It surprises me I have not already been to Champagne, but I have not.
Reims in the Champagne region (pronounced rance, like dance) is about 1 hour by train from Paris. It’s a simple little town full of cobbled streets and stone buildings. A modern tram system quietly winds around the city connecting various sites and neighborhoods.
I was joined by my childhood friend and global traveler extraordinaire, Lauren, for a fun few days. Lauren now lives on the west coast and has honed her wine palette, not to mention knowledge of champagne. I, on the other hand, only speak a dialect of red wine. I needed an education.
We started our visit with walking around town – just getting acclimated. The Reims cathedral, Cathédrale Notre Dame, is located centrally and nearby is an exceptional Tourist center. I normally avoid tourism offices, but this one came recommended from my Fort Washington, Pennsylvania neighbors, Deb and Joe, and to be honest, I needed the help.
There are a huge amount of champagne houses in the region and deciding what would be best is tough when you don’t know the area or the geographic distances. Lauren and I had a goal of seeing/tasting large houses and small houses. We did not rent a car, so walking or public transit were our best options. A local train runs between towns, but it is not as frequent as the Paris metro.
Logistics aside, Reims is filled with some pretty amazing caves of champagne. The ancient romans first discovered the natural resources of Reims – salt and chalk. They dug mines to extract these products. Centuries later winemakers realized the abandoned mines were ideal for the maturation process of wine. Consistently cool temperatures, humidity and protection from sunlight allowed the champagne makers to age their vintages in a perfectly controlled environment.
Lauren and I started at Taittinger, a storied champagne house and in Reims, an UNESCO world heritage site. The chalk caves are a protected landmark as are 13 other Champagne region properties with roman chalk caves. We had a tour of the caves and then a tasting. Once the process of winemaking and production has been explained it becomes a little repetitive to do a tour in each property. The Taittinger tour was well worth it to see the caves, the champagne storage and the historic chalk etchings.
The following day we began at a tasting room in Reims, giggling that we had a 10am tasting – so more or less, bring your Egg McMuffin. We were pointed to the tasting room as a good place to sample the smaller houses in the region. It did not disappoint.
Afterwards, we jumped on a train to Rilly la Montagne. Okay, the truth is we missed our first train, but were able to catch another one in a reasonable timeframe. (This is what happens when you start your day with champagne. No regrets!)
In Rilly, we visited two small champagne houses. The first one, Roger Manceaux, was a small but efficient operation. Not much to see, but the tasting was lovely. We had one of the owners undivided attention which was nice for our champagne education.
The second house was a bit impromptu, Didier Herbert. The property was also used as a guest house and I made sure to take a card because it seemed like such a tranquil spot for a few days out of Paris. The hostess also mentioned the refrigerator full of complimentary champagne for guests of the property. Needless to say, I am trying to find some time to go back…
The weather was perfect for our walks around town and while we took the champagne tasting very seriously, we still made time for an apero. Not a bad spot to enjoy the afternoon…