France: Champagne Tasting in Reims

When I first saw the itinerary for our trip and noticed that we had a full free day in Reims, I thought, “Really? Why couldn’t we have an extra free day in London or Paris? What is there to do in Reims?” Now, having never been to France, my inner voice clearly could not be trusted to know anything about what there was to do in Reims, and she turned out to be, not surprisingly, very wrong.

Nothing to do in Reims? Hardly.

First, there was the cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims. Yes, another Notre-Dame. They all look the same on the outside.

They don't all have scaffolding on them though.

They don’t all have scaffolding on them though.

To be honest, I wasn’t super excited about the cathedral. After falling in mini-love with the Église Saint-André the previous night, Notre-Dame de Reims seemed huge, cold, dark, and impersonal. There are only so many Gothic cathedrals you can check out before they all start to look the same. One interesting feature, however, was this triptych of stained glass windows by Marc Chagall.

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After the cathedral, there was the shopping. Really, any town worth visiting in France will have stellar shopping, but this was where my friends and I really had fun. I bought a denim jacket (yes, I’m fashionable now), two pairs of colored shorts, two v-neck t-shirts, a long faux pearl necklace, and a pair of white leggings. Nothing outrageous, but all the same it was fun to be able to come home with clothes from France.

And then… there was the champagne.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Reims is one of the capitals of champagne country, in fact the Champagne province. Add to that the fact that this was a college choir trip, and you can bet that champagne tasting was high on the list of activities for our free day.

Marianne, our courier, recommended Taittinger, so that’s where we all went first.

Friends approaching the Taittinger visitor center.

Friends approaching the Taittinger visitor center.

Gorgeous bottles on display in the lobby of the visitor center.

Gorgeous bottles on display in the lobby of the visitor center.

The price of each ticket included a tasting as well as a tour of the “caves,” or the underground cellars where the champagne was made… literally, they were caves dug out of the chalk under the ground. We descended a tight spiral staircase and ended up about twelve meters, or almost forty feet, below street level. It was dark and cold down there, perfect conditions for letting the wine age.

Champagne bottles lying on their sides during the aging process.

Champagne bottles lying on their sides during the aging process.

Bottles of various sizes. For reference, the second bottle from the right is a normal-sized bottle of champagne.

Bottles of various sizes. For reference, the second bottle from the right is a normal-sized bottle of champagne.

I wish I had been able to take notes or something on the process, because it was actually really interesting. The history of Taittinger was fascinating as well… the site the winery is on now used to be a monastery, and the monks were the ones who dug out the chalk caves and made the wine. During the world wars, production was temporarily halted while the caves were used as massive bomb shelters, but they have since been restored to their former purpose (and aren’t we all glad for that). In honor of it having been a monastery, those of us from our group who were all on the tour together sang an impromptu performance of one of our Latin motets down in the deepest cave.

Of course, we had to come back up to the surface eventually to do what we had all come for: the tasting.

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Our group.

Members of our group.

Our director and me.

Our director and me.

After Taittinger, we headed to Pommery, another winery (champagnery?) nearby.

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In conclusion, any visit to Reims = champagne tasting. Please, for your sake, don’t miss it.

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2 thoughts on “France: Champagne Tasting in Reims

  1. Pingback: 2014: Looking Back | Perfect Harmonies

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