VinoTripping Blog

Champagne… ’til we meet again

Champagne:  We expected about an hours drive to Reims, and when we arrived we found the city to be a bit drab.  We checked in to our really different hotel, Grand Hotel Des Templier, and headed out to see the center of it all, the avenue where all of the big champagne houses are… Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot, Ruinart….

The area where they all are was really surprising, kind of a rundown city and then a circle that was not well tended.  I expected blooming roses, it was July, and more fanfare. It was a bit disappointing.  We checked in to Taittinger to see if we could get a tour, walked over to Veuve to look around and then back to Taittinger for the last tour of their caves for the day.  The caves were interesting and extend miles under the city. The champagne was outstanding, not a surprise as I love Taittinger, but the hosts were nothing extraordinary and were not really welcoming at all.  We walked over to Veuve after, to see if we could catch another tour, but opted to visit their shop.  Everyone had reviewed that their gardens were lovely and a great place to sit but all we found was an airstream camper and a small seating area near a busy street.  The rep there at least was very friendly, so we appreciated that after Taittinger.

After Veuve, we headed down to the major shopping area in Reims where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Pol Roger Champagne with a decadent bone marrow dinner.  The shopping area also seemed a bit run down, with several stores closing.  I guess I never fully felt at ease in Reims, though I hadn’t really felt ill at ease or unsafe in any other part of France.

The next morning we had made an appointment at LaSalle Champagnery at 9am, a referral of Svetlana’s at Wine Connextion in Nashua.  LaSalle was out in Chevigny de Roses, in the countryside outside of Reims and it was a beautiful drive out.  It was refreshing to leave the city, and we were not disappointed.  This was a cute little area, and the vineyards surrounding were owned by some of the top champagneries.  LaSalle was a bit up the hill and we were greeted and welcomed by Angeline Templier and one of her consultants.

We were given a nice tour followed by an excellent tasting.  They still use the same recipe their grandfather used when he started the winery.  Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (meunier) and Chardonnay. 

Tip:  In France, they no longer call Pinot Meunier “pinot Meunier”.  They now refer to it as “Meunier” and if you say the pinot, you are out of style.  Also, they use floral bulb glasses now, not typicaly shuts (see pictures).

They sell to importers in the US, Kermitt Lynch, however they only sell to locals if the person makes a special request and visits the winery directly.  I found that philosophy very interesting but I was glad to find we could purchase this wonderful champagne at home.  I purchased the rose because I loved it and wanted to also show my appreciation.  I loved that we sat in their living room and tasted these wonderful champagnes with them.  Very nice.

We left LaSalle and made a stop at a local champagnery Gardet, just to check out the difference.  Their wine pourer was very sweet and poured us many different samples of their champagne.  We sat out on the deck, in the sun, in their garden and the scenery was absolutely beautiful.  It was really a lovely impromptu visit.  We didn’t love all of the champagnes, but we enjoyed the atmosphere.  I got the biggest kick out of the “ice” champagne.  It’s something Moet is trying as well.  They make the champagne really big, heavy, and then serve it with specially molded ice cubes.  It’s an interesting idea, but as I later learned at Moet, it is definitely not made with their best grapes.  We also liked their dosage zero, with no added sugar, it was pretty light.  We said goodbye to Gardet and headed back to Reims to check out and make a quick visit to Notre Dame of Reims, as we had a late afternoon appointment at Ruinart.

The cathedral was outstanding and an incredible museum and landmark.  It was a smaller replica, similar to the Notre Dame of Paris.  We toured for a while and then headed back to hotel, checked out and drove over to Ruinart.

Ruinart was one of the BEST experiences I had.  The tour was outstanding and the wine tasting was even better.  When we first arrived, we were wowed by this incredible estate.  I wheeled my wine suitcase in so that the wine would not heat up in the car.  We were greeted by a champagne foos ball machine and then led in to a gorgeous finely appointed room.  We met another pair of newlyweds and a group of highly ecclectric interesting people, including two young kids.  We began the tour in the dining room, viewing amazing art created specifically for the Ruinarts.

We then went downstairs to see their caves which are extensive and 4 miles down underground in limestone caves.  The guide showed us bottles going through tirage and then being capped.  That was a really cool stop!  I hadn’t seen the yeast dosage on the top and a winemaker behind the window saw us there and brought one over for us to see.  It was sooooo cool!!!! 

We then toured their caves and discussed the winemaking process.  Michelle, having been on countless tours already on the trip, remarked how she could now lead a tour, however I was loving geeking out AGAIN on the winemaking process.  It was interesting how at most places you had to do the tour in order to taste.  In many cases we found, the places that did just the tastings, were truly as not high quality.

Our guide shared with us the incredible history of this place.  They have Ruinart’s work desk in the cellar.  Apparently during WWII, the inhabitants of Reims didn’t want to leave, but they were very close to the front lines and being shelled every day.  Ruinart offered that if they wanted to stay they could live down in the caves with him.  Many took him up on this and for two years endured near constant shelling.  In the end, they persevered.  What an incredible story!  I couldn’t imagine being that far underground for that many days. 

We then summitted and went to their tasting room with their unbelievable table and we had to choose between pink or white.  I tried the pink Comtess and it was unbelievable, blow me away, fantastically fantastic.  I was not leaving there without one!  We had great conversation and enjoyed this legendary champagne.  This is was I was hoping for at most of the tours we had gone to, as atmosphere is everything.  We only found it on a few of them, and because of this I would definitely go back to tour Ruinart again. 

We relaxed and enjoyed with people from all over the world, and then we headed out to Epernay, arguably the capital of Champagne.

We arrived very quickly in Epernay at our Chateau for the next two days, Cht. Andre Bergere, both a hotel and a champagnery.  It was about a 30 minute drive and Epernay is a beautiful town.  The Avenue De Champagne is over millions of dollars of miles of cellars of champagne.  With giants like Moet & Chandon, maker of Dom Perignon, 5 miles of caves, Boizel, Perrier-Jouet, Pol Roger, Lanson and many more. 

When we checked in we were lead into a beautiful chateau, our room was upstairs and absolutely gorgeous and decadent.  Once again, we were transported to our nights in our castles.  We deposited our things in our room and went for a walk down the Avenue De Champagne.  I was in my glory as I LOVE champagne and this was what I had hoped for/ expected for a capital of champagne.  We were a bit surprised that there were so few people and we continually ran into the same people walking up and down the street.  We grabbed a quick cheeseplate dinner and stopped in a few tasting rooms and then headed to bed.  I had made an appointment at Moet & Chandon as a “can’t miss”, but Michelle was looking forward to the shopping in the quaint town of Epernay. 

The next morning we went for a run down the avenue and then we set off on our separate adventures.  Entering Moet & Chandon I was transformed with the extensive, exquisite estate and the statue of Dom Perignon (who was born in the hills overlooking Epernay) you encounter when you first walk into their courtyard.  When you are lead into a large room to wait for your group to leave, they had countless artifact on display throughout the history of the region and the long history the families of Moet and Chandon have enjoyed in Epernay.  There was a hat once belonging to Napoleon, worn during his exile – 1814 and from the exposition held in Epernay at Moet & Chandon in 1908.  The caves are 5 miles long and were really neat.  One of the guests asked towards the end if we had passed any Dom, to which the guide answered that we had already passed 1000’s of bottles of unreleased Dom, as they cellar the Dom the longest.  We were lead to our tasting, which was really nice, and then into their shop.  I could have stayed forever as I loved their shop and wanted to order everything, but I felt it prudent to go meet up with Michelle and do some more tastings.

I walked down the Avenue to meet Michelle, and while I was waiting for her, I ducked into the shop and champagnery on the corner, Champagne Jannisson Baradon.  The champagne there was very good and I found I could get it in the US, so opted to only bring home one bottle.  After meeting Michelle, we shopped for a bit and then headed up the Avenue to Boizel.  That was a fantastic stop where we relaxed in the courtyard while we tasted their wines and enjoyed the sun and their gorgeous courtyard.  The champagne was outstanding. 

Let’s taste, Shell!
Wonderful tasting, Boizel was outstanding!
Which one first?
Okay, let’s begin!
Such a cute courtyard
Our new car?

Next we headed down the street where we heard that local champagneries were pouring from an airstream camper in a lovely courtyard.  We each tried a different glass, and while they did not rival Boizel, they were definitely approachable and enjoyable.  We next headed out to dinner at a small restaurant Michelle had found.  We happened to walk by just as they were opening their door, with no reservation and were sat immediately.  Because we were the first in they sat us, but they filled up immediately with customers with reserverations.  Though they didn’t seem to understand English well, the food was absolutely outstanding.  The wine was not as good, not well paired, but the food was some of the best we had the entire trip. 

Back at the chateau, we enjoyed the Andre Bergere champagne, the one produced by our chateau.  We were a bit disappointed there wasn’t more going on in town when we visited, but it was such an incredible experience overall that I will definitely return.  We went to bed in our gorgeous hotel room and headed out early to visit the birthplace of Dom Perignon at Haut Villers (haut meaning top of the hill) and then headed to the airport for our flight home.

This was an incredible trip and we saw many of the wine regions and the French countryside.  It gave us an exceptional view into French winemaking, geography, climate, terroir, the classification system, and generally the French countryside.  If I did it again, which I hope to do, I likely wouldn’t visit more than two regions to tour the chateaus.  After a while, it is a bit of an overkill on learning about how they make the wine.  I loved seeing the differences in the smaller, medium and large wineries and fields and vineyards and farms.  I do wish they offered more to taste while you visit but it was fine.  This was a true trip of a lifetime.  Next time Languedoc, Rhone, maybe Alsace?

About Author

After graduating from Brandeis University, Alison worked as a teacher at two of the top high schools in the country and spent her summers traveling the world. On one of her adventures, she visited Stellenbosch and Paarl in South Africa, which ignited a lifelong passion for learning about wine. In 2004, she worked as a Wine Consultant for the Traveling Vineyard and began to study wine more intensively. While working as a high tech recruiter, she completed her Advanced Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in the UK in 2018. Her wine travels have taken her to the wine growing regions of the US, Europe, Africa and Australia. Alison is a member of the Boston Sommelier Society, a member of the Guild of Master Sommeliers and is a Wine, Travel and Lifestyle Media Influencer. Currently, after leaving her recruiting career, Alison is running her business, Artisan Wine Group, teaching wine courses, running private and corporate wine events and organizing wine tours.

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