Yesterday I went on a “private” tour of Reims and Ambonnay. The other people on the tour were some newly weds from Australia, some newly weds from America and two German born American sisters . Our tour guide was Truong , a Vietnamese born French man. As we drove up the motorway we got a history of the regions surrounding the motorway. As a person who didn’t concentrate in history classes at school I found that all very interesting. We got a breakfast of little pastries, orange juice and a shot of black coffee to line our stomachs before the day of generous tastings ahead of us. There is a 1960s “scary” movie called “and then there was dark” where two English nurses cycle their way across France . The side of the motorway reminded me of that movie. I kept expecting to see a dodgey looking man on a scooter coming out of the bushes.
We stopped on the side of the road and looked at some hectares of vines belonging to Taittinger. (The land sells for a Million and a half euro per hectare). We heard about the different grapes that go in to making champagne. (pinot Noir, chardonnay and pinot mineur). We also heard about a method they use to keep caterpillars at bay. They hang little pods of female butterfly pheromones on the rows of vines which attract the male butterflies. The male butterflies fly around looking for the female butterflies that they can smell and end up sexually exhausted and confusion and either go away to some poor female butterfly somewhere else or just die. The region has a lot of chalk in the soil as it used to be part of the ocean. The chalk is what makes the area perfect for champagne making. As it absorbs water which means when they have season with little rain the roots and go down further to get water from the chalk.
We drove further and arrived at a little village called Ambonnay. It was very picturesque and quaint. We went to a little champagne house called Dominique Foureur. Dominque and his wife Lizabet showed us how the smaller businesses make their champagne.They produce a 1000 bottles at a time and it is all very hands on. They also have a room in their house that they offer as a bed and breakfast. She looks like she could cook a mighty yum meal. It would be wonderful to stay at her house one day. She speaks very very little English though so I would have to learn more French or take someone that can speak French. The business has been in their family for 7 generations she also supplies grapes to a bigger house ( it might have been Dom Perignon but I forget ) .
After learning about all the steps it takes until it is ready to sell we went and started tasting. Their champagne was delicious, very fine bubbles and the vintage year (2005) lingered for a very long time on your throat which is what a good vintage champagne should do. We tried two premium and one traditional champagnes .The pours were much more generous than what we would get at home
I bought a bottle of the rose and a bottle of the vintage (2005) and a champagne flute ( as my apartment doesn’t have one ).
After hugging Lizabet goodbye we drove to Reims for lunch at a restaurant named “au petite comptoir” for a three course meal. The food was delicious I had a salmon terrine . a sirloin steak with a scallop potato and a chocolate pudding. (Obviously these were not the names of the dishes ; ). The meat melted in your mouth.
The wine they poured us was on the other hand was not so flash. All the people drinking the white wine decided it was not drinkable and I was designated the person assertive enough to organise a different wine. The look they gave us was quite amusing. If you could sum up the look it was a disgusted look that said “it is French so it is good! you are a tourist you know nothing”. It tasted like they had got all the nearly empty bottles of wine and poured it all into a magnum bottle. I am blaming it for the headache I had at the end of the day. Anyway, we got a fresh white and I got a glass of red , that may have been punishment for being the assertive one but it was a delicious red and I was eating meat so that was fine by me. Later I saw them pour the remaining wine from the magnum into a little bottle and put it back in the fridge.
A few years ago the region lost a 1000 jobs as the car industry left France and went to China and another Asian country. The region is in a bad way economically and is trying to promote tourism to inject more money.
Then we went on a tour of Taittinger their caves were incredible. there are 4 klms of caves that date back to the 1734. Taittinger bought the caves in 1932 . These caves go for 4 klms and hold 3 million bottles and in the city there are 10 klms of caves and 19 million bottles. The caves were used in the war as a hospital. The work gone into making the caves was very impressive. I am glad I am not a Roman slave from the 1700s. We went upstairs for more tastings. I think I prefer the champagne from Dominique Fourer.
We then went to The Notre Dame Cathedral it was a little hard to take in all the information after drinking since 10.30 in the morning but it was absolutely beautiful and the architecture was jaw dropping spectacular.
It was a very enjoyable day.It was a delight to meet the fellow tourists I especially liked hanging out with Anne from America she and I have a very similar sense of humour. The tour guide though was arrogant and condescending I would recommend the tour but try to get one that is not lead by Troung. The more I compare other experiences I am having in Paris to this tour the more I dislike him.
It was a group consensus though that there could have been less comments ( from the tour guide) about the countries dislike for the Germans.
I will post photos later. i’m off to get a croissant