Paris — 26 September 2015

It’s a day in Champagne! I slept very well last night. I woke up at 12:30; heard the kitchen commotion next door; flipped them off; and went back to sleep.

The neighborhood Metro route is direct to the East Train Station in Paris. In 45 minutes we are in Reims, a city of 200,000 in the Champagne region. Reims is pronounced “raw-ss”–go figure…

We meet Ina, our tour guide, and 6 other Americans at 9am at the train station. Ina gives us a nice overview of the region and we are off. We drive through the forest and see lots of cars by the roadside. Ina says people are looking for mushrooms. Wish we could too! One couple in the van say they will be seeing Jimmy Buffet in concert in Paris. We tell them we have tickets in October for the LA concert. I ask if this will be their first JB concert and they say No, they have enjoyed JB since they were kids when their folks were fans. So now we realize we are the “old folks” in the tour!

Our first stop is to see a vineyard; notice the chalky soil;

Premier Cru Soil
Premier Cru Soil

and get a quick lesson in the life of a grape vine. Ina tells us about Dom Peringnon who discovered how to make champagne in late 1861. God bless him!!

We stop at our first champagnery, Fernand Lemaire, and have a tour and explanation of the champagne making process. We are treated to a demonstration of the daily bottle turning (to eventually disgorge the wine) by a man with a butt crack–guess that visual is the world over! We taste 3 delicious champagnes and buy a brut rose and a premier cru (which we THINK was a third each of Chardonay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunière grapes). It is a very small vineyard–the production is in the thousands (of bottles per year). Today the third generation is involved in the champagne making.

The second place we stop is a much larger producer, JM Gobillard & Fils–the production here is in the millions. We taste 4 champagnes. For the last tasting Ina has a volunteer from our group use a saber to open the champagne! We have certainly heard of this but we have never seen it in person. I can’t wait to try it myself but maybe not in the Paris apartment…

Ina tells us that 10am is the best time to taste wine because your pallet is clean–we like that idea! One YOUNG woman on the tour decides that #10amchampagne will be the Instagram name. Wha???? (Later I am amazed that I find her photograph post on Instagram. Maybe I CAN understand all this social media stuff!)

Ina says in France the people drink the wine of their region almost exclusively. So the people in Champagne always drink champagne! (I wanna live there!) She says they are able to get to know the vintners and find the champagne they like at a reasonable price from the winery direct. The champagnes we bought were 15€ to 20€–very reasonable for such great champagne! She recommends champagne with every type of dish. If the dish is red meat, have a champagne made with Pinot Noir grapes.

Ina gives us a tour of the church. This was Dom Perignon’s church. It was originally part of the monastery but the monastery is long gone. Ina points out one interesting thing: If you see anything painted blue in old France, it means it was a precious thing. The color blue was taken from the Lapis Lazuli semi-precious stone. There is a side alter at the church that is painted blue with gold leaf accents.

Ina’s husband recommended Racine for lunch. The chef is Japanese but his dishes have a French flare. Ina says it will be no surprise when the chef gets a Michelin star and says we will love it…and we do. We have a table on the second story at the window so our meal entertainment is people watching. Here’s the guide to our 2 1/2 hour lunch:

We start with a glass of rose champagne.

Amuse Buche: The first plate is a long tray of 4 little bites (mostly seafood tastes) plus a large spoon with what looks like a red blob. The blob is gelatin filled with liquid–it is an incredible taste of gazpacho! The second plate is a beet and green apple concoction. The little beet parts look like mushrooms with little thin rounds of beets as caps. The apple is sliced paper thin and rolled up tight. (There are LOTS of labor intensive vegetable accents and garnishes during our meal. They must have many 14yo apprentices in house.)

1st course: Roasted pigeon with butternut squash made to look like those cute mushrooms and a tamarin vinaigrette. It is served with more rose champagne. It is really delicious–nicely roasted.
2nd course: Cod (perfectly cooked) served with a small cube of potatoes Daphinoise and some tasty little vegetable accents with curcuma oil.
3rd course: Smoked Iberian pork (topped with very fine toasted seasoned bread crumbs), salsify, celery with mustard seeds served with a burgundy wine.
4th course: Dessert of pear and chocolate-flavored cake and ice cream served with a nicely sweet Vouvray wine.
“Gourmet Coffee” (coffee served with sweets) with 2 small sweets, a little bit of pudding and a tisane sweet drink…plus espresso coffee, of course.
Total cost $240

We visit the HUGE church, Notre Dames de Reims (Our Lady of Reims).

Norte Dame de Reims
Norte Dame de Reims

The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where King Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. Twenty five French kings were crowned here from about 750 to 1825AD. One noteworthy site is the beautiful stained glass window designed by Marc Chagall (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reims_Cathedral#/media/File:Chagall_windows_Reims_Cathedral.JPG) and built in 1974.

Our trip back to Paris is quick and comfortable. We stop by the neighborhood bakery and patisserie on our way to the apartment but it is PACKED with people!!! Maybe tomorrow it will be open early.
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