by NormaK

As we send
many of our clients to the Champagne region, I thought I would spend the day
out there, to see for myself where everything was and to taste some of the best
‘bubbly’ in the world.

On a
beautiful and sunny Saturday, I caught the train direct to Epernay. Even though
it is the capital of the region it is a tiny town with 1 large attraction, the
house of Moet & Chandon. Located a 5 minute walk from the train station,
the house was founded in 1743 and is the largest producer of Champagne in the
world today, it is really THE
benchmark for champagne producers. The grapes they use are a combination of
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (which is a grape variety only found
in the Champagne region). The tour I did was in English and lasted an hour. It
was quite incredible to see the galleries filled with thousands of bottles
stacked one on top of the other. 
Tours are conducted in French, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish,
Russian, Portugese, Japanese and in Chinese.

One of the
great things I love about travelling is that I learn something each and every
time I travel. Not knowing a great deal about Champagne, I learnt that Moet
& Chandon produce a champagne every year, called the ‘imperial’, and also
they produce a ‘grand vintage’ only when there has been a fantastic harvest, as
was the case in 2000 and 2003.

After the
tour of course came the tasting, and you can take either 1 glass of the Brut
Imperial, or 2 glasses of both the Brut Imperial and Brut Rosé, or 2 glass of
the Grand Vintage – white and rosé. I opted for the 1 glass of Brut Imperial
and it was delicious! At that point, about 11.30 am I realized that one can
drink a glass of champagne at any time during the day.

Moet &
Chandon also produce the Dom Pérignon Champagne which is sold only as a grand
vintage, Moet & Chandon have private tours exclusively for people who are
interested in Dom Pérignon, which includes 1 flute of DP.

From here I
went to Reims by train, the main centre where most of the more familiar
Champagne houses are located, Mumm; Ruinart; Taittinger; Veuve Cliquot;
Pommery. Arriving in the afternoon, I had pre-arranged an English speaking tour
at Ruinart. 

I chose Ruinart specifically as it is the oldest house, founded in
1729, plus to see les crayères. Just amazing, these caves made of chalk were
dug up to 50 metres into the ground, excavating the chalk back in 1700s
wouldn’t have been easy. The chalk is very cool and without machinery keeps the
temperature naturally at a very steady 11°C with optimum humidity.  A natural refrigerator if you like.  

Ruinart only uses the Chardonnay grape
and the Pinot Noir, the chardonnay grape being the main  grape.  Once again at the end of the tour we
had a tasting. You can choose 1 glass from their range, either  R de Ruinart, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs,
Ruinart Rosé, Dom Ruinart or Dom Ruinart Rosé. I chose the R de Ruinart which
again was delicious. I also had a taste of the Blanc de Blancs which I
preferred, much lighter, and perfect on a summers day. But I think my favourite
in the end was the Ruinart Rosé, which I found to be the lightest of them all.

Next time I
would like to visit Veuve Cliquot and Pommery, I think 2 houses are enough for
1 day.

After my
tasting, I decided to have a look at the 2 Cathedrals in Reims, the Saint- Remi
Basilica and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Both are listed as World Heritage
monuments by UNESCO. Built in the same epoch in the 13th century,
both are beautiful. I would have to say that I even preferred the Notre-Dame
Cathedral in Reims to that of Notre-Dame Paris. It really is a masterpiece of
gothic architecture dating from the 13th century. It was in this
cathedral that France’s first king, King Clovis was christened, and 25 other
christenings thereafter. It is adorned with over 2300 statues and is the only
cathedral that has angels with open wings.

Next door
to the Notre-Dame Cathedral is the Palais du Tau (sounds Chinese doesn’t it?),
the old residence of the Bishops and Archbishops of Reims. Now it is a museum
of the architectural construction of the Cathedral, a history museum displaying
the coronations from the 13th century. 15th &  16th century tapestries,
robes from past coronations and of course the treasury, where unique pieces
from different coronations are on display. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time
to see the museum, so a good opportunity to come back for another visit and for
more bubbly.

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