Early on a Monday morning M and I motored to Champagne to plan a tour for visiting readers.
Early on a Monday morning M and I motored to Champagne to plana tour for visiting readers.The overcast day was brightened by our arrival at Champagne Roger Coulon in Vrigny where Isabelle Coulon showed off the newly redecorated restaurant where the group would be served a champagne-based meal and poured a flight of three champagnes. Thumbs up all around.
Next stop-Epernay and lunch at Patrick Michelon’s Bistro Le 7 at Les Berceaux. Attached to his one star Michelin restaurant it offers a 23 euro menu and over 50 champagnes. We were offered une coupe from Damien Hugot, who happened to be in the dining room and stopped by to say hello. We all liked it very much and I took the opportunity to book a tasting for later in the week. Chef Michelon served us the last of the day’s Asperges Blanches followed by grilled sea bass and Scotch Salmon in a sauce of cream and estragon washed down by a Coteaux du Giennois.
Our next visist was Champagne Geoffroy in nearby Ay where Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy is producing some very exciting wines. We were especially impressed with the Rosé that veritably attacked the palate.
“The Geoffroy family have been winemakers since the seventeenth century and the property has stayed in the family for almost 400 years, uninterrupted. In addition to prime parcels in Cumières, the family has holdings in Damery, Hautvillers, and Dizy. They aim for the highest possible quality and ferment the wines in oak barrels for their Cuvée Sélectionnée [now called Cuvée Empreinte] and Brut Prestige [now called Cuvée Volupté]. The wines don’t go through malolactic fermentation, which gives them the nerve and aging potential that most Cumières Champagnes lack. When you talk to the well-educated young Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, you understand that this is a family that cares passionately about wine.”
Our final stop was in Reims at Taittinger, one of the largest of the Champagne houses and quick tour in the 20 meter deep chalk caves (crayères) that are characteristic of Reims. A study in contrast to the independent vintners that produce 100,000 bottles per year, Taittinger produces 5 million bottles. Their 1 1/2 hour tour including a short film and tasting is 25 euros.
On Friday M filled her yellow Twingo with petrol and we took off for a weekend in Champagne. En route we stopped at Chateau Thierry, an important location in the Great War, for a brief visit to the American Memorial that that looks down over the valley. Built from Indiana limestone it has no kiosks selling tchochkas and is a quiet and respectful reminder of the horrors that occurred nearby 100 years ago.
On to Epernay and our rendezvous with Damien Hugot but first lunch. M found a parking spot and we entered the Bar Parisien to get directions to Les Berceaux. A scene from a Lubitsch film as we immediately swapped barbs with the mixture of workers and bourgeoisie overseen by the indomitable Florine.
We found Les Berceaux at 2PM and before the kitchen closed we were served a flute of GOSSET,bar meuniere and a Limoux 2012 chardonnay from Domaine de L’Aigle. It was only 3PM when we finished and since our tasting was at 3:30PM I showed M the 1-star dining room where Damien just happened to be dining with his charming pal Michel. They insisted that we join them and and a bottle of rosé was finished before Damien led us to his cave to taste clear wine, the unfermented product that foreshadows a vintage and 2 more champagnes. We loved the rosé and a case found its way into M’s trunk.
This perfect day would be punctuated by our overnight stay at Roger-Coulon’s award-winning, spanking new Demeure D’Hote, Les Clos des Terres Soudées, where Laurence provides a warm, champagne welcome. Our beautiful room, one of 4 plus a duplex suite, was delightful and would provide a restful night’s sleep.
Having already eaten and consumed our daily ration of champagne we had no interest in driving a few kilometers in search of dinner and Laurence cheerfully offered to prepare a an assortment of charcuterie, cheeses and fruit to await our return from a walk entre les vignes. Upon our return we encountered Franz and Christina in the parking lot. A charming couple from Deutschland and since I can now say both Good Afternoon and Good Evening in German, and M from Berlin is obviously fluent, our next stop would be the salon for a flute of champagne.
We shared Laurence’s delicious goodies, and a bottle of rosé from the honor bar. When it was finished Franz suggested another, that we shared with gusto, after which Franz reported sad news-no more rosé so we were forced to drink a bottle of white-an excellent sign for Judeo-Germanic friendship. To sleep..
Next morning the sun was shining, the birds were singing and following breakfast in the garden we were off to Reims and her magnificent cathedral. After finding a spot in the main outdoor parking lot shaded by tall, leafy trees we made a quick stop at Andrew Carnegie’s Art Deco library as we passed the cathedral ( we would be back later) and headed for the Cafe du Palais that faces the Palais du Justice for lunch.
In the Vogt family since 1930 it is a true family affair. The front of the house is overseen by Jean-François and his lovely wife Delphine. His brother-in-law Sébastien also works the floor and sister Isabelle cooks. The dining room is filled with art and hanging sculptures collected over the years.
We barely had time to sit before Jean-François delivered flutes of blanc de blanc from Maison Brice and a local tradition, jambon de Reims. We had zero resistance to the buttery veau du Limousin aux cèpesaccompanied by al dente noodles washed down with Coteaux Champenoise from Geoffroy. Even the salad of crisp greens lighted bathed in a vinaigrette of fruity extra virgin olive oil ,vinegar and a dash of curry powder that lent a nutty finish was superb.
There was an unplanned intermezzo when Jean-François introduced me to Maria Adle Besson and the Stanford Club of European Leaders (representatives from Finland, Italy, England, etc.) who were celebrating with Nathalie Jacquet of the Reims campus of Sciences Po. Having been trained in Brooklyn to never miss an opportunity to promote I distributed post cards of my Thursday Paris concerts. The lovely Nathalie asked if I might favor them with a song and I Left My Heart in San Francisco took them back to their days on campus in nearby Palo Alto. Applause resonated throughout the dining room and my ego now adequately stroked I returned to M and awaited dessert, an ile flottante and the renowned Reims specialty from Maison Fossier, biscuit rose and ice cream. A meal to remember.
Our final stop of the day was a tour of the city and its diverse architectural styles and a visit to the Gothic cathedral. It was here that kings of France were crowned beginning in the early 11th century. With its radiant Gothic façade of unequaled dimensions, its interior characterized by soaring heights, the richness of its sculpture and the technical quality of its construction, the Cathedral of Reimsremains one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic art.
From 1957, Marc Chagall was a regular visitor to Reims, where he worked in collaboration with the Jacques Simon Workshop on the realization of a certain number of important projects in France and internationally (the Metz Cathedral, the United Nations in New York, the church of Tudeley, the Rockefeller chapel (Union Church) at Pocantico Hills, etc.).
In November 1968, the Committee of Builders of Champagne-Ardenne, an association comprising a number of businesses, construction material dealers, contractors and architects of the region, decided to commission Marc Chagall to create stained glass windows in the Reims Cathedral to replace those made in the nineteenth century by Coffetier and Steinheil. In 1971, Jacques Duhamel, then Minister of Culture, officially decided the placement for the windows to be in the axial chapel.
To fully appreciate the history, architecture and art of this impressive edifice contact the Office of Tourisme and book a tour-ours and our guide Margarete were fabulous.