Wine Wednesday: Champagne
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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen has a background as a food and wine writer and has covered wine regions all over the globe including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria and many of those in his native California, so we decided to launch a new #WineWednesday series where every week we give you a brief snapshot of wine regions all over the globe and insight on how to get there, where to stay and a couple places you might want to visit while there. We kicked off the series with California’s Russian River Valley and Napa, then headed to the Southern Hemisphere to sample sips on Waiheke Island in New Zealand. Today we go old-school and toast as the kings of France would have, with a glass of Champagne.
This past summer, TPG and I traveled to the city of Reims, capital of France’s legendary Champagne region, to quaff some bubbly and visit some of the world’s most famous wine producers. The trip was actually my third to the area, and here are some of my favorite things to do, see and, of course, drink.
Reims is just a 45-minute train ride from Paris’s Gare de L’Est – and there are actually non-stop trains directly from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) that get there in under 30 minutes. A roundtrip ticket costs around $80. You can also travel to the famous town of Épernay whose Avenue de Champagne is lined with some of the champagne world’s biggest names like Perrier-Jouët and Moët & Chandon in about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Paris is one of Europe’s major hubs and you’ll find all the major alliances represented here. SkyTeam has a huge presence thanks to Air France, while Oneworld passengers can take American directly from its US hubs, British Airways via London (though I wouldn’t suggest it thanks to huge fuel surcharges and fees), or Openskies’ service from Newark or New York JFK to Paris Orly on which you can bank British Airways miles. Star Alliance flyers are most likely to take United or Lufthansa via Frankfurt.
Since it is such a quick trip from Paris, I find it’s easier just to make a (very full) daytrip of it. You can check out our Destination of the Week on Paris for a comprehensive roundup of points properties in the City of Lights as well as individual reviews of TPG’s favorite hotel there, the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and the Westin Paris. You can also read my recommendations on things to do in Paris in my short series from my trip there last May including what to see and where to eat.
However, if you want to spend a couple days in the area without traveling back and forth to Paris, there are several great hotel options in and around both Reims and Épernay. Le Chateau des Crayères is a Relais & Chateaux deluxe property just outside of Reims which is also home to the two Michelin-starred restaurant, Boyer les Crayères. L’Hostellerie de la Briqueterie is another Relais & Chateaux property set amongst vineyards outside Épernay; and Chateau de Courcelles is a baroque palace that has received famous guests including Alexandre Dumas and Jean Cocteau.
L’Hotel Jean Moët in the heart of Épernay is an adorable (and more affordable) option just around the corner from the Avenue de Champagne and another much-visited local restaurant, La Cave à Champagne as well as a charming wine bar and store called C Comme Champagne, where you can taste through a variety of small-production champagnes.
Legend has it that an 18th-century blind monk at the Abbey of Hautvilliers named Dom Pérignon “discovered” champagne when he tasted a bottle of wine that had accidentally undergone a second fermentation, producing bubbles and exclaimed, “I have tasted the stars!” Whether that actually happened or not, there is no disputing champagne’s distinctive sparkle.
You can have your star-tasting moment at any of the dozens of champagne houses in either Reims or Épernay (and if you really want to get out and explore, try heading into the countryside to taste at individual caves.
Many of the cellars in Reims are in close proximity each other, located around the Place des Droits de L’Homme, and host several daily guided tours and tastings. Be sure to call for an appointment as far in advance as possible since tours operate on set schedules and tend to fill up quickly.
Taittinger is located on the grounds of a former 12th-century abbey and is built atop 4th-century Roman chalk mines, or crayères. It is the only major champagne house that is still family-owned. The hallmark of the house is its Chardonnay-focuses style, which lends its wines their elegance and structure.
Nearby is another huge name in Champagne, Veuve Clicquot, where you can visit still more huge ancient crayères while learning about the remarkable woman for whom the house is named and who made champagne into a global industry in the 19th century.
Then make a stop at a TPG favorite, Pommery, the house that is said to have pioneered the brut style of champagne, and whose impressive cellars display rotating art exhibits. Be sure to sample their flagship Cuvée Louise champagne.
Finally, for those who really want a taste of champagne history, no visit is complete without a stop at Ruinart, which was founded in 1729 is the oldest champagne house in Reim. Other big names to visit include Louis Roederer (the house that makes Cristal) and Krug.
If you get a chance to visit Épernay be sure to stroll the famous Avenue de Champagne, and make an appointment at Perrier-Jouët, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2011, and champagne behemoth, Moët & Chandon, which also makes the world-renowned champagne, Dom Pérignon.
Since there’s only so much wine-tasting you can do in a day (really!), there is also plenty of history to explore in Reims, whose history dates back to pre-Roman times.
On your way into the city from the train station, the first monument you’ll see is the imposing Porte de Mars triumphal arch. From there, it’s a short walk to the Place Drouet D’Erlon, which has pedestrianized shopping streets radiating off it where you can buy everything from clothes to luxury foods like the local specialty, rose cookies.
Reims is known as the coronation city of the French kings since Clovis was crowned the first king of the Franks back in 496 on the spot where the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Basilica of St. Remi now stands.
After him, 32 of France’s kings were later crowned in the massive Cathedral de Notre Dame in the city center, which boasts a double rose window and stained-glass panels designed by Marc Chagall.
The Palais du Tau, the former bishop’s palace, contains a fascinating museum, and the Art Deco Carnegie Library is worth a stop before lunch at the 19th-century Brasserie du Boulingrin, which serves local Champenois cuisine including grilled andouillette sausage.
Whether your interest is wine, history, food, or you just want to get out of Paris for a day, Champagne is a fabulous getaway where you can taste some of the world’s most famous wines.
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