including journalist and respected authority on Champagne Tom Stevenson , there were also Dumangin enthusiasts from Belgium, Poland, Lithuania and South Africa.
Following the tour we all assembled in the press and tank room to start some serious work - a potentially daunting, and certainly impressive tasting of 20 Dumangin vintages from Gilles private cellars, ranging from his soon to be available 2004 back to 1982, a time when I still thought R. Whites lemonade was the be all and end all of all things sparkling.
Needless to say, this tasting (quite rightly) took some time and it was fascinating to see how the vintages varied and developed over time. My personal stand out vintages on the day were:- 2002, 1994, 1990 and 1982. Those followers of the 'beautiful' game will note that these dates coincide with the Coup du Monde, a strange coincidence? Certainly a useful aide memoire for recommending his vintages. It is a pity that the England team have never shown as well in these years!
It is amazing how time flies when one is immersed in Champagne and it was about 5.30pm when Gilles ushered us out into the still bright sunlight of day, in order that he and his team could convert the winery into a pop up dining room for the evening grand finale. We popped back to our B&B in the neighbouring village, where we found a bottle of Champagne waiting for us from our genial landlady. A lovely gesture, that was possibly treated a tad flippantly by us, having being spoilt all afternoon with glass after glass of the stuff. How quickly we are corrupted!
We returned chez Dumangin around 7.30pm. As well as fellow tasters from the afternoon, we were now joined by another 20 or so guests, including Gilles' delightful family. Ever the showman, our host produced a Nebuchadnezzar (15 litres or 20 standard bottles) of his 2002 vintage which he deftly opened and poured for his guests. Delicious hors d'oeuvres began to filter out from the field kitchen that had been assembled in the Dumangin office. It took a good couple of hours or so for the assembled guests to finish the monster bottle and for the chef to open the cellar doors and beckon us in for dinner.
The warehouse and bottling room where we had originally assembled in what seemed an age ago had been transformed with the deft use of strategic lighting and beautifully dressed tables, into a dining hall worthy of the food and champagne that was to follow.
Gilles had employed the services of Chef Thierry Landragin from the Restaurant de l'Abbaye in Hautvilliers for the evening, and his food was excellent. Each course was accompanied by a magnum of Champagne for each table, each one specially selected to match the food. My favourite course was the Truite saumonée sur lit d'avoine au Ratafia & Médaillon de Homard which was served with some Dumangin vintage 2000. Not a world cup year, but still a perfect match for this Lobster and risotto fish dish.
Although wistful when our taxi arrived around 2am, it had been a very long day, and I think that we were all ready for our beds as we departed. It had been an amazing evening and a weekend that I will treasure for a long time. Any pangs of sorrow about it all being over and being back at work in the UK, have been tempered as an email has arrived from Gilles forewarning us to keep a weekend free in 2021, when he plans to celebrate his 50th with what will then be a tasting 26-27 vintages plus a couple more Nebuchadnezzars... Now where's my ten year diary...