Last week, I followed up my couple of days in Paris with a few days in Reims, the largest city in (and one of the capitals of) Reims. I have been going to Reims for at least a couple of decades now, as the bike trips I used to lead through the region ended there.
Two nights in the coronation city (nearly all of France’s kings were crowned there) seemed just right since my bike tours would always spend that precise amount of time there as well. To keep those memories alive, I guess, I also stayed at the same hotel, Hôtel Crystal, where I had passed in the neighborhood of twenty nights or so, altogether.
My goal for the two days was rather modest: I wanted to visit a couple of producers that I had come to know over the past few years, spend some quiet time writing, and renew my love affair with the region that was my first real foray into the world of wine.
I had rented a car at the Charles de Gaulle Airport just outside of Paris and headed northeast passing by Meaux and Château Thierry before arriving in Reims just before dinner.
Reims is not particularly known for its restaurant scene and the main pedestrian area, Place Drouet d’Erlon is littered with tourist-attracting restaurants with a plethora of burger/pizza/salad options.
I didn’t care. All I wanted was a little food and a big ol’ bottle of bubbles. It was Ascension Day in France, the date, 40 days after Easter when Jesus has his last contact with his followers before ascending to heaven. I am not sure that the majority of the French know that–all they know is that it means a four day weekend.
For me, it meant that I needed to rush over to the grocery store to grab a bottle of champagne before it closed. I settled on this, which I paired with the remaining sour cream and onion chips from my drive up:
After my little apéritif, I walked around a bit. Reims is on the same latitude as Montreal, so by the end of May, the sun does not go down until almost ten o’clock, which proved to be some great lighting.
Dinner, as expected, was not all that great, but by the end, night had finally fallen, which led to another walk around town.
The following day, I had a couple of appointments set up to visit a couple of friends. The first was Alice Paillard of Bruno Paillard, who recently had taken over as head of the company. Time was limited for both of us, so instead of a full tasting, Alice and I tasted the just released (although not yet in the U.S.) 2009 Bruno Paillard, which was fabulous (notes to come).
Sadly, I had to rush off to my second appointment with Xavier Millard of Mailly Grand Cru. Mailly has been one of my favorite champagnes for some time now, but I had not met Xavier until my friend Christophe Bristiel of Château la Nerthe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape arranged a meeting a couple of years ago.
After a glorious lunch, we returned to Mailly, where Xavier gave me a quick tour of the facility. It was also the first time that I saw the caves underneath Mailly, which like many in the region, were impressive.
The following day I had to leave Champagne rather early, and head back to Paris, where I would catch a train to Lyon, starting a visit to Beaujolais. I did have enough time for a quick stop in Epernay, though, for a short walk around town, and a quick lunch.
Sadly, my visit to Champagne had come to an end, but I know it won’t be too long before I return, if only for a couple of days.