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Reims City Trip - Champagne Region

Château les Crayères, an early 20th century château

REIMS DAY 2: Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin and Château les Crayères

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Having learned more about the history and flavors of le Champagne during your first day in Reims, the second day should be spent learning about the history and flavors of la Champagne.

The vineyards of Champagne are some of the most northerly in France. The cool, damp climate, coupled with Champagne's chalky soil and subsoil, yields slow-ripening grapes, which achieve a high level of acidity, accounting for Champagne's bright vivacity.

The Veuve-Clicquot-Ponsardin Vineyards
Veuve-Clicquot-Ponsardin

To make Champagne, three grape varieties, two red and one white, are combined in varying proportions: black-skinned Pinot Noir give the wine power and aging potential, Pinot Meunier provides long-lasting fruitiness, and white Chardonnay supplies roundness and elegance. Hence a Blanc de Blancs Champagne is one vinified exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, while Blanc de Noirs is made from the Pinots, either alone or in combination.

The méthode champenoise, the fermentation process employed for making Champagne (or indeed, any first-class sparkling wine) began to develop in the late seventeenth century. Dom Pérignon had the brilliant notion of blending wines from different vineyards and villages to obtain a wine of consistent quality. He is also credited with introducing corks and glass bottles thick enough to withstand the pressure of sparkling wine.

CELLARS OF REIMS...
A number of the major houses in Reims open up their cellars to the public. Whether or not the cellar requires an appointment, it's always wise to call ahead, as some establishments change their closing times without warning.

Henriot

81, Rue Coquebert
Tel.: +33 (0)3 26 89 53 00
Open by appointment only.
www.champagne-henriot.com

Krug

5, rue Coquebert
Tel.: +33 (0) 3 26 84 44 20
Open by appointment only.
www.krug.com

Mumm

29 Rue du Champ de Mars
Tel.: +33 (0) 3 26 49 59 69
Check website for tour hours.
www.mumm.com

Pommery

5, place du Général Gouraud
Tel.: +33(0) 3 26 61 62 63
Open by appointment only.
www.pommery.com

Roederer

21, boulevard Lundy
Tel.: +33 (0)3 26 40 42 11
Open by appointment only.
www.champagne-roederer.com

Ruinart

4, rue des Crayères
Tel.: +33 (0)3 26 77 51 51
Open by appointment only.
www.ruinart.com

Taittinger

9, place Saint-Nicaise
Tel.: +33 (0)3 26 85 84 33
Check website for tour hours.
www.taittinger.fr

Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin

1, place des Droits de l'Homme
Tel.: +33 (0)3 26 89 54 41
Open by appointment only.
www.veuve-clicquot.com

Those precious bubbles are produced during a second fermentation (prise de mousse) which occurs in the bottle, as the wine rests in Champagne's cool, deep cellars. And while the bubbles form, the wine also acquires the distinctive flavors and bouquet that only real Champagne can deliver. After the second fermentation, non-vintage Champagne ages for about eighteen months. In contrast, vintage Champagne remains in contact with its flavor-giving sediments for at least three years — hence its significantly higher prices.

Many of the major Champagne firms offer interesting tours of their cellars, where millions of bottles of precious bubbly mature in ideal conditions. It's fun, and refreshingly cool in summer, to explore these underground galleries, carved from the Champagne's chalky subsoil. Some are former limestone quarries which date back to Gallo-Roman times.

Particularly noteworthy amongst the many major Champagne houses based in Reims are the cellars at Pommery, where you'll see a gigantic 75,000-liter cask carved by the Art Nouveau master Gallé, as well as underground galleries adorned with statues. A constant, cool temperature, perfect for holding Champagne, prevails in these crayères (from craie, or chalky limestone), dug far back in Gallo-Roman times. Equally spectacular are Taittinger's and Ruinart's cellars.

If you need to rest for a while, stop by the splendiferous Château les Crayères and sip a flûte of "Comtes de Champagne," "Dom Pérignon," "Dom Ruinart" (a colleague of Dom Pérignon's), Gosset (mayor of Aÿ in 1584), Roederer (which the czars of Russia liked so much) or Mumm. You'll be drinking in the rich history of Champagne, and you should start to understand why these firms pay homage to the men who built the region's wealth and glory by naming the finest Champagnes in their honor.

It is possible to arrange candlelight dinners for groups in the cellars of some Champagne houses. Contact the Tourist Office of Reims for details.

 

Continue to Day 3

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P120102
(Updated: 02/15/13 CT)

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