Monday, December 8, 2014

A Rendezvous in Reims

Earlier this year (let's go way back to April), Mr. Chat and I set out on a 10-day sojourn that included not only stops in London and Paris (as mentioned briefly here), but Reims as well. It was our first rendezvous in the world's Champagne mecca, but it certainly wasn't our last. For some reason, I feel compelled to share a glimpse of the beauty we experienced in that rural, well-manicured sanctum that haunts me so. I guess you could say today, I have Champagne on the brain.

Located in the provincial and ever-so-pictorial Champagne-Ardenne region, Reims' baroque 600-year-old cathedral (Notre-Dame de Reims), darling storefront windows and block-after-block of pristine pavement left us longing for more. A lot more. So much more, in fact, that we thought about forfeiting the hustle and bustle that is Boston in favor of finding our very own slice of heaven. Or as the French say un petit coin de paradis.

We would open a Champagne and cheese boutique and we could call it what else but, Rue Le Chat. It would be a cozy corner in our world brimming with bubbles; and the likes of bleu, brie and burrata…just a few of our favorite cheeses.We nodded in agreement while sampling a glass of Vranken Demoiselle Brut Rosé at one of the many shops we envied in town. Oh...and if you're wondering about Manolo…he would be coming too.

When in Reims, you must visit Chateau des Crayères. The chateau is home to Michelin-starred phenomena, Le Parc les Crayères. The cuisine at Le Parc (I'm told) is haute…very haute, but still classically French. The hotel (and I hate to even call it that because it's beyond the realm of an ordinary place to rest your head) has a second restaurant, Brasserie Le Jardin. Hidden among the greenery of a lush garden, the look and feel at this sister eatery is casual and chic with its brick walls and slate floors.

Mr. Chat and I lunched at Le Jardin and our 3-course meal was phenomenal. I'm not a huge "take pictures of food" kind of blogger (unless I'm covering an event), but I did manage to sneak in a snapshot of our dessert. The melt-in-your-mouth mango crème was nestled between two puff pastry shells and devouring the dish was an experience in itself. Très magnifique!

Saving the best for last, we toured the crayères of Veuve Clicquot -- another must when you're in Reims. Our guide was fantastic and offered vivd details about the infamous Madame Clicquot, La Grande Dame de la Champagne. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was a visionary who transformed her husband's wine business into a Champagne empire after becoming a widow at only 27-years-old. I had been looking forward to this visit since reading her story in The Widow Clicquot.

Our guide's historically-rich storytelling transported me back in time as we descended deep into the bowels of bubbly. The chalk quarry caves (or crayères as they're formally known) are where each and every bottle is aged to perfection. The crayères not only served as chalk mines during the Galo-Roman era, but also housed make-shift hospitals, secret passageways and bomb shelters during both world wars. Each crayère was dressed with plaques bearing the names of Clicquot employees. Individuals who have vested at least four decades receive the honor and are also showered with un grande fête in the crayères.

The tour ended with a steady climb of stairs and each step marked a vintage year for the luxury brand. Clicquot created the first vintage Champagne using three different grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) all from the same year. The house is also responsible for developing the riddling table to produce clear, sediment-free liquid.

Steps leading down to the crayères.

The chalk walls.

The riddling table produces clear, sediment-free liquid.

Employees who have worked at Clicquot for at least 40 years are honored in the crayères.

Clicquot's vintage years are displayed on each step leading up to the tasting salon.

Once in the tasting salon, Mr. Chat and I enjoyed a glass of the yellow label -- one of many elixirs of choice when we entertain. In true Rue style, we took things to the next level and sampled the pride of the house, La Grande Dame 1996. It was exquisite, noble and sweet with a balanced and aromatic finish. Santé!

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