01 November 2010

rhymes with "pants"

I realized belatedly that it was a three day weekend. Like, Friday night I realized this. Since it was far too last-minute to book any really ambitious trips, the Native Companion and I took a jaunt to Reims.

Despite having lived in Paris her whole life, she'd never been, either. When I asked her why, she gave me a look of indulgent incomprehension, from which I gathered that the only reason she was even accompanying me now was she assumed Reims had some kind of significance for wine geeks.

Lunch at Bistro Henri IV, enjoyable enough. 

This is kind of half-true. My knowledge of the Champagne region comes partly from professional tastings in Los Angeles, and partly from a pop-history book I was obliged to read years ago whilst working as an intern at a production company, in which book Reims and the German sacking thereof figured prominently. (We were trying to see if it would make a good film.)

To be honest, however, I'm not a huge Champagne enthusiast. I think this is because my interest in a given subject is based upon the practical value of possessing information on it, as measured against the difficulty of obtaining such information from real primary-sources. Champagne, more than any other wine type, is inextricably associated with capital-L Luxury. For one thing, this means you sound like a toff whenever talking about it or recommending it.* For another, it means that, due to the pricing standards of the appellation, the benefits of a familiarity with Champagne do not include greater access to interesting bottles. (Where some wine regions contain bargains for the connoisseur, Champagne contains only relative bargains.) Finally, with regard to primary source info, Champagne's status as a big luxury business means that - with exceptions for new wave certain grower-producers - between you and the vigneron or master-blender, anyone who might spill some interesting tidbits, there is a huge wall consisting of extensive tourist facilities, manicured gardens, and superficial guided cellar tours.**

The NC and I did one of the latter anyway, since after seeing the Cathedral and the Basilica there is almost nothing else to do in Reims. (The city is 50% hair salons, 50% old folks' homes.) At the Taittinger tour - which, at 10eu, is roughly the price of a glass of Champagne in Paris, but more time-consuming - you're treated to an admittedly interesting tour of the ancient chalk cellars, after which you climb 118 steps up to a sparse corporate tasting room, where all magic is dispelled, and you stand for a contemplative moment, glass in hand, in front of the World's Largest Wine Glass.

Anyway, the point was to get out of Paris. Despite the overwhelming dullness of the place, I can envision returning with a car someday, since there are a certainly a few grower-producers in inaccessible villages worth visiting, and I hear the Ruinart cellars are impressive.

*As you wouldn't necessarily when enthusing about, say, Crémant du Loire. 
**For an exception that sort of proves this rule, check out Andrew Jefford's tete-à-tete with Rémi Krug, linked below. 

Related Links:

David Lebowitz on Les Crayères, a Michelin-starred Reims restaurant
Le Fooding's somewhat over-enthusiastic review of Bistrot Henri IV
Andrew Jefford's interesting interview with Rémi Krug


  1. We weren't overly impressed with Reims, but Tattinger was fun,exploring the chalk pits. Love the blog!

  2. If you're after interesting tid-bits and wines that are often easier to relate to and possibly more inspiring, you'll have to leave Reims with its Grand Maison tours behind. The real fun happens anywhere between Gueux and Jouy in the north and Celles-sur-Ource in the south.

  3. @Minnie: I thought the chalk pits were interesting too, at first. It goes on a bit though, doesn't it? Sooner or later the very chipper guide in her shawl begins pointing out things like particular doors and certain stones.

    @Buonsangue: That's pretty much what I was getting at in the final paragraph of the post. Personally I'd like to visit Agrapart et Fils, Jacques Lassaigne, Selosse, etc. etc. sadly all these things involve a car and more time than is currently available to me.

  4. In Reims currently, sans vehicle, and yes, it is quite dull. The only notable wine bar in town, Hall Place, was closed today simply because there weren't enough people around. If you can get out (like I did, to Dizy, by hitching a ride with someone), the trip can really turn around. And I totally agree about the Tattinger tasting room. Champagne magic was sucked out of that room.