Monday, June 15, 2009

Champagne and Reims

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Sunday was our 12th wedding anniversary, so it provided us with an excellent excuse (not that we really needed one) to spend a weekend in the largest town of the champagne region of France, Reims (pronounced to sound like France).
Reims is only a 40 minute TGV ride from Gare Paris Est and we spent over two days in the area travelling only by foot, walking around the town centre and to the two caves we visited, plus visiting several other tourist sites and enjoying the ambience of the town.

We arrived after 2pm on a very warm Saturday afternoon to find our hotel room, at the Best Western Paix Hotel in the centre of town, not yet available. They offered to store our two small bags in the interim and we ventured out to get a feel for the town. We quickly found ourselves gazing upon one of the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the glorious 13th century constructed Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

The cathedral itself is built upon another church built in the 5th century and recently roman ruins have been uncovered. It has suffered at the hands of man and nature, suffering immense damage at the hands of the Germans in the opening days of the first World War, it was also neglected for some time and has suffered several fires and natural disasters.

We slowly wandered through the cathedral and then made our way back to the hotel to finally check-in to our room, which had a lovely view towards the cathedral and over much of the town.

It was then time to walk up to Mumm for our first cellar cave visit and degustation. Because my french language skills are quite average, we decided to opt for the english tour of the Mumm caves.

first video on the Mumm tour

This meant that we were treated to a couple of short videos in english (one at the beginning and yet another during the tour in the caves) and a guide who took us rather quickly, but certainly not impolitely, through some of the corridors of the Mumm cellars. It was a rather warm day and so the 30-odd minute walk through (only some) of the 25-odd kilometres in the chilly limestone caves at a depth of around 15 metres was rather enjoyable.

There was an interesting and informative overview of the process of making champagne, from grape variety and selection, what makes a Grand Cru or a vintage, through to the various aging options and requirements and the lengthy process of maturation and extraction of the sediment, followed by further fermentation until the champagne is eventually made available to the public.

sediment forms due to the fermentation process

This was our cue to make a beeline for the degustation room to taste two very nice Mumm champagnes, the Cordon Rouge and Cordon Rouge Vintage. We both prefered the vintage champagne and it gave us a nice little head-spin for our sunny early evening walk around Reims, visiting some of the roman ruins and enjoying the architecture and the ambience.

Mumm degustation

Sunday was our 12th wedding anniversary and the day we decided to visit the Pommery cellars. As we had already taken a tour in english the previous day, this time we requested a tour of the cellars and caves in french.

some of the bottles of Pommery champagne doing their thing

The french tour was lengthier, with no boring video to sit through. We wandered through the chilly caves for an hour or so. The Pommery cellars are also filled with contemporary art, which provided an interesting adjunct to the tour, which consisted of much of the same information as the tour the day before.

musical sparrows, the first and last room of the Pommery tour

This time we were even deeper in the limestone subsoil beneath Reims at almost 30 metres and wandered through some of the 18 kilometres of caves, including some gallo-roman chalk pits.

amongst the caves on the Pommery visit

Once again we were treated to a degustation at the end of the tour and this time chose and shared four different champagnes, "Blanc de Blancs", "Blanc de Noirs", "Brut Rosé" and the "Grand Cru".

We were also chatting with our tour guide and when we mentioned it was our 12th wedding anniversary that day she also gave us each a glass of their "Cuvée Louise" made from the vineyards of the jewels in the Champagne region and described as "an absolutely pure wine which quintessentially conveys the wine-making expertise of the Pommery champagne house".

Pommery degustation

They were all very nice indeed and after purchasing a bottle of their "Wintertime" / "Blanc de Noirs" we happily ambled through the streets of Reims, slowly making our way back to the hotel for a late afternoon swim.

This is a short video of one of the galley's contemporary art exhibitions which caught my attention, a room full of Les Paul guitars, Marshall amps, Electro Harmonix "Big Muff" distortion effects and lots of birds (and, sadly, lots of bird poo). But how cool!

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