leave your inhibitions at the door
How convenient is this? I’m right smack in the middle of posts about our recent trip to Paris and Amsterdam and the theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #25 is TRAVEL.
MWWC started a couple years ago to promote wine writing (duh) and I had a couple entries near the beginning. Despite my writing a post with a semi-nude Sarah McLachlan and monkeys doing disgusting things, Jeff the Drunken Cyclist keeps goading me on to participate. I think he secretly wants to see what levels of depravity I’m willing to sink to.
Not this time, Jeff …
I know you’re dying to know about what kind of hijinx one of the world’s greatest hedonists – moi – got into in one of the world’s greatest cities for hedonists – Amsterdam. I couldn’t wait to find out, too. But first there was some wine to drink.
While I’m using superlatives, is it safe to say that France has the greatest wine in the world? It may not have been invented there, but they sure did perfect it. And while other areas of the world are doing very interesting and excellent things with wine, you can’t beat the classics.
However with kids going to college in a couple years, I knew I realistically wouldn’t be coming back to France any time soon. AND we had a sweet rental…
So visiting some wineries was a must. But where to go?
I’m not sure I have a favorite French wine. I love the robustness and all the varied flavors of Bordeaux. The beautiful perfumed wines of Cotes du Rhone – especially Chateauneuf du Pape – are as alluring as the scenic southern countryside. Burgundy would be a double pleasure as it has the best versions of two grapes I enjoy – haunting, earthy Pinot Noir and crisp, minerally Chardonnay. Oh, and Alsace…
There were so many factors to consider for choosing where to go. Would we go for the wine? Would we go for natural beauty of the area? Historical sites? All of the above?
The one factor that beat out all the others was….Geography.
We were going straight north to Amsterdam and the only wine region anywhere near our path was Champagne. Like many other familial decisions, Dad got overruled when it came to a multi-day wine excursion. So we went with convenience, though I can think of a thousand worse places to have as our default. Like Cozad, Nebraska.
It didn’t take us very long to drive the 90 miles to Reims, the heart of the region. We quickly stopped by the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims…
The stunning Cathedral was where the French kings were crowned and the site of heavy fighting in World War I. It was also where the Germans officially surrendered in World War II.
Reims is also the home to many of the great Champagne houses, including the one we chose to visit
I’m a big fan of Veuve Clicquot. There are other Champagnes that are certainly better – hello Krug – but they are also quite expensive. At around $40 a bottle, not many beat its body and balance. Plus, Rick Steves’ guidebook said they had a good tour.
The tour we were on was called “On the Footsteps of Madame Clicquot” and was focused more on the history of the house and of it’s iconic leader – the widow (“veuve” in French) Barbe-Nicole Clicquot. It turned out to be a better fit for us as the wine-making process would’ve bored the kids (and I could probably teach it myself). This was more of a history lesson – and a good one at that. The story of how a young French woman, widowed at 27, went on to perfect the method of making Champagne and built the largest house was inspirational.
It took place in the massive underground system of caves, or crayeres.
Everywhere we looked were racks of wine, and I was tempted to conveniently get lost while trying to find a bathroom.
We also learned about the riddling process where wines on the riddling racks are turned frequently to get all the yeast and sediment to the neck of the bottle.
It was refreshing to hear the tour guide mention that they don’t riddle by hand any more. Rather, hundreds of bottles are loaded on special racks that are turned by giant machines. I’ve heard of other houses trying to tell people they still do it manually – an impossibility considering their overall production volumes.
What was really fascinating were the small tidbits of information throughout the tour that gave it a personal touch. Like how employees with over 40 years of service are honored in each of the crayeres.
And, since Reims was the site of many battles in World War I, residents lived in the relative safety of the caves. We got to see a lot of the graffiti people carved into the chalky walls.
Finally, we got to hear the story of how in 2010 several bottles of their Champagne were found in a shipwreck dating back to the 1840s.
It turns out that total darkness and frigid waters provided the perfect environment to preserve the wine. Those who were fortunate enough to sample it were astounded on how good it was. More on the story here.
Speaking of sampling…
The tour ended in tasting room where we got to taste their standard “Yellow Label” and the 2006 Grande Dame. They only make vintage Champagnes in exceptional years and being able to taste it side-by-side with their “regular” version really highlighted the differences. It was richer, fuller, silkier, and had more toasty aromas. Fantastic.
Of course, this one wasn’t very happy that they had a minimum age requirement for the tasting. This is her “please can haz somez??” face….
Or is it her “heh heh, I just had somez” face?
Make sure to check out the other posts for this month’s challenge at the MWWC site . And if you liked my post enough, make sure to vote for it at the end of the month. Hell, if you hated my post, just vote for it anyway.