January 18, 2012
In addition to exploring Paris, we were given the opportunity to spend a day in Reims (pronounced like the word rince in French), a city in the Champagne region of France. We spent the first two hours walking around the city on a tour lead by Vincent Delaveau. He showed us many artifacts including the Place Royale, which is a huge square with a statue of Louis XV in the middle. The city has a rich history and we were given a small glimpse into its lively past. It was quite cold outside, so after braving the weather for a bit we stopped in a brasserie for a cup of hot chocolate and croissants. After we warmed up, we headed to one of the champagne-producing houses to learn about the production of champagne and to sample a few different kinds of champagne.
The process of making champagne is fairly involved, delicate and isn’t something that’s done in a couple days. Champagne production starts with the harvest. The champagnes we tasted started with the harvest of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As soon as the harvest is completed, the grapes are pressed twice. Once the juice has been collected, it is left to ferment.
Blending of the multiple vintages occurs after fermentation, and this part of the process is what sets the masterful Champagne region of France apart from other sparkling wine producers. Once a blend has been created, a mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast will be added to the blended wine. This mixture is known as the liqueur de triage. This mixture is left to ferment and CO2 is produced as a by-product, giving the wine the bubbles it needs to become champagne. After the second round of fermentation, the champagne is left to age; most are left 18-24 months. Next is what is called ‘remuage’, which is necessary to remove the depot that formed in the bottom of the bottle. It is critical that the champagne is not disturbed, so the bottle is rotated a little bit everyday to move the depot towards the neck of the bottle. Once the wines are positioned vertically upside down with the depot in the neck of the bottle the champagne is ready to be disgorged, sweetened and recorked. (1)
After the champagne tasting, which left us a little louder and warmer in the cheeks, we headed out for an excellent meal at a restaurant called Boulingrin. The food was excellent, as was the wine. Here are sample pictures of a duck dish and caramel profiteroles for desert: