Just call me Bubbles!!

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Flag of France  , Champagne-Ardenne,
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Today we are exploring Champagne, geographically and oenologically. We began the day in Reims, which according to the locals is pronounced RRRRRRas. It is quite a large town with yet another beautiful cathedral where several coronations of French Kings occurred. Joan of Arc apparently attended one of these coronations. A lot of the main champagne producers' cellars are located in Reims. We saw Pommery, Verve Cliquot amongst others but chose to do the tour of Tattinger. A young English girl on university exchange took us around in a group of about 15, including some loud Americans. We travelled down about 20metres into the cellars. The cellars were made up of 4km of tunnels that were owned by Tattinger, but these tunnels are part of a larger system of tunnels extending beneath Reims, that are used by other producers. The tunnels were originally dug out by the Romans to yield limestone to build the city. An abbey was built over the Tattinger site. The monks would use the cellars as chapels and the like. Apparently there was a tunnel that would take the monks all the way to the Cathedral, more than 2km away. Tattinger has about 20 million bottles stored here, with individual cellars holding 720 000 bottles, all of which were hand stacked and hand turned. A very labour intensive process.  The champagne rests on lees in the bottle for an extended period. For the most expensive vintage champagnes this was 8-10 years, and even the non-vintage brut was 3-4 years.  One of the facts we learned was that champagne should not be stored for more than a few years. This prompted one of the Americans to ask whether the bottle of 1993 Dom Perignon that she had at home would not be worth drinking, the answer was it may not be, but whatever you do, drink it when you get home. Due to poor climatic conditions, Tattinger have not made an individual vintage champagne since 2008 and will not make one this year either. In the tasting room we tried the Brut Reserve, which of course was delicious. John bought three bottles for further study on our boat trip in Burgundy!

We continued our journey through Champagne visiting Verzy and Vezernay, both very picturesque grape growing villages. We passed hectare after hectare of rolling hills planted with rows and rows of vines. The rows were about 750mm apart, so very intensive planting. It is nearly harvest time here. We intended to have a late lunch in Epernay, which is at the centre of the grape growing region. We got there at about 2.15. The restaurant we had hoped to go to was shut, so we tried the next one and the next one, all shut. We were beginning to panic about the thought of starving to death (as if!) when we stumbled upon a shop that was the representative for fifty small champagne producers. We could go in there and have a taste and better still they did a light lunch. John had the cheese platter and I had the pate. We tasted six champagnes from six different producers. The very personable hostess, who spoke very good English, told us that there were 5000 small champagne producers in the area. You could believe this as every town we passed through seemed to have about 20 or so small operators, many out of a space not much bigger than a normal house.

We followed the Route Touriste which took us through beautiful scenery and quaint towns. We stopped in Hautvillers with the intention of doing a vineyard walk, but unfortunately it was closed. Next time we will book in advance. Many of the shops and houses in the towns have name signs hanging outside made from metal. They are beautifully decorated.

There were two other small vineyards that John was interested in visiting, guess what, both closed. So we ended up heading back to the Chateau, but not before we cased Fere en Tardenois (our local town) for a restaurant for dinner. Slim pickings I’m afraid but we settled on a small pizza place. We checked the opening hours, all looked good. However when we returned at 7.15 it was closed, as was the next place. The Bar Tabac did not serve food so we ended up at a pretty ordinary looking pizza shop. The other patrons included a huge dog and a fireman. The pizzas were OK. Back to the Chateau for another glass of wine and a catch up on our blog writing.
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