France - Wine Country
We departed from Houston in the mid-afternoon. There are no non-stop flights to Paris on United Airlines - there used to be before the pandemic - but they have not resumed their non-stop flights since then. A frequent flier on United Airlines would have to layover at Washington DC, Chicago, or New York, possibly Boston. We chose to change flights at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, about 7 hours to Charles de Gaulle International Airport. We arrived at terminal 2A since all United flights arrive here. From here, it was about a 15 to 20 minute wait to go through customs, and then a 15 to 20 minute walk to the train station located near the airport that connects you to anywhere in France. From here, we took a train to Reims, the epicenter of champagne production in France.
Once in Reims, it was a 15 to 20 minute ride to a hotel. Where one would usually take a taxi, we had to take an Uber because there were not many taxis at that moment. From there, it was a quick ride to the center of Reims. We stayed at La Caserne Chanzy - a perfectly situated hotel at walking distance from all the shops and champagne and wine bars in Reims. From this hotel you have a beautiful sight of the Notre Dame Cathédral of Reims, an older, almost identical replica of the cathedral in Paris, so make sure to get a room with a view towards the city.
The first night we arrived a bit early for check-in, so we had dinner at a gourmet restaurant called La Grande Georgette, a really lovely place next to the hotel that offered a large selection of champagne and a full menu of small bites, fresh, organic food. That same day, we stayed in, and took a break from the flight. Something we had done beforehand is that we arranged a private tour of the champagne sub-regions in France, in Reims. We had a guide who picked us up and took us on a tour of the champagne region where we visited different producers and wineries.
The experience in France is different from the US, where the house is on a property site. Here the town is separate and their producers have their retail operations in this region or sub-regions. The land can be a few kilometers down the road, and then there is the retail operation place.
One of these houses is the Louis Brochere Champagne - a very cool place, a small producer. On this note, we recommend touring the small producers as opposed to the larger houses such as Veuve Clicquot or Moet Chandon simply because, at the smaller producers’ houses, you get to meet the producer and the people behind the scenes. It is a lot less commercial, and the most interesting thing is that you get to watch the process, from the beginning of the presses to the riddling to the discouragement to the triage to the bottling at the end. It gives you an appreciation of the process behind the making of champagne and its difference from stilling wine - it is a few more steps than making your typical red or white wine.
At the producers’, they give you different tastings from bone dry to extra dry to dry to demi-sec (medium sweet) and extra sweet wines - a little bit of everything in between and these producers do so because there is a market around these tasting profiles. You may try whatever you'd like or skip what you don’t like. We found this to be a very cool operation. From this first house, we then went to a few others. We certainly recommend hiring a tour guide; it is not too expensive. Our guide’s name was Kristoff, and he was very knowledgeable and well connected.
While we recommend doing the small houses, of course, we had to do a larger producer because, well, you just got to. They recommended Ruinart because they were less commercial than the others, which can be unnecessarily expensive. We had tried visiting Dom Perignon, but the guide said we'd pay half as much at Ruinart and obtain the same quality. Ruinart is a fascinating house because it is one of six or seven warehouses located in a cave, deep underground, two to three hundred feet below, in order to store their bottles before releasing them for purchase. At the house, they had beautiful art pieces by Alphonse Mücha, a Czech artist, and I got to take a picture with his painting of a statuesque woman on the stairs. It was so chic, the organization was on point, the lady who was our tour guide was great, and everything from the very beginning was spectacular. P.S. We did drive by the Moët Chandon retail building, we took a video of it, and it was just as grandiose as you’d expect.
The next day we took a train from Reims to Strasbourg. Our train that morning left at 8-8:30 AM. It is a fifteen to twenty-minute drive to the train station, and while we arranged for an Uber, we again, recommend a taxi, especially in the early morning. We learned this the hard way - we were up early at 7 am and arranged for an Uber. The receptionist mentioned that there would be very few Ubers on the road because of the time and weather, that they’d probably end up canceling, and alas, that is exactly what happened.
We had a quick ninety minute ride to Strasbourg, a city that is by the German border and constitutes a different region of France. The language spoken here is Alsatian which is a combination of French and Germany. This area used to be Germany, but by WWII, it had become France. This is white wine country, but it is as diversified of a white wine region as it gets; you can get any type. It is very cool in terms of architecture. There are a lot of half wooden houses in Strasburg and at La Petite France -we recommend you stay in this area. La Petite France is by the Rhine river; all the great shopping and restaurants are there.
Again, we suggest you hire a private tour guide. On this particular region you don’t have to do anything as fancy on the tours because this is a relatively less bougie area in terms of wine production -they don't produce anything expensive. So I recommend this website I've been using for the last few years called toursbylocals.com: just type in Strasburg and what you looking for in terms of wine, and you will get a whole list. Our guide, Pieter Smits, was nice enough to pick us up at the train station (because again, our room was not going to be ready at 9:50 in the morning when typically check-in is not until 3 pm). Pieter picked us up straight from the train station, and we went straight on to the tour.
The first place was Domaine Jean Baptiste Adam, or the Jean-Baptiste Adam domain. This is now run by the son and daughter of the family. It was beautiful and so elegant too - the bottles were gorgeous. The bottles in Strasbourg and the Alsace region are very long and narrow bottles - which is more for marketing - but there is some tradition behind them. The Germans used to pull their wines through the river in order to keep their wines cool, and that is the reason why the necks are long and why the labels are on top rather than at the bottom. Now labels are at the bottom, obviously, with climate control, it is not necessary, but still, the tradition persists. This particular wine producer had some great varieties, and the good thing is, even though it is mostly Riesling there, you can also find Souvaner and Moscat. From there, you know, Alsace is kinda spread out. There is Colmart, which we also visited, kinda in the center of the Alsacian wine region and that is where it branches out too. It is like a 30 to 40 minute drive from the Strasbourg train station, or even if you are standing in central Strasbourg, it is probably like an extra 10 minutes from there, so it is not that far of a drive. It is beautiful countryside, it has a unique geology called the Volsch Mountains that kind of make the production of white wine possible, Pieter explained the technical side of that to us; you do a lot of white wine in mom and pop operations, not typically large producers. There were some very exotic grapes that you can try, and we got to meet another producer that does biodynamic production - there is a very cool story behind that: they grow grapes based on stars and moon, the way the galaxy, the planets, and the moon align. It is a very natural philosophy to growing grapes, it’s fantastic stuff, and very reasonably priced! Most of these wines are below $20, and the bottles are so thin that you could fit them in your suitcase - they do not take up a lot of space if you would like to bring some back!
In Strasbourg, we stayed at a hotel called Hotel Cour du Corbeau and it’s a beautiful, tiny hotel. Kind of in the middle of the Strasbourg Ville, the hotel was decorated in a beautiful holiday spirit. If you go closer to the holidays, you will see beautiful lighting! We recommend going after Thanksgiving to get the same experience, and on top of that, you get to visit the Christmas Markets which are very popular in Christian Europe. We went a bit earlier because of Thanksgiving break, but right as we were leaving we got to see them getting everything together in preparation for the Christmas Market openings.
So, after visiting the Christmas Markets on our last day in Strasbourg, we caught another train - a mid-morning train from Strasbourg to Dijon. Dijon is in Northern France, in Burgundy. There is this region, north of Dijon called Chablis that belongs to Burgundy, but it is not in what they call the arm of Burgundy - which in. In Dijon, we were picked up by a taxi, and a private shuttle. You can stay in Beaune, which in terms of Burgundy wine production is the heart of pinot noir in Burgundy- now Beaune is in the middle of the heart of Burgundy. It is ideal to stay in Beaune, but when we were there, there was a major event called the “Hospice de Beaune” which is when all major buyers and distributors converge and buy wines in auction markets, and they buy out all the hotels in the area, and event though I booked the hotels four months in advance, they still beat me to it, so we stayed in a small town, ten minutes north, called Richebourg. Very small town in the middle of Cote du Nuit, which is the northern part of the arm of Burgundy, this is where you find the huge and major producers with great notoriety. Beaune is the place to stay, great people, great town, great food. There are wine shops. .Location is well situated between the northern part of Burgundy and the southern part of Burgundy which is called Cote du Beaune, they are ver y different regions in terms of style of wine - dry, masculine, high tannins, high acid, some minerality - and feminine wines, more elegant, silkier - less tannin, less acidic, less oak. Those are kinds of wines, it is about 10-15 min each way, and there is a road called the Route des Grands Crus and that kind of takes you through all of Burgundy and in the midst of all the vineyards and wines, you get to see all the scenery, the hills and the vines, and it’s beautiful. The local towns, and the villagers, are quite unique. They were not as Christmas inspired, but they were so rustic and really confident in their identity, you get that quintessential French country feeling, they go through so many different ways of cooking, and when they say that French cuisine is world-renowned now we know why, there was not a bad place to eat at all, even the smallest hole in the wall places were fantastic and amazing and pairing wines was so easy. That’s one of the best parts of it, it was a great time of the year to visit. The weather was perfect. If you are thinking about visiting French wine country, you definitely need to go down to this part of the country. We will include links and names to all of these locations - also follow me for all the good stuff to see and try. This is a fantastic romantic getaway. Get a tour guide to these areas - this is not like Oregon or Napa or Sonoma these wineries are not situated strategically next to each other, these folks know who is open, and who isn't. They are scattered all over the region. In Burgundy and Champagne, they are not really expecting you unless you have an appointment. Get yourself a guide, it is worth the money. They’ll take you ti wineries that are open, you will get to try private seller tasting, and you will also get to try the bigger names of the wineries of the region. Keep in mind, these are not the grand ostentatious manors of the wine regions, these are farmhouses out there. Very simple. This history goes back to the countryside of France. They love their wine more than the money they get from their wine, so you are really trying the product, and to try the product certainly get the tour guide to prepare the trip.
When it comes to the date - November was fantastic. There were very few people, restaurants were open, book the tours ahead of time was in demand. A bit chillier, but everything was available when needed. Train is easy to ride, they all leave on time, no security to go through, hop in get your seats, it is the easiest way to move intra-nationally, super easy to navigate, we used Rail Europe, type in the cities, the time, the train - we recommend first class over second class and it is not that much more than second class. There is more space, and better connection. It is not like flying first class - it is only like a 10-15% difference from second class. And do carry on if you can, because there is a lot of movement. I was not a carry on person, but I was able to make it for seven days. It was the best thing because it was so practical especially because of the trains to catch and the planes to board.
So this was our fabulous trip, this is our blog. Join us, if you have gone, please tell us about your experience! We can’t wait to hear from you guys!
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