Tucked away on a street in the highly elegant 16th arrondissement, only a few steps from the Eiffel Tower, lies Le Dokhan’s, a hotel well known for its elegance, cosy atmosphere and authentic Haussmann architecture. Within this elegant venue, you’ll find Paris’ oldest champagne bar.
The champagne bar features gold-plated 17th century wood panelling in pale green and the cosy candlelit atmosphere emphasises the experience. But the experience per se, starts long before that — it begins as soon as you arrive. Time appears to stand still as the chef sommelier, Arthur Challet-Hayard, welcomes you and settles you into the warm green velvet armchairs. At nightfall the ambiance in the bar evolves, and becomes more intimate as it is lit only by candlelight.
The wine list is a carefully selected and consists of more than 280 vintages, not just from major champagne houses like Dom Pérignon and Moët-Hennessy, but also from lesser-known family estates all around the country. “The cellar is to small so no more than 280 bottles”, Arthur jokes.
Once per month Arthur wonders into the Champagne region to collect rare elixirs, only to make the champagne bar at Le Dokhan’s stand out from the crowd even more, “10 percent of the bottles are from big winemakers and 90 percent from small ones”, he shares. Which explains why, under his helpful guidance, choosing a coupe de champagne has never been so appealing.
How do you select the champagnes that you hold at the bar?
Once per month I’m going to the Champagne region to visit some already known houses, but also to discover some new ones. There, I’m simply walking around and feeling the love of champagne. I am also spending some time with the winemakers and they will be telling me about the grapes, about the champagne. I really like to work with a winery that is very respectful of the environment, of the earth, and one that produces biodynamic wine.
Why is that – are biodynamic wines better?
It’s different. You can feel the wine in a whole other way. The winemakers don’t put too much sugar in it and there are no chemical products either.
Any specific biodynamic one that comes to mind?
It’s called Avalon, and the winemaker works with 3 hectare. And the bottles are limited — only 2300. It contains no sulphate and no sugar, only the sugar from the grapes. He’s really amazing because he doesn’t care to be famous, or to sell to expensive prices, and since there’s limited bottles, he doesn’t sell to public costumers, only to luxury places. It’s really difficult to get this wine because his aim is really not to sell; it’s to make what he loves.
If you would recommend one champagne that you have, can you choose?
No, no. I will not say that I can choose, I will say that it all depends on people. The same champagne for example, with different atmosphere and different people, can taste very differently.
It’s all about emotions when drinking champagne. When people drink champagne, I want them to feel something. Not just drink it, but feel something, reminiscing about what ever comes to their mind when drinking a particular glass of champagne.
“I’m very happy when I pour champagne!”
Do you have a taste of the week or flavour of the month within the selection?
Since I am making one selection per month, I change one bottle. But there’s not a taste of the week or flavour of the month because it’s like I told you, very subjective. And since it’s very subjective, I change the region every month. And each month I choose a new region.
Tell me, what is usually going on in your head, in a sommeliers head?
My aim is to know what I pour and to know my customers. They should love the cuvée before I even pour it. Every month for example, we arrange a tasting with a winemaker, where you can try out different champagnes. It’s a very wonderful experience when you drink the champagne with the one making it because you get to know the grapes in a different way.
What is your advice in terms of how to taste champagne?
People want to be very technical about champagne when tasting it. You just have to feel it. It’s like making love. It’s like falling in love. You just don’t think, you feel it. That’s how I am drinking it. And that’s what I want for my customers as well. I want them to feel the champagne.
So let me see if I got it right, you want them to… feel the champagne?
Yes! I want them to feel the champagne and to indulge in the reminiscence that comes with the glass.