Randolph and I wanted to go on a little trip for my birthday, but because the following weekend was a three-day weekend for him, we decided to just wait and go on a trip then, instead. After exploring a few options for small trips, we settled on a weekend in Paris and Champagne. And our friends Colby and Michelle also joined us on the trip!
We drove to Reims (Champagne), parked our car at the train station and took the TGV (high speed) train to Paris. The drive to Reims is under 3 hours, and then the train trip was only 45 minutes.
One of the main purposes of the Paris portion of the trip was a visit to the Vandoren store there. We had attempted to go there back when we were in Paris for New Years, but they were closed for the holidays. This time, Randolph had already made an appointment ahead of time to try out mouthpieces.
We had just enough time between our arrival in Paris and the appointment at Vandoren to grab some lunch along the way. I had planned out a stop at Le Potager de Charlotte, a vegan restaurant. It was very tasty, fresh food.
We were at Vandoren for almost two hours, but it was a success! Randolph found two mouthpieces to buy (that was the goal) and also picked up some sheet music, too.
We had a little bit of time before we needed to check in to our Airbnb, so we stopped for some gelato at Amorino, since we had been drooling when we passed it on our way to Vandoren. Randolph and I both got gelato roses.
Then, we took Colby and Michelle past a couple things in the area that we had explored last time: a quick look at the Moulin Rouge and then a visit to Galeries Lafayette. The first time we saw the store they had up their holiday decorations, but it’s beautiful no matter what. We made a quick trip up to the roof deck, but it was raining. After a little bit of browsing in the store, it was time to head to our Airbnb.
The apartment was in a nice neighborhood and was near a Bon Marché store, which also had a gourmet grocery store attached. It was quite the store and would be very dangerous if we actually lived in that apartment! They had lots of amazing foods and wines (and even my favorite bourbon that’s super hard to find, even in the US!). We bought some snacks, and laughed at this hilarious representation of the US in the international foods section:
For dinner, we went to a nearby burger place, PG’s Bar à Manger. The homemade veggie burgers that Michelle and I had were very good and the meat burgers that Randolph and Colby had looked quite good, too. Everything right on down to the ketchup was homemade, which I always appreciate. Plus the waiter was very friendly and hilarious.
In the morning, we ate the breakfast we had already bought at the fancy grocery store the night before. Then we set out (with all of our bags, to save time later). We made a coffee stop at Coutume Café, which I really liked. They had cold brew that they served in glass bottles, and Randolph’s cortado was probably the best I’ve had. If we had more time (and hadn’t already eaten breakfast) I would’ve liked to sit down to have breakfast and coffee there.
The big destination of the morning was the Eiffel Tower. Because of the European championship (soccer), the big park that extends from the Eiffel Tower was all blocked off. It looked like they were setting it up to be a controlled area for viewing/celebration. So that meant that we could only see the Eiffel Tower from right next to it, rather than viewing it from across the park. That was too bad, but we still managed to get some fun pictures. And this was Colby and Michelle’s first time there together, so hooray!
We had just enough time to get some lunch before heading back to the train station to go back to Reims for our champagne tasting adventures. I had planned for us to go to a vegan hot dog place near the station, but I planned poorly and they were closed on Saturdays (oops). Fortunately, there was another veggie place just down the street called Le Veganovore. We had to wait a couple minutes for them to open, but it was clearly a popular place because there were immediately a bunch of people in line after us. Their menu is whatever dishes they’ve created for the day based on what produce they get, but it follows a general formula. They have soups, bowls (one hot, one cold), and desserts. All of the food was very good and very filling.
It would’ve been nice to have more time in Paris, but because it’s hard to do much on Sundays in Europe we wanted to make sure to be in Champagne on more than just a Sunday. We hopped our train back to Reims and immediately headed out toward our first champagne tasting!
There are several big name producers in Champagne that are known in the US, particularly Moët & Chandon and Veuve Cliquot. They all offer tours/tastings, but I also wanted to experience the smaller champagne houses. There are so many, and most of them don’t export to the US, so we would get the true experience this way!
We arrived in Hautvillers early, so before our tasting appointment we did a little exploring first. It is a very cute little town that is surrounded by vineyards. The small church in the village also happens to be where Dom Perignon, himself, is buried.
Our appointment was at JM Gobillard et Fils. They are certainly not the smallest producers (some are just a family working a little vineyard and selling out of their home), but they are also definitely not a big commercial place, either. These smaller producers (including Gobillard) don’t charge for tastings; it is just assumed that you’re tasting so you can choose what you want to buy. Between the four of us I think we tasted half a dozen of their champagnes, including some longer-aged ones. Randolph and I wound up buying a bottle of a champagne that was different from any we’d ever tasted. It is aged in oak barrels, so it has a bit of a vanilla smoothness, despite not being sweet at all. Colby and Michelle chose a regular cuvée and a rosé, both pleasantly crisp and fruity.
After we were done with our adventures in Hautvillers, we headed back to Reims and checked into our Airbnb. It was a very nice apartment and we discovered that the owner (who we didn’t get to meet in person) works for a champagne house and travels to some pretty cool places for work (the Oscars, Cannes Film Festival). I think we were all very jealous of her!
We ate dinner at Chez Lou, a little organic, fair trade restaurant. Most people were coming in and ordering takeout, but we ate there. I had a very delicious curry tofu sandwich on a brioche “bagel.”
The next morning we set out for a bit more of the Champagne experience before it was time to head home. Although most places are closed on Sundays, the bigger Champagne houses were still open. We did the Moët & Chandon tour/tasting so that we could get the full experience of the champagne cellars.
Their cellars total about 17.4 miles (!!) and we got to view a portion of that, even including a Dom Perignon section. The cellars contain millions of bottles in various stages of completion, since some are aged for 10+ years before being released.
The tour ended in the tasting room, where we tried the Impérial Brut (their standard champagne). It was crisp and refreshing.
After this second champagne tasting experience Randolph and I came to the conclusion that the “standard” intro-level champagne that each house makes is created to be completely universal and drinkable and inoffensive to anyone, while the other types and the vintages will always provoke an opinion (good or bad). Also, the standard champagnes are made to taste the same year-after-year (achieved by mixing the three champagne grapes in various ways), while the others will have more of their own character each release. There was definitely nothing wrong with the “standard” champagnes – we certainly enjoyed them and I would absolutely buy them. They’re classics for a reason. But it’s interesting and intriguing to experience something different, too. One of the amazing things about wines, as a whole, is how varied they can be when they’re made out of the same grape(s) from the same small region.
We had lunch at a nearby brasserie and then bought a couple more bottles of champagne at a shop before driving back home.
We definitely want to make another trip to Champagne to explore more and taste more, since this trip was just the tip of the iceberg. Even though we, as Americans, are used to champagne being pricey it’s incredibly affordable when you buy it in Champagne – especially if you’re buying directly from the smaller producers. Lucky us!
Randolph heads out soon for another whirlwind of work trips, so personal trips are on hold for a little bit.