Tag Archives: reims

Long Weekend in Champagne

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Less than a two-hour drive from Paris (or 45 minutes via TGV train) lies the near-mythical French region of Champagne, a (champagne) bucket-list destination for wine lovers who consider it the pinnacle of sparkling wine production. The region’s grand capital Reims offers more to do than dabble in bubbles—visit the monumental cathedral, hike the scenic trails up Montagne de Reims, or rent a bike to cruise around town. However, champagne, as in drinking it, is still, predictably, the primary attraction.

While highlights can be crammed into a pleasant (but long) day trip from Paris, you’ll miss out on the charm of the surrounding villages where legions of small grape-growers, whose manicured vineyards blanket the countryside, produce their own bottles rarely found in stores or restaurants outside France. Plus, champagne sold in Champagne is refreshingly affordable—bring an empty suitcase to haul your liquid treasures home.

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DAY 1

Arrive in Reims in the morning, and get started with a tour of the historic, underground chalk caves (followed by a glass of bubbles, naturally) at a couple of the venerable, big-name champagne houses clustered in the southern part of town: Pommery, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot, or Ruinart.

For lunch, seek out local favorite eateries like Le Bocal, a cute, 12-seat seafood purveyor-cum-restaurant; Hall Place, a wine bar with adjoining retail shop in the back; or the refurbished Brasserie L’Affaire, offering a reasonably priced and tasty prix-fixe steak frites lunch.

For true sybarites, the obvious end to an afternoon of champagne tasting in Reims would be to dine at the hands of a Michelin-starred chef, and then retire exhausted to a lavishly appointed room. Fortunately, Reims is blessed with two properties providing both: Le Parc restaurant at the Château Les Crayères and A. Lallement at Hotel L’Assiette Champenoise.

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DAY 2

Pick up a rental car and a map, or better yet, hire a driver (expensive, but worth it if you have the funds) to visit the smaller grower/producers dotting the landscape surrounding Reims. Budget an hour for the drive to Épernay on a route skirting the picturesque Montagne de Reims. The nearby Grand cru vineyards produce some of the world’s most expensive Pinot Noir grapes—stop off for tastings at village producers along the way, where, although appointments are generally recommended, many serendipitous experiences stem from simply knocking on doors. Proprietors will generally not charge for a tasting, but appreciate the purchase of a bottle.

For a guaranteed stop on your itinerary without the restraint of an appointment, Henri Giraud, in Ay, allows walk-ins (but does charge for tastings). The tasting room is modern, more art gallery than wine shop, and staffed by a knowledgeable, English-speaking host.

After a day of touring, you can either return to Reims, or stay the night in the little village of Avize to wake up amidst the Chardonnay vines of the Côte des Blancs. Try Les Avisés Hotel and Restaurant, a cozy, tastefully designed property run by Anselme Selosse of Champagne Jacques Selosse fame. Unfortunately, guests have no special guarantee of opportunity to buy his coveted wines. In Épernay proper, there are only a handful of smaller guesthouses; nearby, the beloved, if fading, La Briqueterie, has characterful common rooms and expansive grounds.

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DAY 3

If open to yet another day of tasting (of course you are—you’re in Champagne!), visit one of the major houses based in Épernay such as Moët et Chandon, Dom Perignon, Mercier, or Nicolas Feuillatte.

Alternatively, continue the road trip further south for a short village-by-village trek through the fabled Côte des Blancs region, realm of Chardonnay, Blanc de Blanc (Chardonnay-based Champagne), and the prestigious vineyards of Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

Heading back through Épernay by late afternoon, don’t miss a stop at one of the world’s greatest Champagne stores, 520, along Avenue Paul Chandon. With your newly savvy palate, stock up on hard-to-find and small-production bottles of the utmost quality, at better-than-cellar-door prices.

Conclude your bubble-soaked weekend with a visit to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. Equal in size and majesty to the Notre-Dame in Paris, the cathedral has witnessed key moments in history since the 13th century, including over thirty coronations, shellfire during the First World War, and the German surrender in World War II. Depart the cathedral to take a leisurely walk north towards the train station if catching one back to Paris, while considering how visiting Champagne was a key moment in your history.

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Mondays Are Better with Bubbles: Ruinart Champagne and Chef Michelle Bernstein

1998rose

Thinking about Monday on a Sunday tends to induce a range of feelings from anxiety to dread. However, I recently spent a weekend joyously anticipating its conclusion so that come Monday, October 19th, I could spend several hours tasting Ruinart Champagne (tasting, not drinking—it is a Monday, after all). Hosted by Frederic Panaïotis, Chef de Caves at Ruinart, the event was held in a private Greenwich Village loft with renowned Miami Chef Michelle Bernstein orchestrating a beautifully paired lunch.

I have known Ruinart for over a decade, but didn’t realize the brand had only been in the States for the past 6 years (I must’ve been imbibing it in Europe). Considering Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house, established by Nicolas Ruinart in the city of Reims in 1729, and is currently owned by LVMH, it’s hard to believe they have a relatively young presence in our market. And imagine–in 2029, the house will reach 300 years of expertise in the art of Champagne production. Very few wine brands in the world can boast such longevity.

TableSetting

Speaking of art, the house is a great patron of contemporary art and design; for instance, they are the official Champagne of Art Basel. However, Ruinart demonstrates a greater interest in supporting the arts than having “artists” support its wines, particularly whilst gyrating until dawn in a nightclub. The house does not court the baller contingent that has the power to propel brands such as Louis Roeder’s Cristal into becoming a staple reference in hip-hop lyrics and on overpriced bottle service lists. Ruinart’s purported goal is to reach the sophisticated, thoughtful oenophile, which, last I heard, was neither Ke$ha nor the legions of Jay-Z wannabes (although Jay-Z himself has apparently quit Cristal over a case of reverse ‘dis by the brand, which of course depends on whether you view the rap industry’s unique way of embracing the wine, to have been respectful or disrespectful in the first place.)

Michelleinthekitchen

Back to Monday’s lunch. Four wines were presented: NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs in magnum, 2002 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, NV Ruinart Rosé in magnum, and 1998 Dom Ruinart Rosé. Something to note–all Ruinart vintage wines age for 12 years on the lees, followed by at least a year in bottle. The length of ageing shows, producing wines of finesse, intensity of flavor, and fine texture.

Although I had come to Ruinart through their Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay being the foundation of the house cuvées, and, in their words, “the very soul of Ruinart,” I left smitten with the rosés. The NV is comprised of 45% Chardonnay from the Cotes des Blancs and 55% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims. Aside from its red berry perfume, the wine had a beguiling note of dried rose petal that left me sniffing as much as tasting. The 1998 vintage rosé Dom Ruinart displayed very different color and character, as you might expect from a Chardonnay-dominant wine with 14-plus years of age (85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir vinified as red wine). Flavors leaned towards the tart red fruit spectrum with citrus and pink grapefruit on the long finish. A superbly aged but not yet mature wine appropriately paired with a final course of cheese.

Cheeseplate

The friendly and accessible chef, Michelle Bernstein, demonstrated through her dishes how Champagne can be served with every course of a meal. Apparently an enormous fan of Ruinart, she proclaimed “why leave bubbles for special occasions or as an aperitif when they can be paired with everything!” After experiencing lunch with her and her muse Ruinart, I concur.

Below, I have included an image of the menu, shots of the loft and its vintage décor, and, of course, the food.

Menu

Loftandtable Ruinartandcurios Salmoneggandcaviar loftlivingspace

Tablesetting-2 Menunesltedinnapkin Shrimpandpopcornstarter Bowloffigs

Cassouletfoie Champagneandchess Oysterstarter oldradio Loftbar Ruinartbox

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