Travel, Etc. --> Visiting Champagne Part II
Visiting Champagne Part II
Touring Champagne with Jim Bandy
On Friday we enjoyed an early coffee and croissant before heading to the Grand Cru village of Bouzy. Of the 42 villages allowed to grow grapes for Champagne only 14 are considered to have the best soil and the best exposure for which they earn the designation Grand Cru. In Bouzy they grow Pinot Noir which is used to make Brut Rosé for many houses in the region. Here we met with Arnaud Moreau of Champagne René Moreau and his marketing manager Kurt Savage (https://renemoreau.wordpress.com). When his father René passed away, Arnaud returned home to manage the business and develop his own style. It was a superb experience, not only because of the good wines but because they, like Virginie the day before, were wonderfully personable and passionate about their wine.
Arnaud and Kurt joined us for lunch at the village pub and then toured us out to their vineyards. We’re excited to keep an eye on this house. We tasted Arnaud’s first bottlings of his own low-dosage cuvee and deemed it nothing less than stellar. Hopefully they will export to the U.S. in the near future.
We headed now into Epernay where we walked the grand Boulevard Champagne and visited with Moët et Chandon. There I learned that the ‘t’ is distinctly pronounced – my apologies to everyone who has heard me say it incorrectly all these years. The gift shop had been staged down to the minute detail and was truly a sight to behold. We also tasted with some small producers who were pouring at the Tourist Center. We didn’t make any purchases there but were determined we needed to return to Epernay for further exploration. Back in Reims we headed out for a very hip night starting with the bar at Hotel de la Paix where we had cocktails and more champagne; you’d never guess it’s operated by Best Western! Just around the corner we continued our trendy Friday evening with dinner at Le Loge (www.laloge-reims.com) If the bar was hip, then La Loge was off the charts. Too bad the meal was just ordinary. We’d go back, though, to hang out at the bar and convince ourselves we were far younger than our drivers’ licenses proclaim.
Saturday dawned crisp and clear and we were off to the place where young Champagne winemakers learn their trade: Avize School of Viticulture. We had arranged a tour at 10:00am and were met by two dashing young students, Jules and Remy. After a brief moment of surprise when they learned we didn’t speak French and we learned they didn’t speak much English, we pushed onward and had a delightful time. Jules led the tour and his English was quite passable. Remy tended the tasting bar and understood far more than he let on. With roots back to the Sanger family in 1919, the school boasts that they train 80% of the region's winemakers. They have many patrons who also make available some high quality grapes for the school’s label: Sanger (www.sanger.fr/en). My favorites of their line-up were their Terroir Natal, Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru, and their Louise Eugénie Brut, aged for a time in oak casks. Later in the trip we opened a bottle of the Louise Eugénie and found it completely consumed in the blink of an eye. What a shame they don’t export to the U.S.!
We returned to Epernay for the afternoon and did some shopping including provisions for dinner the next day, Sunday, when we had decided to prepare a meal at home. Of course we had to stop in one of the local wine shops and ask for recommendations to go with our meal. Dinner that night in Reims was a step back in time at Brasserie Les Halles 1924 (www.brasserieleshalles.fr). The ambiance was bright and cheerful with décor correctly reflecting the name. We all chose different options from the menu and were very pleased. Had we more time, we would have definitely returned.
Sunday, we toured the cathedral and the array of architecture that abounds in Reims. Additionally we crossed the river and stumbled on a weekend market that went on and on and on. People were buying food, clothes, toys, housewares, everything you would expect at a market. It was an unexpected and fun experience for the trip. Around 5pm we gathered in our friends’ apartment and prepared a lovely dinner of rabbit terrine, roast chicken with roasted root vegetables, and gateaux from the local patisserie. With the cathedral soaring outside the window, candles on the table, and Edith Piaf playing in the background, it was one of the best meals of the entire trip.
Monday was our last day and we’d only booked a tour with Taittinger. Now this is one of my all-time favorite houses so I saved it for last. Also helped that they were in Reims across the street from Veuve Clicquot. Like Veuve, Taittinger is a large house but it is now back under family control. The tour reflected a more personal feeling, too. Slightly less expensive than Veuve Clicquot, I would highly recommend this experience. Our tasting encompassed several cuvées includes their Compte de Champagne. Aged for about 10 years this wine was quite complex. It was nice but I still think their Brut La Francaise is more readily enjoyable. Thankfully, this is available at Grapevine Cottage!
Many restaurants in Reims are closed on Mondays. We found an open door and welcoming atmosphere at nearby Le Petite Basque (www.lepetitebasque.net) Simple food solidly prepared. The paellas were delicious as were my pork cutlets. Exactly what we needed as we prepared for our return journey.
As we were told over and over again during our trip, the French drink Champagne regularly as an apéritif and with a meal. Through my American lens that meant every day is worth celebrating, a perspective with which I wholeheartedly agree. So make your own selection of Taittinger, Mumm Cordon Rouge, Nicolas Feuillate, or any of the other wonderful Champagnes here, chill it down, sit back and smile because ‘Everything’s better with bubbles!’
January 13, 2016