Reims: A toast to the art and science of Champagne

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The bubbly express to Reims for tasting in France’s Champagne area.

What a special treat to ride the bubbly express with @GoBe_Travel to Reims for tasting in France’s Champagne area. The approximately two hour journey from metropolitan Paris takes you through the gently sloping fields of the famed region, which is simply beautiful.

To earn the name Champagne, the grapes must be from the Champagne region.

Mumm Champagne house was the first stop. We had a fascinating lesson on the making of Mumm, one of the world’s renowned Champagnes. The process is complicated and lengthy. Black Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier, and, to a lesser degree, white Chardonnay grapes are used to produce Champagne. To earn the name Champagne, the grapes must be from the Champagne region and the sparkling wine made there, too.

A base, or still wine, is fermented first. This is called vin clair in French. Then the vin clair, after blending with other vin clair stored in the vast Mumm cellar, goes through a second fermentation, and that is when the bubbles form. Did you know that blending is integral to creating Champagne? I didn’t.

Not surprisingly, the vin clair is not intended to be pleasing to the palate. Rather, its weight, acidity, and structure are more prized, as it is the foundation to the final product. Nonetheless, vin clair tasting is a necessary step to creating fine sparkling wines. (Also, please note, there are bubble-less Champagnes available and the demand is growing.) After our Champagne lesson, we tasted. I could savor the flavor so much more knowing the amount of effort and knowledge in each bubble in my glass.

While still giddy from the Mumm tour, we arrived at Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims, famous for its more than 2,300 statues, in addition to dazzling stained glass, status as the former site of French coronations, and home to tasty Mercier Champagne! In the Middle Ages, the building was painted but thanks to the wear and tear of weather, it is stone colored. In 1825, King Charles X was the last king of France to be crowned in Reims.

You can’t help but notice the Smiling Angel (L’Ange au Sourire) statue welcoming everyone to the cathedral. Carved from stone between 1236 and 1245, this statue was beheaded in 1914 thanks to German shelling during World War I. The story goes that the day after the beheading, the abbot collected the pieces and stored them. Actually, the entire cathedral was bombed and burnt. The famous Smiling Angel was put back together and began welcoming and watching over visitors again when the cathedral finally reopened in 1937. The Smiling Angel may be the cathedral’s most famous statue but the variety of the other statues is quite impressive – kings, tabernacles, figurines, and busts, among other others.

Champagne is so much more than a celebratory drink or a region in France. It’s the cornerstone of a culture, a way of life. Nothing underscores this more than the Champagne industry being granted status to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015. The United Nations deemed that the “hillsides, houses, and cellars” making and selling Champagne merited the distinction. Avenue de Champagne in Épernay is part of the UNESCO site. Beautiful mansions line Avenue de Champagne along with the Dom Perignon and other popular Champagne labels that a great place to explore perfectly manicured gardens and perfect bubbles to sip.

I loved the enchanting, 2-hour journey through the towns of Reims and Epernay in the Champagne region with @GoBe_Travel. I must say this was my favorite wine tour – and I have been on many – taken over the years.

And to top it off, it was a Champagne tour. Who doesn't like champagne?

Cheers and à votre santé!