Travel, Etc. --> Visiting Champagne Part I
Visiting Champagne Part I
Touring Champagne with Jim Bandy
Ah, Champagne! Just saying the word evokes happy thoughts, popping corks, and smiling faces. Champagne is one of my favorite regions for wine; my motto is ‘Everything’s better with bubbles!’ Traveling to Champagne and tasting there has been on my bucket list and this year we crossed it off!
Reims is the capital of the Champagne region, famous for its cathedral where French Kings were crowned, and is the largest city in the Champagne region. Located north-east of Paris we arrived at the Champagne-Ardenne station from Charles de Gaulle airport in about 30-minutes via the high-speed TGV train. From here, our options were to wait 45-minutes for the connecting train to Reims or to take a 15-minute taxi ride. We opted for the taxi! Had we come from Paris proper, there were direct options to Reims without the layover at Champagne-Ardenne.
The Champagne region is spread out so we rented a car with Hertz which was located adjacent to the Reims train station. Renting a car was a good option for us but I would not use Hertz again (car was fine, staff were not). If you do have a car in Reims you need to be aware of three very important things:
1. Street signs are spotty
2. Street names can change every block or so
3. Like in other parts of Europe, you need to know the larger town/cities on your route because compass directions (E, W, N, S) are non-existent.
Our formal tasting plan included two large houses, two smaller houses, and a viticultural school who produces their own label. Though we’d just arrived that morning, we scheduled our first appointment at 1:30 pm. We rented an apartment close to the cathedral but it was not yet ready. So we met up with friends who had arrived earlier and lunched at Cru Chanzy restaurant. They are centrally located near the cathedral with a nice menu focused on regional cuisine. We returned for dinner later in the trip and were pleased both times.
Our first tasting was with Veuve Clicquot (www.veuve-clicquot.com/US) You may or may not know that Veuve stands for ‘widow’ and it was Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot who ran the business after the death of her husband and made it quite successful. It was she who created the riddling process using her kitchen table! So off we went, a 20-minute brisk walk from the restaurant to Veuve Clicquot. The tour took us down several meters to the labyrinth of chalk caves that run under the streets of Reims and walked us through the champagne process. The tasting occurred afterwards in the gift shop where we sampled several cuvees including the Grand Dame. At €50 per person it was a nice experience.
The next day the five of us piled into our small car and set off for the southern part of the Champagne region to taste with Bernard Remy. We arrived in the quiet village of Allemant quite early for our appointment. Rather than holding us off until the arranged time, Virginie Phillipot graciously toured us through their process and guided us through tastings of their different cuvees. The line-up was among the freshest and easiest to drink Champagne I’d ever had. There was just enough fruit to make it fun while it remained dry. Their Grand Cru NV just won a Silver medal in the 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards. We made a few purchases and went off to a nearby village for lunch and a brief tour of Sezanne.
Jet lagged a bit, we headed back to Reims for an early evening but stopped at Fossier along the way. Fossier has been making biscuits (cookies) in Reims since 1756. They have a very modern factory now on the outskirts of the city loaded options and gift baskets. The store had a steady stream of locals buying cookies for home, for parties, etc. We made our own selections and had a lovely dinner in town at L’Apostrophe (www.restaurant-lapostrophe.com). We all ordered something different and were happy with our meals.
January 6, 2016