After that fantastic experience atop the Eiffel Tower at Le Jules Verne, it was time to really get into some bubbly both in and outside of the city.
Day Trip to Reims
So we hopped a train and made our way to Reims in the heart of Champagne country. I had no idea it was just a 45 minute train ride away! This was our first visit to Reims so we took in some of the sights. We first visited the Museum of the Surrender which is where German officers signed a declaration of unconditional surrender to the Allies effectively ending World War II. As someone that has always been interested in World War II history, I found the museum to be quite interesting. Definitely worth a look, but no pictures allowed!
We also toured the beautiful Notre Dame de Reims cathedral, where the past French kings were crowned.
We also did a bit of shopping including a stop in the must-visit Fossier to pick up a box of Le Biscuit Rose de Reims. Apparently it’s customary to dip these biscuits in your Champagne.
But you’re here to read about the bubbly, right?
Reims is home to a number of well-known Champagne houses including Pommery, Tattinger, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, and G.H. Mumm amongst others. I’d contemplated doing more than one of the big Champagne houses but everything I’d read said one was more than enough. So we visited one. We (I) decided to visit the champagne caves of Pommery, which was about a twenty minute walk from the center of town. I’d booked my reservations online a couple of months before the trip (I’m not good at ‘winging’ it) and selected the hour-long English tour. I chose the option with two glasses of champagne at the end of the tour versus one. Duh. The Reims tourism site has info about all of the local Champagne houses.
As expected, the Pommery estate was quite impressive.
And lucky me for booking ahead as the gentleman in front of me was turned away as they were all booked up. Spontaneity can be overrated. While we were waiting for our tour to begin, I took a look around the cavernous room and learned a little about the history of the Pommery Champagne house.
This large barrel, known as “le Grand Foudre” is a blending barrel that holds the equivalent of 100,000 bottles of champagne. That’s a lot of goodness in one barrel!
Then it was time for our tour to begin and we descended 116 steps into the crayeres or chalk mines, which are the underground cellars where all the wine is stored.
These caves were dug by the Romans in the 4th century A.D. and run beneath the city of Reims for miles. In fact, over 155 miles of Champagne cellars lie beneath Reims and hold over 200 million bottles. Kinda made me feel all bubbly inside! The crayeres are great for aging wines as they maintain a constant temperature of 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And this is what is meant by the phrase “room temperature.” The chalk also soaks up humidity and keeps the caves at 88% humidity. Several of the champagne makers in Reims age their wines in the crayeres, with Pommery storing over 20 million bottles in its over 11 miles of caves. The Pommery crayeres also contain a fair amount of art.
“Pop Art” created in 1929 and made up of 20cl bottles.
And there are carvings throughout the caves.
Not to mention this interesting display.
Our guide explained the entire champagne process from hand picking the grapes, to shaking the bottles, to aging, although you don’t get to see any actual production. It really was quite impressive being surrounded by the amazing chalk caves with tunnels going in all directions, not to mention all of the various wine vintages being stored, one of which dated back to 1874!
We also learned that it was Madame Pommery who created Brut (dry) Champagne in 1874 after discovering that the majority of her consumers wanted a lighter, less sweet wine. She was also one of the first employers to create social security and retirement benefits for her employees and also contributed significantly to the country’s orphanages.
Remember those 116 steps we descended? Well the only way to get out is to climb back up those same 116 steps.
And like a crazy lady, I counted every single one. After that, it was definitely time for some champagne!
Everyone got to enjoy a glass of the non-vintage Pommery champagne as part of the tour.
But I opted for the “upgrade” which also included a glass of a 2005 Grand Cru Champagne.
Take a listen here for a discussion of both wines and how they pair with food.
I was amazed at how different the Champagnes were and quite honestly, still don’t know which I liked better. Think I will have to engage in more “testing” of vintage Champagnes.
And if you’re a wee bit on the young side, they also have delicious grape juice for you to try.
We then took our glasses and sat down and enjoyed a little more of the art. And no, I’m still not sure of the story of Mr. Elephant.
And while we wanted to get out into the countryside and indulge in some grower Champagne, we decided to explore the city of Reims itself and save that experience for another trip. So since I didn’t get to visit any of the smaller producers, I did the next best thing. I went to one of the local stores that sold champagne, Cave des Sacres, and told them what I was looking for so that I could take a few bottles home.
Cave des Sacres, which is located across from the cathedral, came highly recommended and I think the most expensive bottle I purchased may have been 25 Euros. Can’t wait to try these!
After a full day, it was time to head back to Paris. But to keep the fun going, we decided to sit outside and enjoy one last glass of Champagne at the train station while waiting to board our train.
A nap was definitely in order on the train ride back.
Champagne Cruise on the Seine
Since we had a Champagne theme going, we decided to take a Champagne cruise along the Seine on our last evening in Paris. This was an opportunity to try some Champagne from some of the smaller producers and we were not disappointed. The cruise was with O’Chateau which is a local wine bar that has a restaurant and also hosts a couple of different wine tastings. They actually have a Tour de France of Wine tasting option which I really wish I’d had time for. It was a beautiful day for a cruise and a perfect way to see the sights of the city.
We tasted three Champagnes, a Blanc de Blanc, a Brut made of 40% Chardonnay and 30% of each Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and a Demi-Sec which was 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay.
And these were generous pours occasionally with a refill here or there.
My favorite of the three was the Blanc de Blanc. And the great thing about the O’Chateau tour is that you’re able to go to their shop and purchase anything you liked. I definitely recommend this for a relaxing, no-effort way to enjoy the sights of the city. Cheers!