Wine Regions of France: A Wednesday in Champagne
*Note that this cover image is not my own but was provided by Squarespace.
Shortly after my visit to Bordeaux I hopped back on a train and headed to Reims, a major city in the Champagne region (and it’s pronounced Rance… this is always a tough one!). For reference, Reims is less than an hour by train from Paris. Any visit to Reims should include three major things: a visit to la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Reims, a visit to at least one champagne house, and an exploration of the Art Deco architecture. It makes a wonderful day trip (though more time is always a good thing in my opinion).
La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Reims
Built in the 1200s, la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Reims has experienced so much history. It is here that Clovis, King of the Francs, was baptized by Saint Remi (the city’s namesake), forging a strong alliance between the church and the monarchy. Over 900 years later Joan of Arc would join Charles VII at the cathedral where he was crowned king of France during the Hundred Years War. Be sure to enter through the doors on the far left so as not to miss the famous smiling angel!
Une coupe de champagne?
You simply can’t visit the Champagne region without enjoying a coupe or two (or more…). There are eight champagne houses located in Reims. You will likely recognize the names Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger as these are available for purchase in the United States. Note that you will only see the word champagne on a label if the grapes and wine are produced in the Champagne region of France. This is a strict rule!
My friends Emily, Autumn, and I chose to tour Taittinger. We got to go down in the caves which maintain a consistent temperature that is ideal for champagne production. We learned about the careful process of turning and tilting the bottles by hand in order to slowly move the dead yeast that results from fermentation towards the neck of the bottle for its eventual removal.
My friend Autumn is a bit of a genius and had the idea that we all book a different tasting to maximize our tasting experience. We each enjoyed a glass of the classic brut réserve and then shared our prélude, prestige rosé, and millésimé. The millésimé is special because it marks a great year for champagne production. In these bottles, both the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes come from the same year, where as other bottles may blend grapes from different years. Impressed by your tasting? Take home a traditional bottle or if you’re really feeling adventurous, grab le nabuchodonosor, one giant bottle that contains the equivalent of 20 traditional bottles of champagne!
Art Deco Architecture
As mentioned above Reims was largely destroyed during WWI. In fact, of all of the larger cities in France Reims suffered the most damage. As a result, the city’s reconstruction was a top priority. The Art Deco architecture you find in Reims reflects this 1920s rebuilding period.
With all of this site seeing you’re sure to build up an appetite and I cannot recommend Chez Jérôme more highly. Once again my foodie friend Emily was the one to discover this gem. When we walked in, Jérôme wasn’t sure if he had space but nonetheless welcomed us inside and out of the rain & cold with a warm “Bienvenue chez moi!”. He graciously made space and we enjoyed a delicious meal cooked in house by Jérôme himself with ingredients purchased fresh at that morning’s market. C’était magnifique! It was magnificent!
My final stop in Reims was to Maison Fossier, one of the last bakeries making the biscuit rose which is famous in Champagne. These pink cookies originated in Reims where a baker wanted to mask the traces of brown left from the vanilla by adding some pink coloring. And the word biscuit? It means cooked twice, resulting in these cookies’ dry, crunchy texture.
Warm wishes from me to you, and may you soon enjoy a bubbly glass of French champagne!