"It's approximately one and one half hours from Paris to Reims in good traffic." our driver says in very good English. After a 7 hour flight from Toronto to Paris' Charles de Gaulle, that was my cue to perhaps close my eyes and shake off some jet lag that would surely hit at some point - but I was in France! I am one of four writers from across Canada partaking in the Möet-Hennessy France Brand Experience in Champagne and Cognac. We will come to know each other very well as we will be constant companions over the next seven days along with the National Brand Manager Champagnes for Möet-Hennessy, Véronique Gonneville.
Two of my fellow writers are with me in our shuttle to Reims. After some "getting to know you" chit-chat, the van gets very quiet. We are fading and the five hour time change coupled with little sleep on an overnight flight is starting to creep in. I lay my head against the window and watch the scenery go by. It's overcast with low slung clouds as we drive by rolling farmland and tiny villages - typical early March weather for northern France. Strange trees with balls of leaves litter the landscape and I make a mental note to find out what they are called. Until then I name them "ball trees."
Reims is situated northeast of Paris in the Champagne-Ardenne region and home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites, one of which is Notre-Dame de Reims - a French Gothic style cathedral that rises above the city like a Phoenix. During WWI, the Cathedral was commissioned as a hospital and endured relentless shelling by the Germans leaving important parts either burned, damaged or lost. In 1919 the rebuild began and it's been ongoing ever since. From 987 to 1825, nearly every French king was crowned in Our Lady of Reims, and to say it holds a significant place in French history and French hearts would be an understatement. The last coronation here was Charles X on May 29, 1825. For wine lovers, however, Reims is the cornerstone of bubbly Champagne!
Traffic is a non-issue and we arrive at our hotel in good time. Hôtel de la Paix is situated conveniently in the heart of Reims, but it's a Sunday, and like most of France, everything is closed. We have a few hours of free time, so I decide to do a little exploring to shake my legs out and get acclimated to the time-change. We will be picked up at 6:30 for a welcome dinner hosted by Möet & Chandon. The Champagne starts to flow this evening!
Le Parc les Crayères is a two star Michelin restaurant in Reims and I enter the dining room with a little trepidation. As most of my friends will attest to I am not an adventurous eater and the French love their decadent cuisine. My fingers are double crossed as we sit down and I repeat to myself "everything is enjoyable with Champagne." This is the beginning of a week long Mantra I repeat to myself before every meal. The noise level in the restaurant is almost nil and each plate is served with white gloved precision. We enjoy a six course meal and each presentation is a work of art. Raw scallops with a fruit chutney centre in the shape of a flower paired with 2006 Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut. A breast of pigeon that looks as though it has been dipped in dark chocolate with white chocolate drizzle paired with 2006 Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé. Eating pigeon is definitely a first for me and it will most likely be the last time. I would describe it as very tender with a mouth-feel similar to liver. I think I was hoping for something closer to chicken in taste and texture but alas, not all birds are created equal. The only non-sparkler of the evening is a Domain Henri Gouges Nuit-Saint-Georges Les Georges 1er Cru 2010 - also a good pairing with pigeon. For me, however, it was more memorable sipped on it's own. This red Burgundy was decanted two hours for us making it as smooth as a red satin ribbon.
Almost 4 hours later I arrive back in my hotel room, my head swirling in bubbles of Champagne and more than ready to sleep. I drift to sleep with thoughts of what tomorrow will bring dancing in my head. We will be travelling to Hauvilliers for a private tour of the Abbaye, parc and Cloitre of Dom Pérignon with a tasting of Dom Pérignon 2005. A private Möet & Chandon cellar visit with a Maison Ambassadeur is scheduled for the afternoon with a tasting of Grand Vintage blanc and Rosé 2006 to cap off the visit. Morning will come quickly and if my first evening in Champagne is any indication, this is going to be a heady, fun-filled week ahead. Stay tuned.,,
Until next time.... wine * food * run
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