Champagne, Reims, and Veuve Clicquot

Champagne cave

I was perched on the fence, whether to say yes to staying home to work, and no to Champagne. And, well, I guess I don’t need to tell you that I simply could not fight the battle of the bubbly. And so I headed out for a quick day and night in Reims, where Champagne is made.

Demi-sec Champagne
Veuve Clicquot riddling rack

Fortunately the city of Reims is just a quick 45 minutes from Paris and I was invited to the region to eat, drink, and, well…I won’t tell you what else I did. But it involved a long, hot, much-appreciated bath, and a rest on the adjacent canapé.

Nothing like a couch in your bathroom

Okay. I didn’t hit the couch. Because if I did, I am sure that no one would have seen me for the next 23 hours. And on a 24 hour trip to Champagne, invited by Veuve Clicquot, the odds that someone would come knocking on my door to come and rouse me are pretty high.

VC foosball Ostrich

Still, it was worth extracting myself from the marble bathtub for a meal at the Hôtel du Marc, cooked by Chef Joël Robuchon, who is launching a series of meals at various venues here and there.

Champagne glasses

After learning from the woman dining to my right that French is the only language you can use to talk about food (even though she wasn’t French), we chatted – in French, English, and a little Italian – about our meal. I reasoned that if one speaks various languages, it’s nice to dip into several, or the one that’s most appropriate – ie: if talking about espresso or bollito misto, use Italian. If you’re talking about soufflés and éclairs, use French.

However, comme d’habitude, my reasoning didn’t quite go as far as I thought it merited. And while I wanted to say, “Well – how do you say ‘corn dog‘, ‘Hooter’s wings’, and ‘Blooming onion’ in any other language than English, girlfriend?” But I kept my trap shut.

Parmesan Foam with port

But since our meal was decidedly French, so be it. And we started with – what else? – a little cup of Parmesan espuma (foam) with port, which I guess is an Italian-Spanish (and Portuguese) hybrid, kept alive by the Fr…. Then we had individual tins of caviar with crabmeat hiding underneath in a coral gelée.

caviar and crabmeat David Lebovitz

La Langoustine, which is one of Chef Robuchon’s signature dishes, was a “turban” of spaghetti (okay, now I’m confused-does that make it Italian, or French?), which was visually dazzling. I was so busy trying to find the spaghetti ends that I didn’t take a picture.

Robuchon mashed potatoes and truffles

Of course, there was also a dab of Chef Robuchon’s famous potato purée made with an overload of butter, served with roasted quail, foie gras, black truffles, and 1990 vintage Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

I kept diving into the plate of salted butter that was so good, it made me wonder – “Who do you have to sleep with around here to get your name on a block of butter?” And now I have a new goal in life: My name in French butter.

Cantin butter

The meal was accompanied by a selection of Veuve Clicquot Champagnes, whose cellars we were going to visit the next day. All were, of course, superb. And there was such a parade of them that they (..or was it I?) started to blur. But the ones that stood out were the 2004 vintage, the Carte Jaune et Rosé, and the finishing bubbly, a demi-sec (half dry, which means it’s a touch sweet), that was decanted.

I was surprised that I liked it because slightly sweet Champagne isn’t usually a crowd-pleaser. But it worked tremendously well with the desserts; Le Rubis, a lime cheesecake filled with berry coulis, and Le Fleur Caramel, a caramel cake with honey crackle.

Reims Champagne berry dessert

As we finished the last of, well…everything that was on the table, I remarked how much I liked the rosé Champagne and was told that Champagne is the only rosé in Europe that is allowed to be made by mixing white wine (made from red and white grapes) and red wine (made from red wine grapes) whereas regular rosé is made from red wine grapes by macerating the crushed grapes with the skins to obtain the color.

Veuve Clicquot ledger

(The rosé Champagne that we know now, was first made in the Veuve Clicquot cellars. Prior to that, sparkling rosé was tinted with inky elderberries.)

I’m a big fan of Champagne, and its bubbly cousins, and fortunately it’s one of those affordable luxuries that we indulge in at home from time-to-time. And fortunately, it’s always an appropriate host or hostess gift in France, and I take any and all bottles that guests offer chez moi. (However they don’t usually last that long.) But we did go out to dinner in Reims at L’Assiette Champenoise and was leafing through the wine list, as we were deciding on a bottle, and gazed through the pages of offerings….

Champagne prices (magnums)

Yowza! At €1 = $1.30, so that €5385 bottle of Krug costs $6927. And let’s face it, no one whose dream is to spend the rest of their life in a bathtub with a couch next to it is going to be able to afford bottles like that. But since in France, prices include tax and service, I guess one could imagine the savings. Still, even though we didn’t try it, we had a lovely time in this hyper-modern restaurant. The chef was very humble, coming out and saying hi and we told him how much we were enjoying the meal. And as a little gift on the way out, they handed me a tiny loaf of bread that they made in-house, which I had mentioned during the meal that I thought was amazing.

The next day we woke up bright and early at 7am. I didn’t have a chance to engage in any foosball….

Foosball, Champagne-style

Nor was I feeling like I was ready for my close-up….

photo machine

But just before we left the hotel, on the way out, we visited the “Once Upon a Dream” room, designed by Mathieu Lehanneur for the perfect sleep.

Hotel du Marc

Apparently Madame Clicquot had some sleep problems (I hear ya, sister!), so although it’s too late to help her, the hotel created this room designed for perfect sleep. It’s got temperature control, sound baffling, lighting control and light blocking…and a magnum of Champagne if all else fails.

Champagne riddling rack (old)
Veuve Clicquot archives

But I did learn more about Madame Clicquot, the veuve (widow), who took over the Champagne house when her husband died when she was just 27 years old.

champagne grapes
Champagne in cave

We went through the vaults (and for all of us expats that complain about all the paperwork, whining about all the trees we are killing), the arguments for all those carefully prepared papers that we need to turn in, maybe we should assume that someday we will be famous for something and history will thank those tireless employees who have archived all of our carefully prepared documents, so others can look back and see how we lived.

Dusty champagne bottles

I don’t know if they’ve saved all of her paperwork (I know mine is now taking up 65% of my bookshelves, pushing out the recipes), they did save her original shipping orders….

Veuve Clicquot Livre de commissions

But Madame Clicquot wasn’t a fan of paperwork either, and did not want to put labels on her bottles, instead preferring to let the contents speak for itself. (Kind of like me?) However this time it was someone else who wanted paperwork, and they ended up labeling the bottles for les américains. So next time anyone thinks the French are inflexible, Madame Clicquot was certainly an exception to the rule. And so was her great-granddaughter, who was the first woman in France to get her driver’s license, and, of course, the first woman in France to get a speeding ticket. (And certainly not the last.)

Veuve Clicquot Texas-style

As a show of how France and American culture sometimes overlap in more creative and fun ways, there was a celebratory bottle of Champagne, released in 1986 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the independence of the Lone Star State of Texas.

After poking through the archives, we headed over to where the vins de base are kept, tasting (and spitting out) the fermenting grape juice in large oak barrels, which would later be Champagne.

Champagne barrellChampagne cask
spitting -good aim!pouring Champagne

Most were funky, fizzing, fruity, and you could detect flavors such as toast, brioche, yeast, dark berries in the glasses. The cellarmaster (chef de cave) evaluates each to decide what goes into which bottles, and which are special enough to be considered “vintage” Champagne. Most Champagne that you buy is a blend, which is why there is no year on the bottle. But during special years when they find the grapes to be of exceptional quality, a millésime is released, which is a vintage Champagne.

Listening to Champagne

Although taste and smell are important, so is sound. And I caught the wine “chefs” listening to the fizz, which I started to do as well. So next time someone says, “Raise a glass!”, don’t be afraid to hold it up to your ear. Expect some funny looks, though…

Champagne (pre)

Like the cobwebs in the Cognac caves, the dust protects the Champagne, as well as the darkness from being stored underground. And Veuve Clicquot has 24 kilometers (15 miles) of underground tunnels. The oldest bottles down there date back to 1904, but when I asked how many bottles are stored there, they just shrugged and said that no one quite knows.

252

Another reason women rock, and always have, was that Madame Clicquot also invented the riddling rack, a way to disgorge the yeasty mass that collects in the neck of the bottle if held upside down. She had someone cut some holes in her own dining room table to try it out. And now all Champagne is riddled. (The French even have a word for the person who does it, a remeur.) However nowadays it’s done by machine.

Once the yeast is disgorged, a dosage is added back, to make up for the liquid that’s been riddled away. The dosage also contains some sugar, which is determined by the Champagne house; on the average, a liter of brut Champagne has between 9 to 12 (some go up to 14 or 15) grams, which is about 2 teaspoons of sugar per quart. Here at Clicquot, it’s between 9 and 10 grams.

Reims Cathedral gargoyle

But lest you think I spend my time lounging in marble bathtubs, guzzling Champagne, and filling out forms and spending weeks and weeks getting all the paperwork together and photocopying it only to have to redo it because you were given conflicting information, then having to wait in line for hours while staving people off who are trying to cut in front of me, to get it all stamped and signed, then having to go home and re-file it in one of my fourteen massive, bulging files of paperwork that I carefully need to keep organized and arranged by name, date, and size of paperclips used, I also need a little bit of history and culture.

Reims Cathedral

So we took a tour of the soaring Reims Notre-Dame cathedral, which is even more spectacular than Notre-Dame in Paris. And it looks like history shows us that even some of the folks outside in the cold were feeling happy from a little Champagne, too. Although the poor fella seems to be feeling no pain and doesn’t even notice his hands are missing.

Reims Cathedral
Reims cathedral

Before heading back to Paris on the train, to get back to work (and finish my filing duties) we had a quick lunch at the Restaurant Café de la Paix. I never had Jambon de Reims

Jambon de Reims

…which was a delicious slice of jellied ham, and was my favorite part of the meal.

tarte Tatin

I had to wave off dessert, but decided to make time – and room – for a quick, yes, Café Gourmand, the de rigeur workhorse of French desserts menus, with a few little bites of various treats, along with a cup of strong coffee.

cafe gourmand

Then we downed the last few sips of the Champagne, and headed back to Paris.



Note: This trip was hosted by Veuve Clicquot. The photograph of the sleep chamber was provided courtesy of Veuve Clicquot, because my camera lens was too dinky to get a good shot of it.

113 comments

  • Thank you so much for this post – a wonderful look at something I can’t imagine ever getting to see in the real – your photos are fabulous and comments insightful as always -what a treat :)

  • good god, what luxury! You are so lucky!

  • It just doesn’t get any better than this! Your blog I mean. Well, actually, your life! Outstanding post. I always learn something when I read your posts. Always. And I adore your pictures. Thank you for absolutely everything.

    As I said: Outstanding!

    Bravo.

  • The Champagne region is one of my favourite places to visit. We spent a week there last summer and this has made me want to go back again this July. Aren’t you glad you didn’t say no to Champagne? I certainly am as I live vicariously through you at 6am EST! Now I want champagne!
    PS: We learned how to listen to the fizz too ;)

  • I love this type of experience..

  • This adventure sounds amazing! I’m obsessed with the pitcher that they are pouring the champagne into from the second photo. Really beautiful!

  • Beautiful post…..Thanks Dave… I’m looking forward to a tasting for a restaurant that will open on the lower east side…sometime this summer.. It’s all biscuits….all the time. A 24 hour operation that serves biscuits in all their different forms and cuisine…
    Biscuits and Jam to Biscuits and gravy… Can you believe that ?? Only in NY !!!

  • I was just reading about the first American importer of Veuve Clicquot in the middle of the 19th century … from what I understand, it was a very successful business deal. Everyone loved the wine and the romance continues to this day. Great visit and quite an inducement to visit.

  • David,
    Reading you makes me wonder why the f*** did I spend Easter in Paris? Hum.
    Not that your article isn’t long enough but if you could let us know what you thought of the food at L’assiette Champenoise that’s be great.
    Merci beaucoup,
    Raphaële

  • My absolute hands-down go-to champagne for special occasions. Veuve Clicquot – nothing like it, but unfortunately it’s too rich for my pocketbook to drink on a regular basis. Thank you for sharing this beautiful place with those of us who will never get the chance to go. Fabulous pictures, as always. The plate of butter reminded me of a question I wanted to ask you. Do you keep your regular everyday butter in the refridgerator or on the table?

    Beautiful post. You lucky guy!

    Claire

  • Absolutely fascinating! Veuve is one of the few champagnes I drink so I loved reading this.

  • I’m not only hungry but also immensely jealous!

  • Wow, beautiful as always, fascinating… thank you. My favorite post yet.

  • What a wonderful opportunity, thank you for sharing.

  • We celebrate with a Rose Veuve Cliquot a few weeks ago! I won’t wax on too much about it because I wrote all about it here: http://www.16thandmain.com/we-have-something-to-celebrate/ (check out that color!!)…. But suffice it to say it was absolutely delicious!!

  • That was a fine time – thank you for sharing. Now that I’ve vicariously sipped champagne and played foosball with a goggled ostrich, I will attempt assembling the paperwork required here in the states for taxes.

  • I’ve almost finished reading “The Sweet Life in Paris” and it’s so good I don’t want it to stop!!!

  • Oh wow, this post was perfect! Your writing is fantastic. As much as I love the photos, nothing beats how you make me laugh! Thank you for such entertaining and teachable moments you send our way.

  • Quinn: I love that carafe, too – although I wouldn’t like to be the one cleaning it!

    Pamela: Glad you liked the book : )

    Claire+ Amanda: Yes, it is more than other brands. But it’s consistently very good (even excellent) – I love the rosé ~

    Raphaële: It was so dark in the restaurant that I didn’t take any pictures – sorry. The food was very good, as was the service. It was inventive but well-prepared. And no, didn’t drink any of that €5k Krug ..

  • Reims is on my must-see list now! Also, there’s a fromagerie on Rue du Champs de Mars named Marie-Anne Cantin….perhaps that’s where the butter came from??

  • is there a posted recipe for the tarte. looks wonderful and i need to make one

  • What a lovely way to spend 24 hours. Champagne is really stuff of which dreams are made. Though as the nit-picker I am, I have to make one little objection: Champagne is not the only wine allowed to mix red & white – Franciacorta rose may officially do so as well (Pinot Bianco and/or Chardonnay in addition to the Pinot Nero).

  • I adore your newsletters Vive la belle France!

  • Did you know that it was Mme Cliquot who inspired the “Business Woman of the Year” which is every year awarded in London to the Business Woman who impresses the judges that she has the qualities and abilities of Mme Cliquot. It is awarded in conjunction with the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall.

    I know because I was one of the finalists some years ago.

    I believe it is awarded in France too. Maybe in other European countries also.

    Great post, David – it brought it all back to me from my own visit there.

    • not for nuttin’ but we have a woman of the year too. we being us yanks. congratulations on the honor, even being a contestant.

  • Parmesan foam with port…I never heard of that — what did it taste like? I’ve also read that champagne doesn’t age well — is that true — or is it just some champagnes age well and others don’t?

  • Oh dear, the sleeping room designed for perfect sleep! It really made me smile.

  • Jealous!

  • Now I’m just curious about the ostrich.

  • Gosh, David, you lead SUCH a hard life…. :)

    gorgeous, sadly I shall never ever be tempted to invest my life savings in such matters (what life savings anyway? – it’s all buried in our house which we have to sell… !) – but what a glorious article. Love the photo, you really do the whole works, every time and for every theme!

    A ta santé

  • We bought an double old riddling rack years ago and just this year had one side of it attach to a wooden base and use it as a low table in our den. It is perfect. Our cats always think something is in the holes. The other half of the rack is leaning against the wall on our screened porch, waiting for empties this summer. Thanks for the great posting.

  • have to add: I’m totally drunk on your prose, your pixies and I shall do my best to get you your name on a slab of butter… :) a totally delightful post… I have been quite a few times in Reims (travelling through and spending the night to continue to/from England to/from Switzerland), but of course something like your visit and invite doesn’t happen to ‘normal mortals’ – which does make me just a tiny tad jealous (really just a tiny bit..)

  • Hi David,
    I’m from Champagne (but live in Mexico), but not the fancy Reims Champagne, the other Champagne (la Champagne crayeuse, Troyes); and it’s interesting to know that most “juices” used to make champagne (that later become Veuve Cliquot or Krug), come from around Troyes. My neighbours made champagne (and would sell their “juice” to Veuve Cliquot) and of course we would drink it regularly; a kind of pre-Cliquot… Champagneis so expensive out of France, I miss it! Love your blog.

  • ahhhhhhhhh. words cannot express. Thanks, David

  • What a wonderful post to wake up to with gorgeous photos too. I’m a new subscriber and love hearing about your adventures. Also, comments were closed on your Whole Lemon Bar recipe so couldn’t say there that I made them for Easter dessert with a fresh Rasberry Sauce and they were a huge hit. So thanks!

  • Thank you for the wonderful article. I work in the wine vault at Bellagio in Las Vegas and Veuve Clicquot (along with Dom) is one of our most popular Champagnes. It was lovely to learn a bit of the history of this wine. I’ve learned a lot in the four years I’ve worked in the wine vault, but never what “Veuve” meant. Maybe I can impress a sommelier or two with my new-found knowledge. Probably not, they still snicker at some of my pronunciations, but it’s worth a try. Thanks again!

  • So nice. I’m sick in bed but for a few minutes there…sigh. Champagne, rich food, the ‘other half’, very nicely done David. Love the photos, too.

  • You are one lucky man.

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful amusing travelogue! You know how to create great ambiance with your writing. Makes me want to hop on a plane to Paris or at least sip champagne in the tub. Lisa

  • Beautiful photos (as usual). What a lovely experience. “The Widow”, as the champagne is referred to at our house, was poured at our daughter’s wedding. If I am ever interviewed by the magazine asking “Name three things in your refrigerator right now”, the answer will be Veuve Clicquot, butter and martini olives.

  • To be even the tiniest part of this world is why I still cook.
    The luxury, the refinement, the detail, the hidden steps, such beauty, delight, mystery and pleasure!
    I love that you are so in love with the finest possible attempt at perfection… and still get so excited over guacamole and chips!

  • WOW !!! WOW !!! WOW!!!
    Well done, David. So informative with your usual wit.
    I read this post three times and loved it every time!
    From Los Gatos, CA

  • Loved this… I’ve been to Reims and the Veuve Clicquot cellars but most certainly wasn’t as spoiled you. So glad this came at a time you deserved it most!

  • As always, wonderfully written and photographed. I was reminded of how I spent my 19th birthday — tasting Champagne, exploring the Reims cathedral and buying a navy wool sweater at the Pingouin yarn store. While I’m far from both Reims and 19, at least Champagne is attainable. Oh, and I still have the sweater.

  • And you wonderful David you did not miss the legendary smiling angel in photographing the Reims 802 years old cathedral where all French kings have been crowned ending in 1826. Its beauty is indeed more awesome than Notre Dame in Paris.

    Noone must ever forget that general Eisenhower established his head quarters in Reims where on May 7th 1945 at 02.41 in the morning the Nazi unconditional surrender was signed. The war in Europe was over.

    A part de cela did you notice that the streetcars are shaped like champagne glasses?

  • David ~

    You can never say Non to Champagne! I’m on my way to Paris this afternoon (yey!) Is it really supose to snow on Thursday?

  • this is on my bucket list but I also want to sleep in that bed!! Love your posts!

  • Hey David, how can I get an invitation from “Le Veuve’?
    Loved your post. A long time ago (’95) my husband and I stayed at “L’Assiette Champenoise” and the place blew me away! I’m glad to hear it is still a swanky place.
    You lucky guy!!!

  • I want to go to there … I never get to that part of France. Now I must!

    David, any chance that they mentioned one day producing an organic Champagne? I often wonder why some of the larger houses have not gotten into this growing market.

  • Champagne induces so much happiness. As do large meals and blocks of butter with your name in them.

    There’s a movie aptly named Butter in which the characters are competing in a butter carving contest. The movie isn’t great, but the idea is. Perhaps you should start a butter carving competition in Paris?

  • What a wonderful life you have (I can imagine you rolling your eyes at this, but you know that sometimes it’s absolutely true). This is one of my favourite posts so far – and inspires me to enjoy life more no matter where I am – thank you!!

    Love the aeronautical ostrich.

  • Melanie: I didn’t ask them, but that’s an interesting question. I would imagine there are some organic or bio-dynamic producers of Champagne – but I think they are small producers. I just read an article that France is the “champion” of pesticides in Europe, and think that folks might be thinking more about what they’re consuming in the future. So perhaps organic or unsprayed grapes will take on more importance.

    Elizabeth: The cathedral is amazing – and the windows are incredible as well.

    Diane: Tell your bosses that you need to go to Champagne and do extensive tastings. And tell them that I need to go with you : )

    jackie: That is interesting and she was quite a woman, especially considering what she started and how it has progressed and continued…

  • As usual, beautifully written and photographed, and informative. Thanks so much. Though I think you mean dithering, not tethering, in the first sentence.

    Teresa

  • J’aime beaucoup…perfectly delightful! What a spectacular 24 hours! I can’t imagine you regretted for one moment the decision not to stay home and work!

  • Dear David,

    You are absolutely a trip and a half! Love, love, LOVE your prose. It’s tough to get me to laugh out loud, but you got me 2 or 3 times with this piece. (Who DO you have to sleep with to get your name on the soap? And, do you have to ask in French, Italian, or god-forbid, American English right after telling them just how divine our corn dogs are back home? And perhaps they would like a side of Hooters Fries to go with that?)

    You are living a great life, brother. Keep it up! We’re rooting for you here in Minnesota!

    Lynn D.

  • Hi David,
    Really enjoyed reading of your Reims trip. It reminded me of my own recent time spent there (for a week, also as part of a gastronomic course and university degree) where I also visited the spectacular cathedral, and lunched at Cafe de la Paix a few times. Their local specialities were wonderful.
    Our Champagne house visits and tastings were to Krug, Mumm and Roderer where we were treated to spectacular meals with a full spectrum of their champagnes (and vins de base tastings) at the latter two, as well as a wonderful dinner by a one star chef whose name escapes me at the Chateau Roderer. The abundance of Cristal almost inspired me to Rap. Two other restaurants we dined at that I’d recommend in a flash were Les Crayeres and A. L’Allement, where the food, service and ambiance were heavenly. If you’re back in Reims again, I’d look forward to your review of those restaurants.

    Thanks again for a great report.

    • Glad you got to taste so many great Champagnes and the vins de base, which are pretty interesting. I ate at Les Crayères a few years ago; here’s my story and some pics from the meal.

  • Thanks for the response and link to your report of Les Crayeres, David. Your prose and excellent pictures do justice to the fine dining experience there and a review of my own photos confirms that Chef Philippe Mille was also our ‘maitre’ in October 2011, who came out to chat and enquire to our satisfaction.
    I agree with your comments about butter, bread plates and where one can expect to find either or both in French restaurants; you also reminded me of the decanting ‘spectacle’ (with candle flame and squinting eyes) that accompanied our main course wine at Les Crayeres. Since we were students from around the world often unused to regularly seeing such procedures of finesse, we took it in appreciative stride, though we did notice some eye-rolling from a few others !

  • Only in France!! There are still some good things left. Exceptional photos, Dave, and as always an interesting and informative report. Merci beau coup!

  • Gorgeous pictures, David! Your posts always make me wonder why I’m still here and not there. Looks like you’ve had a wonderful time in Reims *note down on neverending travel wishlist*

  • I am beyond jealous of your sojourn to Reims. I have always wanted to visit the area, in fact, sipping on Champagne in Champagne is on my bucket list! I loved your photos and I dream lustfully about my excursion there, hopefully next year! What other wineries in the area do you suggest?

  • Luxury at it’s finest and thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience with us, David :)

  • What a wonderful post! Will be making the long flight from Australia in September, and a day trip to Reims will be on the itinerary for sure.

  • What a great story and a wonderful 24 hours in Champagne…we spent some time there 3 years ago and had lunch at Moet-Chandon drinking their Dom.. it dowsn;t get any better

  • David, this was such an exciting post for me, as my husbands great aunt was an American physician who was the director of the American hospital in Reims during ww 1. Though it is often thought that the French aren’t enthused by Americans, they loved tante Louise and twice honored her with the medal of honor! We also have a replica of one of the windows from the cathedral that the city bestowed on her! I was thrilled that you showed the cathedral! I think this calls for some…. Mai oui!… Champagne! Thanks for a very informative post!,

  • Again, David, you teach us and make us roll on the floor, laughing, at the same time.

  • Thank U for sharing such a wonderful experience, you are always so witty and make me laugh always. Also such fab photos, I almost feel I am there sharing with you. Keep up the good work when you can between the dreaded paperwork … I am with you there on that one… hate hate hate any form of it. Total waste of time mostly.

  • What an incredible post. Thank you. My husband and I had so much fun drinking our way through Reims and Epernay. It is something I will never forget. Champagne is so fascinating, and given the number of French people on our tours of different houses, the French find it irresistible, too. From the Roman chalk caves where they still process some of the champagne to the ingenuity that produced the bubbly in the first place…it was all spectacular! Tasting the champagne made by small family growers near Epernay was also so fun. And the Reims cathedral (with the smiling angel), and the windows by Chagall. We can’t wait to go back.

  • Great posting. You may enjoy the following informative book. It is a wonderful story.

    The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It (P.S.) [Paperback]

  • I’m sorry- but did you say you waved off dessert??? <>

    Thanks for the report- it sounds like a worthy stop for us this year. Am a bit overwhelmed trying to cover everything I don’t know I want to visit on this year’s 2 week trip!

  • I too read your book, The Sweet Life in Paris, and savoured every word. My friend lent it to me and said I could keep it or pass it along to a friend. Call me greedy, but I have to keep it. The recipes are amazing and I want to try them all! This post was wonderful, I almost felt like I was there with you. Thank you!

  • Thanks, David, for triggering our own memories of Reims!

  • After living in paris for twelve years & loving every minute for me the best champagne in the world is VEUVE WITHOUT EXCEPTION…..

  • Oh, David. I have so enjoyed your many posts but now I am comsumed with jealousy. I have visited Reims but my visit doesn’t hold a candle to yours. O.k. still love ya! Just kidding!

  • Qu’est-ce que je suis jalouse !

  • I read your post and all my troubles have vanished. Thank you for such a remarkable experience.

  • My Dearest David,

    I have finally been pushed off the deep end of jealousy by you ! I sat here reading with tears in my eyes at yet another, if not, most spectacular trip, that I live vicariously through you.

    Sleep awaits and perhaps a dream that one day I actually get to eat and dine in your footsteps.

    Thank you for another day of smiles,
    S

  • Patsy: The Chagall windows are fascinating and amazing in the cathedral, as well as the entire history (and other windows.) It’s spectacular and well-worth a visit.

    Lisa & Gabby: There are many Champagne producers in the area large and small, and the large houses have organized tours and so forth, while the smaller ones are likely very interesting as well. Only the large Champagne producers have more “open” tours and visits, while others (smaller ones) require appointments. (Note that as a courtesy, if you go to a smaller house that gives you an appointment, you should buy at least 1 bottle of a courtesy – especially if they do a tasting for you.) Fortunately the train to the area is fast however if you plan to visit a number of the Champagne houses, only a couple are within walking distance of the train station within the city limites. Check out the Reims Tourism for more information on visiting.

    Janet: I keep wondering how much more productive everyone could be if things were more organized and and less bureaucratic. I can’t imagine it’s pleasant for the folks who have to deal with all that stuff, and the chaos, as well as everyone else that has to spend so much time on tasks when they could be something else. A full-on reform would be great, especially with the internet, where so much stuff could be streamlined – and easier for everyone.

    Sue: Glad you like the book – and the recipes!

  • Your post are short stories with a happy ending. I am ready for the next one. Thank you for sharing your culinary adventures. I have been to Reims and the experience was wonderful. Thanks for bringing back memories.

  • Veuve Clicquot is consistent and easy to find. I just can’t recommend it for the price as there far better options out there. I’m surprised to see this post as I assumed supporters of growers, quality over quantity, and artisanal vs bulk production would favor Grower Champagnes. Unfortunately, Grower Champagnes account for only a small percentage of market share but are very worthy of exploration. I wish more folks would go for the path less traveled. There is a lot of marketing savvy that goes into these big brands and it’s easy to fall victim to brand recognition (I have, many times) instead of trying something that one has never heard of. I recognize that this is not a wine blog but given the nature of your posts, I felt a need to comment on the difference.

    • I’m not a wine expert (like, at all…) but I do like to explore and write about the variety culinary offerings in France, including a major Champagne house. I do write about small-producers – such as honey cultivators, cheesemakers, regional markets (which I love) and so forth. But France is a big mix of small and large, and the French are acutely interested in their history. I was not aware of the historical contributions of Madame Clicquot – not just to making Champagne, but from social and economic perspectives, which I found interesting.

      I agree with you fully that there are lots of small Champagne houses/producers worthy of consideration and visits, and tasting. I recommended to a previous commenter who wanted to go to the region to go visit some of the small houses as well. (Unfortunately, I don’t know much about them so urged them to do some research.) I do buy and drink Champagne from the larger houses – including Veuve Clicquot – as well as other, smaller producers, although they’re not so available outside of France and it can be a real challenge to get permission to go into smaller places to visit.

      I was at an amazing cheesemaker’s ripening cave and when I said I had a blog, they were very reluctant to let me take photos, even though I told them I thought everything was beautiful there and wanted to share it – “blog” can be a bad word in France and many folks are very wary of visits, which kinda drives me nuts. Crémant d’Alsace is one affordable alternative to Champagne that I do enjoy as well and I’d love to go to Alsace and spend some time there, eating and drinking the wines. And sharing those stories as well!

  • Ooh la la! An invitation from Veuve Clicquot – how simply divine. Thanks for the wonderful photographs. This was a thrill to read and view. It looks like you had an absolutely wonderful time. I have always loved the story of the widow. You can’t keep a good woman down!

  • I never knew I wanted my name in butter until you mentioned it.
    Oh where, oh where are the mold carvers when I need them?
    And I need a couch in my bathroom and champagne on my bedside table…
    Peace,
    Laurie

  • Ha! Okay cool, glad you liked it.

  • It’s every time amazing to read about your food&wine travels around Paris or France.
    I love your latest book (I learned really much about pastry, taste and recipe-writing) and I’m waiting for your next one!

    Saluti from Tuscany,

    Francesca

  • thanks for a great read, and all the wonderful photos. i am going to Reims soon shortly but apart from a champagne tasting or 5 my experience will somewhat less luxe……
    ps. i think the turban spaghetti must be considered a Turkish/Italian dish as the word turban or tulband is Turkish! non?

  • David, although I always enjoy your blog, today’s entry was outstanding for me. I love good French Champagne (and probably guzzle…I mean drink…too much of it when in Pareee), and was so happy to learn more about it.

    Reims has been on my list forever, but I can never seem to tear myself away from Paris to go. I’ll make a special effort now. Thank you!

  • By the way David, have you tried L’Atelier Vivanda, Akrame’s second restaurant in the 16th? I don’t see it in your blog and considering your views on a few restaurants in Paris I think it’d be your cup of tea. let me know! Raphaële

  • Thank you for this trip ! Wonderful and crazy pictures !
    … And, so ?… What did you do after bath and on canapé ?… :D

  • The most spectacular chicken dish I make is out of French Women Don’t Get Fat, written by Mireille Guiliano, who was a long time spokesperson for Champagne Veuve Clicquot and former President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. (LVMH) It involves baking chicken breasts in Brut. Here’s the recipe:

    http://frenchwomendontgetfat.com/content/chicken-emau-champagneem

  • Reims–I spent my senior year abroad at the university and now one of my friends is teaching a film course there. I loved reading about David’s trip and seeing the photos, especially of the cathedral . Needless to say, we college students took all the cellar tours and bought lots of cheap Champagne for our parties. I also remember the elaborately presented pâtés in shop windows (I’m a vegetarian now).

    So , there is now a fast train (TGV) from Paris. It’s worth a visit.

  • So interesting about how Madame Cliquot had to run the place at 27 and the bottle of champagne celebrating Texas’ independence. Knowing the history behind a company always makes you appreciate it more.

  • Gee, what an informative and great read! Thanks. (That’s quite a generous cafe gourmand they give there – fab!)

  • I was once told that champagne should be served in a dusty glass because the bubbles cling to the dust particles and last longer. True fact or a made up excuse by someone who forgot to wash the flutes before a party?

    • It is true that the dust particles or other impurities in a glass cause the bubbles in champagne to rise. A perfectly clean and smooth glass will cause few to no bubbles. To the extent that some champagne glass manufacturers drill small holes and scrapes in the very bottom of the glass to make tiny bubbles.
      I learned this from a champagne professor while studying champagne in Reims, and later observed and verified it at a tasting at a champagne chateau the next day.

      • @warren
        Very informative, thank you.

        • @Carol : No probs, you’re welcome. The whole study was fascinating. We even learned about the factors determining the numbers and sizes of the bubbles per minute half hour, etc., the physics of how bubbles are formed in the glass, and the pressure mechanics of how they burst at the surface releasing scent or aroma. Way too much information for the causal sipper I know, but it showed up on our exam, lol !

  • What a terrific read (as usual)…you really do spoil us with your humor and wit. Now want a couch in my bathroom…some champagne too.

  • David,

    Is Veuve open again? My mother and I are planning a trip to Paris in May and wanted very badly to visit Reims and Veuve- after a few confusing emails back and forth between myself and a VC rep, I walked away thinking that the caverns and Veuve itself was currently closed for renovations until later this year.

    Please inform if you know otherwise!! Merci!

  • Lovely post. I wanted to comment/share on the wine routes (Route Touristique du Champagne). The region of Champagne has 4 scenic wine routes each about 70 km which are easily accessible just outside of Reims. They are very scenic and will take you into many smaller champagne producers (just don’t go on a Sunday, when everything is closed) The routes are easy to locate via wikitravel, the Reims tourism website, or any other travel book/app.

  • What a joy! Thank you David! So many layers of experience – I will come back to this one often. A complete treasure – many thanks!

  • Hello David,
    The rosé champagne from Veuve Clicquot is a travesty! The normal way to extract rosé champagne is the “regular” way that you mentionned in your article, which is in fact the correct and only way. Such a shame that you would highlight this as being something “grand” when it fact, it’s a scam and shame. I know you were invited by them but it’s your duty to remain critical, especially for your readers.
    Cheers

    • Thanks for your comments. According to Food+Wine magazine, in their article by the executive wine editor about rosé Champagne, he says that “The more common method is blending, in which a small percentage of red wine is combined with the base wine (which is white)” then they go on to say the maceration method is also used, although less-common. According to the article, either method can produce good rosé Champagne. I did check the site of Billecart-Salmon, another favorite rosé Champagne, and they said they use a blend of the three grapes “vinifié” as red wine, which I think means it’s a red and white wine mix. (The Fortnum & Mason website that sells it also says that it is, indeed, a mix of red and white wines.)

      I’m not an expert on wine and don’t try to be. And I hope that when people come to France, they experience a range of tastes and experiences, so they can come to their own conclusions. (As mentioned in a previous comment, I recommend if folks visit this particular region in France, to visit both small and large producers.) When I take trips, whether they are press trips or personal ones, I write about various topics that I find interesting, whether they be food, personal observations, wine, history, or French culture, or a combination of them. There’s more information on my Disclosure page.

  • Thank you for this post David. It brought back many pleasant memories of my first trip to Reims. That bubble fountain in the center of town, the beautiful Chagall stained glass in the cathedral, visiting the champagne houses, the bubbly! It is so fun to see how each different house designs their tours and what they sell in their gift shops along with bottles of champagne. I still have my Veuve Cliquot candles and weekend bags from that trip. Do they still have the ‘room of knockoffs’ where they show you all the various counterfeit bottles of Veuve they’ve intercepted across the world over the years?

  • Supremely jealous of this trip!!!!!!!

  • I am regretting not taking a side trip to Reims when I was in Paris. Looks like a great time!

  • Fabulous post, I always learn something new from your blog. Bravo! Vive la France!