I was a lemming yesterday. I signed up for a tour through Paris Webservices who booked my Reims and Champagne tour through Cityrama. Some people have gone on many tours with this company, but I don’t think I will again. I’ll explain why as I go.
We followed in line to the bus which resides under the Louvre. How odd to think that under the Louvre is a big parking garage for tourist buses. The three guides (one spoke in English, another in French, and the other in Japanese) encouraged us to go upstairs as we handed over our tickets. We sat in the dark parking lot a few minutes after departure to wait for some late arrivals. Then we were off to the Champagne region.
I thought it was interesting that the guides all sat on the bottom floor of the bus while all the tourists sat at the top. I understand that the best views are on top, but it really takes away a personal connection when you can’t even see the person talking. The scripted speeches of the three guides also takes away from the experience a little bit.
The ride was beautiful and quiet. It seems that the air conditioning vents release sleeping gas because most of the bus was snoozing with necks bent in uncomfortable positions and mouths open. I resisted the urge to sleep because I really wanted to see the countryside.
Our first stop was at Mumm (pronounced like mooom). We went on a one hour tour of the cellars and tasted one champagne. The tour of the cellar was okay, but it was challenging to understand the man, and he talked in a way that sounded as if we were boring him with our presence. The cellar seemed very fabricated for a tour, and not authentic. The tasting at the end was quite good. I would have loved to try other cuvets. Unfortunately, the price deterred me from purchasing a bottle.
From there we went into the town of Reims (pronounced Rance, like France without the F). We had two hours to eat, and tour the city. They offered a walking tour of the cathedral (you know the kind with a big flashy umbrella to visualize where the guide was located), but I was afraid that would take an hour, and then I’d only have an hour for lunch and exploration. I picked up a guide in the cathedral and walked around. I found the ornate facade and Chagall windows to be my favorite part of the church. It really is a massive cathedral. I tried to capture that in some of my photos, but I’m not sure if you can feel the scale of the building.
After that I started walking around the town. I wanted to go to the Carnegie Library because I’m obsessed with libraries, but it was closed until 14:00 and we left at 13:40. So, I started walking towards lunch and the main shopping area. I read about a brasserie in Rick Steves that I wanted to find, and I finally did find it, but there were so many people. I feared 45 minutes for lunch would not be enough. I’m really getting used to my two hour lunches. Instead I just picked up a sandwich and walked around the town more. I’m a pretty anxious person, so I was eyeing my watch carefully to avoid being left in Reims.
After boarding the bus again, we drove through Champagne country to Epernay where we would have a tour and tasting at Moet & Chandon. The tour was much more engaging even though similar information was presented. The cave also felt very real with spider webs (yuck!) and water dripping onto the floor. The tasting was good, but I preferred Mumm’s Cordon Rouge.
I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything, so I sneaked out to view the town of Epernay. This is a town I think I would like to spend more time in. When we were driving through I could see a small town atmosphere with lush gardens, and many cafes. Next to Moet & Chandon is the Hotel de Ville with a sprawling garden space. I would have liked more time, but we needed to get back to Paris.
Our Paris ride was supposed to take 2-2.5 hours. With Paris traffic, it took more like 3.5 hours. Some people were getting anxious to get off the bus, so they asked if they could hop off. I quickly followed them, but was turned down. I am just as bad as my students because when exceptions are made for some, I get upset. I wouldn’t expect them to let people off, but when they let a few and not others, that is not fair. I suppose I should stop pouting about that…
So, to summarize my day, I enjoyed the sights and the champagne tasting, but I wish I would have spent some time setting it up for myself rather than going with a tour company. Or, I wish I would have spent more money for a smaller group experience. I appreciated the convenience at the time, but sometimes a little more work proves to be worthwhile in the end. I also have to admit I had an amazing tour and tasting of sparkling wine in Napa Valley, so it is kind of hard to top that experience. At least now I can say I’ve had true champagne.
Top Things Learned:
-Champagne is an appellation (region where grapes are grown), and a sparkling wine can only legally be called champagne if it is from this region.
-Champagne goes through a double fermentation which creates the effervescence.
-Dom Perignon was a monk, and he made the first Champagne.
-Limestone is crucial for making champagne. First, it creates the right soil conditions. Second, the caves are made of limestone which keep the temperature at about 10-12 degrees Celsius all year round, and keep the humidity high.
-Champagne is the northern most wine growing region in France. It has a mixture of continental and oceanic climates which creates 200 days of rain with cold winters and hot summers.
-Champagne is made with three grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonay, and Pinot Meunier.
-Pinot Noir and Minot Meunier are called black grapes because of their dark exterior.
-Chardonay is called a white grape because of its light exterior.
-Champagne is light in color because even dark grapes have light juices.
Have you had champagne? Do you have any thoughts on Champagne vs. US sparkling wines?
I added a few new photos from yesterday to my previous album. There were so many to go through…
If you are wondering why there are pictures of the Louvre in here, it is because I arrived for the tour early, so I walked around a bit. The Louvre is even more beautiful when you can experience it by yourself.