The best ‘bubbly’ in the world is of course in no other place but in Champagne. 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 realised that one can drink a glass of champagne at any time of 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 hère I went to Reims by train, the main centre where most of the more familiar Champagne houses are located, Mumm; Ruinart; Taittinger; Veuve Cliquet; Pommery etc. 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 summer's 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 2,300 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 muséum of the architectural construction of the Cathedral, a history muséum displaying the coronations from the 13th century. 15th & 16th century tapestries, robes from past coronations and of course the treasury, where unique pièces 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