Visiting Champagne had been on my bucket list for a while. There’s just something about popping open a bottle of bubbly that makes the drabbest of days feel like cause for celebration. It is only about 100 miles from Paris, which makes this an easy day trip by car or train from the city. Since we only had one day, we decided to make things easy by booking a private tour through The Tasty Side to Life.
The price of the tour varies greatly depending on what kind of activities you want to do (Would you like to drink champagne from a tree house in the middle of a forest? Would you like to stay the night in a 16th century chateau? Would you like to visit a chocolate atelier and sample champagne infused chocolate?). Basically, the answer was YES to all of those questions, but HELLO MILLION DOLLAR DAY TRIP. So, we decided on one large champagne house, a one Michelin Star lunch followed by a small family owned producer. You may think that doesn’t sound like very much for an all day tour. This is France, my friends. Everything takes longer than you’re used to.
We were picked up at our hotel in Paris at 8am and by 9:30, we were at the Reims Cathedral for a quick little tour before our first tasting. But, let’s get on with it. (That’s exactly what we thought when we were there too!)
There are several large champagne producers to consider, but for me, it was a no brainer. Veuve Clicquot is probably the most well known of the larger brands and I really wanted to see where it’s made. It’s worth a visit, simply for the history and a look inside the caves. But, the vibe is very corporate, much like drinking a glass of champagne at a board meeting.
While “Veuve” is now owned in part by Louis Vuitton, the brand has Madame Clicquot to thank for it’s empire, who at only 28 years old, took over running the house when her husband died in 1805. All hail the ultimate #GirlBoss.
After a history lesson, down to the caves we went.
Did you know that it is the job of one person to remove the yeast from the bottle? They are called a degorger. This is mostly done by machines now, but the magnum bottles still have to be done by hand.
After the tour, it was time for my favorite part.
In France, you don’t get a one ounce pour. You get an entire glass. We started with the yellow label bottle, which is their non-vintage. I also learned that every champagne house has a non-vintage bottle that serves as their standard. It will taste the same every time you pour it as it was mixed from 50-60 different crus (or growing areas). Then, we moved on to the La Grande Dame, which pretty much put the first glass to shame.
Never ask someone who has been drinking champagne to take your photo ;).
After Veuve, it was time for lunch at the stunning Relais & Chateau property La Briqueterie.
I am going to sum this up by saying the patio was lovely (as was the china) and I thoroughly enjoyed this inventive vegetable panna cotta, BUT…when we sat down, we were immediately served bread and butter in a little silver crock. When we went to take the lid off the butter, there was a dead moth inside. That sort of set the tone, and since there was no real effort to make things better (other than remove it without an apology), we had a hard time getting past it. I really wished we had packed a $10 baguette lunch, but there’s always next time.
It was seriously time for more champagne!
Saving the best for last, we ended the day at Lelarge-Pugeot, and it’s officially become my favorite champagne.
It is located on the Champagne Trail on the Montagne de Reims, covering three areas with Vrigny being the premiere cru. I learned that the terroir (or specificity of place) is very important in France. Winemakers essentially try to capture the place and time in a bottle.
We were welcomed by Clemence, the grower’s daughter, who is learning to be a wine maker. First stop, the vineyards.
That’s Dixie, her dog, and she came along too!
Lelarge-Pugeot is an organic producer, which must follow very strict protocol.
My favorite champagne of the day was the Les Meuniers de Clemence and we came home with two bottles.
Not to mention new friends. We sat around for several hours (past closing) tasting and trading stories with the family and our amazing sommelier Nic.
I didn’t want to leave. But, our car was waiting and we had a date with Paris.
(To be continued…)