Champagne is the quintessential celebration drink. We enjoy it with friends and loved ones, accompanied by fine foods, perhaps in a drawing room with high ceilings, Grinling Gibbons wood carvings and sumptuous drapes. Well, OK, most of us can’t manage that stunning setting …but Luton Hoo can!
Luton Hoo is an English Country House Hotel with acres of grounds and piles of history. Yes, there are many country house hotels – the UK is blessed with these magnificent properties which are now enjoying a new life as classy accommodations for discerning guests. Luton Hoo is arguably one of the finest examples of its genre.
A stay laced with dinner and champagne was likely to be memorable, and indeed it was. Luton Hoo offers several wine dinners every year and they are understandably popular with regular visitors, those who are celebrating, and others who are interested in learning more about the best of wines.
Taittinger is a French wine company which is still family-owned and run. They are recognised as producers of outstanding Champagnes. The company is led by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. The estate was founded in 1734 by Jacques Fourneaux. The Taittingers were a family of wine merchants who, in 1870, moved to the Paris region from the Lorraine in order to retain their French citizenship after the Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Frankfurt. In 1932 Pierre Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie from the wine house of Forest-Fourneaux.
From 1945 to 1960 the business was run by Pierre’s third son François. Under his direction the Taittinger cellars were established in the Abbey of Saint-Nicaise, built in the thirteenth century. After François’ death his brother Claude took over and directed the business from 1960 to 2005. It was during this time that Taittinger became known around the world.
The vineyards of the château had been planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the 18th Century. They are the grapes which are most commonly used in Champagne production. To be called Champagne a wine must be made from grapes grown in that region and must be made using the classic Champagne method. Wines made with this method but from grapes grown elsewhere are just sparkling wines.
Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne Non-Vintage was served with our pre-dinner canapes. Poured from Magnum bottles, this offered a subtly different experience from that to be had from the same wine from a regular bottle. This was a light Champagne, pale in colour with fine bubbles and made with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Plenty of green apples on the nose, fruit and honey on the palate and a well-chosen pairing with the oyster and sweet potato nibbles. A Champagne to drink with delicately flavoured food.
Taittinger Prelude, a non-vintage blend of grapes from Grand Cru sites, is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and accompanied our starter of pan-fried scallops with a garnish of hazelnuts, clementine gel and orange crisp. The Champagne presented full aromatics with fresh citrus notes mirroring the dish, and had a pleasantly long finish.
Our main course of Guinea fowl boudin with chestnut and date stuffing, cèpe cream and winter truffles was paired with both Taittinger Vintage 2008 and the 2003. It was a rare opportunity to taste and compare two vintage Champagnes. Most Champagnes are not vintage, allowing the producers to present consistent quality in their styles of wine. When a year is particularly good a vineyard may elect to make a special vintage Champagne. Both wines were distinctive but the majority of the table agreed that the 2003 had a more robust persona and was the best balance for the meat. I would suggest that perhaps the 2008 would have been the more popular had the sauce not contained truffle, which was a dominant flavour.
Delicious pairing with the fruity dessert
Taittinger Nocturne Sec Non-Vintage paired very well with our dessert of striking autumn berry pudding with buttermilk foam and brioche crisp. This wine is made with a higher ‘dosage’ (added sugar), making it noticeably sweeter. It has a pale yellow colour and delicate bubbles. It’s soft and fresh and made a delicious pairing with the fruity dessert.
The evening was not just a pairing dinner but something of a masterclass, with able and amusing Kevin McKee. He was ideally placed to deliciously educate the guests, being Director of Taittinger Champagne UK.
But the food was never overshadowed by the expressive wines. Each dish was a triumph of taste and form. The Wernher Restaurant Sous Chef, Aimee Reddick, is definitely a chef in ascendance. Aimee first joined the team in October 2013 as a Junior Sous Chef and now has a more senior role, heading a team of five Junior Chefs. This was a fine-dining meal of both quality and innovation. I had not visited The Wernher, Luton Hoo’s main restaurant, but if this is an indication of the quality of food then it must surely be considered a destination restaurant with an outstanding chef. I look forward to tasting the regular restaurant menu in the future.
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa
The Mansion House
Bedfordshire LU1 3TQ
Phone: +44 (0)1582 734437
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018