Wineweek 82: A Postcard From Champagne

It is Sunday and our time in Champagne has come to an end. I am currently sitting on one of the only trains going from Reims to Paris today. The strikes are hitting the rail road hard, but we were lucky enough to secure seats. Soon we will see how the capital of France is coping with the upcoming events and a flooding Seine. I must say I was a bit worried before the trip about all the fuss, but being here everything has just fallen in place. And of course, bad weather and transport issues meant significantly less tourists. Continue reading “Wineweek 82: A Postcard From Champagne”

Take me to Champagne

This morning we are embarking on a trip. A trip that I have been waiting for a long time. We are traveling to Paris, and then to the heart of Champagne, Epernay. Oh, how I have been waiting for this trip! I have been to Champagne only once, and that was a more official visit to the Terres & Vins champagne exhibition. We arrived to Reims on a Sunday, so most of the places we wanted to visit were closed. We were only able to visit one winery, G.H. Mumm. This time around though, we will be visiting masses of Champagne houses. Our trip is however shadowed by ongoing strikes in France as well as the high security associated to the Football European Championships. Not to mention that they weatherman has forecasted rain for the duration of our whole trip. We have been on alert all weekend, in case we needed to cancel everything. It is a bit difficult to move around in the countryside if there is a shortage of fuel (we are planning to use taxies). We are also intending to take the high speed train back to Paris on Sunday.

Continue reading “Take me to Champagne”

Remembering Reims

Exactly a year ago, I was in Reims, and I was excited. We had just spent all day at the grower champagne fair: Terres & Vins de Champagne. This year, we decided not to go. Frankly because we do not really see ourselves expanding to champagne right now. The monopoly is already really good with the French bubbly, and we will not be able to compete. We will rather focus on what we are great at, which is cava.  Continue reading “Remembering Reims”

In the Heartland of Chardonnay

I don’t think that I have disclosed this piece of news yet, drumroll… we are going to Champagne in June! I can barely sit still when thinking about it. We will travel to Paris and Reims on the 2nd of June (or maybe even on the first if I can change my flights) and return on the 6th. The 6th is actually the National day of Sweden, so it is an extra day off. The trip will be short, but that does not matter. We are going to Champagne!! Continue reading “In the Heartland of Chardonnay”

Wineweek 52: A Year of Blogging

A year has passed. Where did all that time go? I must have done something during these 52 weeks.. Looking at the statistics, we have posted 266 times, had around 7000 views (that’s of course quite small, many bogs have more in an hour) and 1000 visitors. So we must have done a lot. For my 52nd Wineweek, I thought I would mention the most popular posts of the year, as well as my personal favorites.

Continue reading “Wineweek 52: A Year of Blogging”

Champagne at Chateau Les Crayéres – Reims

It is finally Friday and I am in the mood for some champagne-talk. So reminiscing our visit to Chateau Les Crayeres seems like the topic to take up today. Les Crayeres is a Chateau, a hotel and a restaurant located close to the center of Reims right next to Vranken Pommery. Sounds fancy? That it is, but also a pretty good place to stop by for a glass of bubbly. Regardless of the shiny exterior, it is a relaxed and warm environment to sip on your champagne.

It was a few weeks back, a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in Reims. We were walking around getting a feel for the city and taking the opportunity to tour some champagne houses (the few ones that were open). We had been walking all day, mainly because the other option was taking a taxi, and with the last drips of energy we headed towards Les Crayeres located on the “other side” of the small town. We got a little lost on the way, which added to the tiredness, but finally found our way to the mansion.

courtyard at Les Crayeres
The courtyard and terrace of Le Rotonde Bar
Inner yard Les Crayeres
I would not mind resting my legs on one of those chairs
Le Rotonde Bar
Le Rotonde Bar

Exhausted after our walk, we were shown to the inner yard, the terrace of Le Rotonde Bar. The view was amazing, like from a movie. A beautiful garden, black iron tables and chairs and an international crowd sipping bubbly with posh staff trotting around. All sweaty from the long walk I felt slightly out of place, but what the hell, I was thirsty for bubbles.

The champagne list was not long, however it was interesting. They had the Jaquesson 737 NV as their basic cuvee, a Henriot Rose Millesime 2008 and a few other interesting vintages by the glass. We did not even browse the list for full bottles, but I can imagine it being long. We opted for the first two, Jaquesson and Henriot and sat down to relax on the sunny terrace. The service was spotless and our champagne tasted like a million dollars. All was well!

Le Rotonde Bar
Le Rotonde Bar
Les Crayeres entrance
The front door

Even though Les Creyeres seems very upscale, the price list was only moderately high. We paid around 14€ per glass, which was acceptable.We also received some complementary snacks to have with our bubbly. I am a sucker for snacks, so I was sold.

After we were finished with our glasses we had a look around the beautiful bar and courtyard. We chatted (as if we could afford it) that next time we come to Reims it would be fun to stay here. The restaurant at Les Crayeres, Le Parc has two stars and they also have a Brasserie that has perhaps slightly more humane prices. Now browsing at their webpage I can see that they do some quite moderately prices packages for hotel stay and restaurant, so that could in fact be an option. Now I know what I want for my birthday!

Guided Tour at G.H. Mumm

While in Reims, we took up the opportunity to do some tours at the big champagne houses. Perhaps if it would not have been a Sunday or we would have had a car, we would have opted for something different; something more personal. However, with the restricted availability we opted for G.H. Mumm. The Gordon Rouge is one of the first champagnes I have tasted and we have rather liked the blanc de blancs, Mumm de Cramant. We also visited Mumm Napa while in California and remember it being, “ahem”, let’s call it a cheerful experience.

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We booked the tour a few hours before at our hotel and off we went, secretly hoping that it would be a small group. It was not. However, the experience was quite well organized, so it worked even with the twenty something people. We started off by selecting the type of tasting we wanted to have at the end. There were three options:

  1. Basic glass of Gordon Rouge
  2. A surprise glass with an aroma set.
  3. The “Black and White” experience with two glasses of very different Mumm champagnes to compare different grapes: The Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.

We were not that interested in the Gordon Rouge, nor was the surprise option very inviting from a control freak like me. So we chose tasting number three (3). The price was also a nice surprise, 25€ instead of 39€, as our hotel (Mercure Cathedral) had a significant discount for all of the tasting experiences. Sweet!

The tour started off from the cellars from the process steps when the grapes had already been pressed and made into wine. The guide explained the first and second fermentation, mixing of the wines and the removal of the yeast after maturation. She explained the process of quality control and “dressing”, labeling of the bottle. A fairly comprehensive introduction into the making of champagne. To our (mine and Ms) disappointment, we did not see much production equipment, however the guide used the help of pictures and videos to describe these parts. As it was a Sunday we also were not able to see the people at work at the cellars. Next time I will definitely come on a weekday. The tour ended in the tasting room, where our glasses were already being poured. After spending some time in the humid cellar, the glas(ses) of bubbly felt very welcome.

Even though I was not that enthusiastic about the surprise tasting, I was a little bit jealous when I saw what they were having. I guess I just expected the organizer to cheap out, but they had selected a decent bottle, a Vintage Mumm from 2006. They also had a few snacks, and seeing them made me increasingly hungry. The Black and White tasting was of course good, but the blanc de blancs I was already familiar with (review here), so it was more the 100% Pinot Noir that I was curious about (review here).

After the tasting we headed for the shop. This was perhaps the most disappointing part of our tour, the selection was just plain boring. I was hoping to have the opportunity to browse some vintages and perhaps see some rarer bottles, but the “factory shop” was nothing of the like. The selection consisted mainly of the Gordon Rouge and a few other bottles: the 100% Chardonnay and 100% Pinot Noir that we had tasted earlier. Additionally one could buy some Mumm labelled accessories.

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Even though the tour was not perfect, it was in line with our expectations. We got what we came for which was to hear more about the producer and see the cellars. So if in Reims, G.H. Mumm is not a bad option for an activity. Kids were also welcome, so it is a great opportunity to have some family fun.

The Three Star Experience at L’Assiette Champenoise

A three Michelin-star experience is rare. We are foodies, so we do grab the opportunity when it presents its self. However, I am not expecting it to be the best (value for money) meal I have ever had. I am expecting it to be an unforgettable experience. And that it always is, for one reason or the other.

The L’Assiette Champenoise’ is the restaurant and family business of Arnaud Lallement, the ‘chef of Champagne’. Followed by the footsteps of his father and trained by world renowned chefs, Arnaud has not attempted to innovate, but concentrates of perfect produce. His food is also characterized as a beautiful dance between the product of the region, Champagne and traditional French cuisine. The restaurant also possesses one of the most interesting wine cellars of the region holding a wide range of vintages from Krug, the Rolls Royce of Champagne. The restaurant is located close to the center of Reims in Lallement’s old family home. Sounds very exquisite, and rather pricey, but we reserved a table anyway.

Aperatiffs at L'Asiette Champenoise
Aperatiffs at L’Asiette Champenoise
My menu without prices
My menu without prices

We arrived at the mansion early evening and were greeted by not one, not two, but four people talking to us at the same time. It was a confusing start to the experience. After being seated, we were handed menus and offered an aperitif from the champagne cart. We were faced with a dilemma: a cart full of wonderful champagnes (Pierre Paillard, Drappier non-dose Rose and several Krug vintages), but no pricing. Our experiences in Paris had made us careful, a champagne could cost anything from 7 to over 40 euros a glass. It is not like we cannot pay for it, but I am a sucker for value for money. And what if the Krug -96 in that cart was something of a bargain, what then? Through all of this contemplation, asking for a price list still felt a bit cheap, so we opted for the two non-Krugs on the list and held our fingers crossed that we would not regret it when we received the bill (we didn’t, but you never know).

After ordering the aperitifs we received menus. I cursed (in Swedish) as I saw the menu was missing prices again. However this was just my menu. I had received the discreet girl-menu, and prices were only visible for M. I am not sure if I object to this, but in our equal-rights obsessed Sweden, it feels a bit funny. Anyway, there was a choice between set menus and a la carte. The Heritage menu has a focus on Arnaud’s fathers legacy, excellent sauces, the Truffe D’Alba is a tribute to truffle and the Saveur is a flight through the a la carte favorites. We opted for the Saveur as it was the only one that could be served without seafood, a notion well appreciated by M who is not a fan of anything that lives and breather underwater. The a la carte was a viable option as well, but the set menu clearly better value for money (as some dishes were nearing a 100€ a piece, just feels wrong).

Amuse bouche mini-pies
Amuse bouche mini-pies
Langoustine with curry spices and ginger
Langoustine with curry spices and ginger

All in all, the food was amazing, by far some of the best I have ever had. I will not go into too much detail regarding the the individual dishes, but I would like to mention a few of my favorites: the pie-shaped amuse bouche with pate, the langoustine with curry spices and ginger and the fruit tarte that we had for dessert. The bread was crusty and warm, the butter perfect with a light saltines and the ‘cheese chariot’ offered a selection that can compete with a many specialty boutiques. As with many French-style fine dining restaurants, the petit fours were plenty and delicious. It is just that at the point where you receive them, you are already stuffed like a little pig. We finished our meal with some tea at the bar. The venue was very stylish and I could see a wonderful selection of bottles behind the counter. We were just too tired to opt for any more bubbly.

The dessert fruit tarte
The dessert fruit tarte
The bar
The bar

Regardless of the wonderful food, service was slightly sticky throughout the evening. We were wondering if it was due to the language. Our French s non-existent, so all communication was in English but at this type of establishment I would expect them to master English. So, compared to some of my previous experiences, this was something lacking of the three star experience. However, the venue is beautiful, the food amazing and the sommelier will not rob you blind; so well worth investing in if you are in the region.

Wine Review: Mumm (de Verzenay) Blanc de Noirs

We recently visited Mumm when in Reims and in addition to a small tour of their facility we also sampled their Blanc de Blancs and the Blanc de Noirs. Having previously reviewed the Blanc de Blancs it is also appropriate to the same with the Blanc de Noirs. I will not reiterate the story of Mumm so check the previous review for that.

The Blanc de Noirs is however much more what I would have expected from Mumm as their own production of grapes is heavy on Pinot. This specific cuvee is however not any Pinot Noir, it is made entirely from Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Verzenay. The vineyard is on the north facing slopes of Montagne de Reims. It is one of the more exclusive cuvees from Mumm so quantities are somewhat limited. It spends 6 years ageing in Mumm’s cellars.

Pouring the Blanc de Noirs
Pouring the Blanc de Noirs

Having been very positively surprised by the Blanc de Blancs I had high expectations on this on as well and perhaps that was part of the issue. The first look showed a intense gold color and especially side by side with the Blanc de Blancs it was significantly darker.
The nose was powerful with nougat, dried fruit mixed with hints of coffee and vanilla. On the palate there was a mix of yellow fruits, honey, brioche and the nougat from the nose also is present here.

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The flavors are not at all unpleasant but for me it was still a bit disappointing as it did not at all match the quality of the Blanc de Blancs. This was more power and less subtle and complex flavors. I suspect it would need some food alongside it to be at its best and I could imagine it with some stronger cheese or some salty food.

It is selling for around €60 in many parts of Europe and looking at that price I do not see it as good value for money as there are many better champagnes at lower prices. So how does it rate:
Quality: 3.5
Value for money: 2.5

Wine Shopping in Reims – Les Caves du Forum

I love wine shopping! These days, I can go on for days just touring wine boutiques and lugging around bottles in a backpack. Or usually it is M who does most of the heavy lifting, but I am there for moral support. As this is an activity we enjoy, we made some time, while in Reims last week, to go around browsing in a few boutiques. Our agenda was to find some nice souvenirs for taking home that could not be bought in Sweden, and also finding a wedding present for a couple who is getting married this Friday. Reims can be quite touristy when it comes to wine, but we got some nice tips from the staff at G.H. Mumm and found a place that well suited our consumption needs.

Les Caves du Forum is a large shop in an underground cellar next to the Reims Center (10 Rue Courmeaux). You need to first enter an inner yard before you see the entrance, but after that it is quite obvious, the red blinking arrow gives the location away. The wine shop is a few sets of stairs down in a cool cellar. The temperature and humidity are almost optimal for storing wines and the space gets no sunlight. Browsing around you can see that some of the bottles have been there for a while, judging from the amount of dust they have gathered. It is like a cave of treasures awaiting for the winecurious to rummage around.

The entrance
The entrance

Stairway to heaven
Stairway to heaven

Bottles gathering dust
Bottles gathering dust
Regardless of a great selection of French and other red and white wines, we headed directly towards the section for sparkling wines. We were in Reims and there to source champagne, so that was what we were there for. And my oh my, what a treat! The champagne room, located another set of stairs down from the main floor was big and plentiful. The big brands were of course represented, but the selection consisted mostly of small producers and grower champagnes. I am not sure, but I don’t think I saw one bottle of non vintage Möet or Veuev Cliquot on the shelves. Instead I saw names like Eric Rodez, Savart, Laherte & Fills, Marie-Noelle Ledru etc. Many of these producers we had just met at Terres & Vins de Champagne a few blocks away. It was truly an inspiring view.

The champagne room
The champagne room

Prices were marked on top of each bottle
SOme vintages – prices were marked on top of each bottle

Laherte & Fills and other treasures
Laherte & Fills and other treasures

In the champagne chamber
In the champagne chamber
We could have gone crazy in this store. I am sure it would have been no problem to find 20 or 30 bottles that we would have wanted  to bring home. However, that was not really an option. So we settled for a bottle of Savart and Francis Boulard and made our way to the cashier. We did not see that many vintages on the shelves, so the wedding present would have to be found somewhere else. But all in all a wonderful selection of grower champagnes for very affordable prices.

All in all a wonderful shop. I was not only impressed by the selection but also the conditions the wines where kept in. We did not have that much time to browse through the white and red wines, but we did see some interesting stuff peeking out from amongst the shelves. For example, the section for non-traditional wine countries, while small, featured not only Canada but also Slovakia and Palestine; this is really a shop to feed ones curiosity. The strength when it comes to reds and whites did however, understandably, appear to be to domestic French wines. So if in Reims and in the mood for some shopping, Les Caves du Forum is the place to go.