Champagne 1: The City of Reims France

Champagne. We cannot end our seven month, thirteen country EU Austerity Drinking Tour without stopping in Champagne. The beer in the Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, & Belgium have revolutionized our thinking.

However, Champagne is Champagne.  My wife dropped her Diet Coke habit for Champagne. No other region manages to make a product as expensive, iconic, and controversial as Champagne. So, goodbye Amiens. Hello Reims!

EU Map New York To Reims

It may be the dead of winter, but finally, through obscuring trees, we sight our first grape vines.

We settle into the cozy home with two fantastic lesbian hosts and their black cat. They set to work advising us on which sights and Champagne houses to visit. They also snap at us to pronounce Reims as “Raunce”, so we only make moderate fools of ourselves.

We start at Reims’ heart: Notre Dame Cathedral:

Reims Notre Dame Cathedral France

Originally Roman baths, these later became a basilica, and here, in 496, Clovis, the first Frankish king was baptized. It then became THE site for all French kings to be crowned at. Yet hidden amid royal religious splendor, proud local sculptors snuck in barrel makers and grape pickers:

Reims Cathedral Grape PickingDirect German shelling in WWI ruined the Cathedral. Luckily, the Rockefellers and Monuments Historiques restored it. Today, although a bit jumbled and devoid of detailed flair, Reims Cathedral asks for your awe:

Reims Cathedral Ailse

Even Chagall added a touching swirl of stained glass to the burnt choir:

Chagall Stained Glass Reims Cathedral

We ramble between quiet brick and plaster buildings, worn by world wars. Art Nouveau survivors sprinkle the streets, including this masterwork from 1898: the cellar gate to Champagne house Mumm (later owned by Veuve and today by Jacquart).

Deeper we find a chance survivor, the Renaissance, Hotel Verdeur:

Renaissance Hotel Le Vergeur Reims

Here royalty stayed enjoying immense and immaculate gardens. It also faces the remains of the Roman Forum. At center, the mercantile cryptoporticus:

Roman Cryptoportico Reims

Reims, evidently, has always been a city of craft and business. At the Forum’s corner, we spy a sign glowing red.

Reims Champagne Caves du Forum

It leads to a courtyard of parked cars…not encouraging:

Caves du Forum

But down a narrow, dingy hall, we find the most fabulous wine shop. Here, Billecart-Salmon Rosé is a mere 49.90 EU. Here, rare and strange, small and huge producers pile every corner.

€6.00. Yes, €6.00 gets us a bottle of François Arnaud’s 2009 Grenache blend from Cairanne, France: a rich but balanced ruby red, with medium intense aromas and flavors of young prune, dried black cherry, tomato, headed by a stony, pencil lead-like minerality and mint: Very good (4 of 5).

From Touraine in the Loire we grab Yves Markevicinte, Vignoble de l’Ebeaupin 2011. It looks a clear ruby purple. It smells of black cherry, black pepper, chalk, and vanilla husk. Dry, twangy acidity, oodles of chalky tannin, mild 12% abv, and a medium body swap to flavors tart cherry, chalk, and orange peel of medium length. Very good (4 of 5).

But we came for Champagne. So, for an Austerity-friendly €24.90 we buy Daniel Savart, L’accomplie, Brut, Champagne Premier Cru, France. NV

savart l accomplie champagne

Daniel Savart is an adorably new, small grower, who grows only 2 hectare of vines around Écuel. Their L’Accomplie is a first pressing, mostly from the present vintage (blended with two years prior) and aged 50% on lees in vats and 50% in barrels with partial malolactic fermentation.

It looks clear, lemony with fast, small fizz. Aromas smell youthful and zingy with tart strawberry, wildflower (chamomile), and fresh biscuits. It feels dry (7g/L), with extra acidity, an unexpected medium plus body (thanks Pinot Noir), and a lovely chalk dust yet fat and chewy fruit texture that clings to the teeth.  Flavors of tart strawberry and violet candy lead to a long citric, chalk powder finish.  Savart’s L’Accomplie is very, very good (4 of 5).  Can drink now, has potential for aging.

The next day, after our hosts make a fab and undeserved quiche for us, we visit Reims’ Art Museum for their rotating exhibit on…Champagne. Small rooms wind about with posters, paintings, and wares from the region. All celebrate the posh hedonism that is French bubbly:

Morlant Champagne Poster

*Ahem… Also, there was an original portrait of lady Clicquot, and a 170 year old bottle from a Baltic shipwreck, possibly from Veuve en route to Russia:

Baltic Champagne Shipwreck

Back outside, we swing past Art Deco homes and shops on the edge of town and stumble onto another Roman ruin:

Roman Triumphal Gate Reims

Bullet holes riddle this monumental arch. Today it faces entries to caves of Champagne houses. School children run about it doing a scavenger hunt. We even find Romulus and Remus at la Lupa’s teets, signifying this city’s connection to imperial Rome.

Romulus and Reums Roman Gate Reims

Not to be outdone sits a nearby WWI memorial:

WWI Memorail Reims

It was cut from the same chalk caves as the Roman gate, which is also where Champagne ages.

But the Champagne houses can wait for tomorrow (aka next Monday’s post). It is cold so we head back to base. Empty Art Nouveau buildings glitter as we pass.

Reims Art Nouveau TheaterFor this is the essence of Reims above ground. An ancient, artful, aspiring, mercantile city damaged by wars economic and military.

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5 Responses to Champagne 1: The City of Reims France

  1. sand110 says:

    Definitely left wanting to see and read and taste more!

  2. I love the city of Reims (I always tell people to pronounce it like “France” without the “F”), although I have never seen it with snow on the ground! Great post, wonderful photos!

  3. Pingback: Taittinger Champagne Caves | WAYWARD WINE

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