The first time I popped a bottle of champagne, I was called a fraud. And by none other than my own family!
It was a January Saturday night my freshman year in college, and I was recently inducted in a prominent scholarship house. I selected Zach as my “Big Brother.” He gave instructions to go with him and choose a bottle of champagne at a local wine shop. The fellow scholars were to celebrate with us later that evening, the future of the Evans Scholars. The act was a tradition within my new “family,” and I made sure I wasn’t the one to end it.
I walked into the wine shop, looking for a cheap bottle of champagne. I grabbed a shiny black one with a lot of French words on it. It looked official. I strutted my stuff to the check-out counter and handed the bottle to Zach.
“What’s this garbage?” Zach asked tersely.
“Champagne,” I replied, proud and grinning. “Cham-pag-na,” I said next, spelling out each syllable as if I new them.
“You have a lot to learn, little bro. A lot. That, Michael, is not champagne.”
Legally, wine labeled “champagne” must be processed within the Champagne region of France. Every country has its own laws (including the United States, which allows domestic sparkling wines to be labeled “California champagne,” further exacerbating confusion), but almost all agree champagne must come from Champagne, France.
But you won’t have to worry about law, price, or authenticity when embarking on your excursion to Reims. Nor will you have to question their authenticity: you’re in Champagne-Ardenne, the real deal. And these champagnes taste superb!
A forty-five minute train ride from Paris, you’ll arrive in one of France’s most regal cities. Reims boasts a majestic history in the most literal sense; the cathedral of Reims began hosting coronations of French monarchs 816 A.D. It’s no coincidence, then, that champagne is associated with royalty: champagne was originally available only to those with wealth, power, and luxury.
Tour a few of the many famous champagne houses and taste their incredible wines. Make it a point to visit the Ruinart Champagne House, the first established champagne house. You’ll venture deep into the chalk tunnels beneath the champagne house, where cool temperatures and dank rooms create perfect conditions for a perfect bottle.
After Ruinart, you, your fellow Panroamers, and local Panrimo coordinator head to the Louis Roederer champagne house, which produces over two-thirds of its champagne using its own grapes, which allows Roederer to control the conditions in which their grapes grow. Finely tuned down to the temperature, molecular concentrations, and pH balances, Roederer closely guards their secret conditions for the perfect grape. You’ll be able to taste the quality with which the Louis Roederer name has become associated.
After a morning of champagne we head to Au Plat du Jour. This quiet, sophisticated little coffee shop looks elegant and serves outstanding fresh French cuisine. Don’t let the translation fool you; this isn’t a just a soup place. Instead of dark booths and a heavy musk, Au Plat du Jour is well lit inside, with a warm atmosphere and warmer fireplace (when necessary).
After a delicious lunch, you’ll have plenty of time to roam across Reims. Love chocolate? Check out Chocolat Deléans à Reims, an incredible artisan chocolatier run by Vincent and Francesca, natives of Reims. Perhaps visit a cutlery shop, where you can buy yourself a sabre suitable to sabrage your own champagne bottles (warning: if you attempt this, please wear goggles and, potentially, gauntlets over your hands).
I wish I had this excursion experience before being sent by my Big Brother, Zach, on an inevitably failed champagne purchase. I ended up getting a lovely brut (sparkling wine nearly identical in composition to champagne, but bottled elsewhere).
But it didn’t matter; we sprayed its bubbles everywhere, not a drop ever touching my lips.