We often think of that sparkling glass of goodness during moments of celebration or perhaps that rare occasion when upgraded to first class. During my recent travels to Reims, France, I learned that the word Champagne is so much more than an aperitif.
The names Taittinger, Moet, or Veuve might ring a bell and all of these prestigious names come from the northeastern region of France. Also home to the burial site of the father of Champagne, Dom Perignon, the beverage is served all around the clock as this is of course the regions drink of choice. You also will learn quickly that you can only call this drink Champagne if its grown and produced in the region, everything else is simply sparkling wine.
I’m a big fan of Paris, but Reims is much more of my style. With a direct fast train from Paris Main Station, you will arrive to Reims in just under an hour. Quaint and also home to its own Notre Dame Cathedral, the size of the town and the ability to walk everywhere within 10-15 minutes is what I preferred the most. Champagne houses surround the city and tours to visit nearby villages will pick you up from your hotel to show you the French countryside, which is something everyone must see. While exploring Reims, stop for a menu du jour (Menu of the Day) at the famous Café du Palais. The eclectic interior offers a nice atmosphere with a pleasant staff and most importantly, fresh food paired with Champagne. I had salmon pasta with caramel ice cream for dessert. One thing about France is the freshness and quality of their food is top notch, of course you will never run out of baguettes either.
Since it was my first time to the region, I wasn’t really sure which Champagne houses to choose from, so I did a tour with La Vigne du Roy. My guide Eric was born in the region and knew everything about Champagne, including the science and harvesting behind it all. The tour offered a mix of famous brands such as Taittinger to small organic producers like Nicolas Maillart who specialize in different and unique ways of producing their product. One of the highlights was the lunch that was prepared for us. Again, the fresh salads and meat paired with Champagne was light and the location was lovely. The tour is also available for those staying in Paris who just want to come to Reims for the day, I will recommend it to everyone. WEBSITE: http://www.lavigneduroy.com
After visiting several producers, a few things I took away from my visit are local producers really value their product and the quality and privilege it is to have vineyards in the region. The grapes are treated with so much care from the moment they appear on the vine. Then when the champagne has been bottled, for months the bottles are turned by hand so that all sediment can move to the top of the bottle. After this, the tips of the bottles are placed into a freezing liquid and the sediment then pops out before they are corked. When the year of harvest was unique in many different ways- perhaps weather is the cause, the champagne can then be declared a vintage after approval from a board of the region.