Friday, October 15, 2010

From Champaign to Champagne-The Full Day One

It’s been awhile since I had trouble finding an internet connection, but then again I haven’t spent a lot of time in Champagne houses and private chateaus lately.  That’s what I did for my first day in France this trip.

It was a long flight on Air France from Chicago to Paris, made even longer by the fact that I had a two and a half hour drive to get to the airport.   Once I did arrive, a strike in France that affected transportation turned my journey by Rail Europe into a private limo supplied by Veuve Clicquot.  After a sleepless night (it’s never easy to sleep on a plane) I was definitely not complaining about being able to spread out in the back seat and enjoy the countryside.  I have never been to this part of France and marveled in the unique beauty of every little village we drove through.  Less than two hours later we were in the Champagne-Ardenne region and arriving in Reims

I had arrived a day earlier than the rest of the group on this trip so I could visit Veuve Clicquot, who had graciously agreed to put me up in the company’s private home, Manoir de Verzy.  First I enjoyed a tour of the facilities, a history lesson on the house and Madame Clicquot, the widow who was ahead of her time, taking over the Champagne House when her husband died young -- even though it was unheard of for a woman in the 19th century.  I was fascinated hearing about the second largest Champagne House (Moet Chandon, another member of the LVMH family is the biggest), but I was more anxious about visiting the caves.

Now I have to admit to a bit of claustrophobia combined with some allergies that had me quite nervous about spending an hour 25 meters underground in the production and storage area.  Surprisingly, it was not at all an issue.  Once I started walking through the rows of bottles, cases and individual caves dedicated to Veuve Clicquot workers who had been with the company more than 40 years, all my fears were gone and the allergy pills kicked showed in.  My guide, Katarzyna, showed me every nook and cranny, making me understand her initial statement, “Everyone who loves Champagne should come here.”

As wonderful as the caves were, we were off to Le Jardin Brasserie for lunch, where I had the most incredible meal of Pumpkin Soup, served with Brie toasted bread, followed by Osso Bucco and  Millefeuille ( layered flaky pastry filled with salted butter fudge mousse) for dessert.  With it I also had my first taste of the day of Champagne, the original Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label.  It was light and semi-dry, a perfect accompaniment to any meal.

After lunch, Katarzyna took me to Manoir de Verzy, a beautiful estate which was once the summer house to the Veuve Clicquot owners and still is home to vineyards. It is not open to the public, but certain special tours and packages do occasionally include meals there, though I can’t imagine anyone getting quite the meal I did.  I was even given my own menu, personally welcoming me.  Roselyne de Casteja, the company’s VIP Relations Manager, joined me for the paired extravaganza…

Aperitif
Veuve Clicquot Brut Carte Jaune

Foi Gras de Canard aux Fruits secs
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rich 2002


Risotto aux Girolles et Gorzonzola, Reduction de Cherry
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2004

Notre Selection de Fromages Affines
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2004
Baba Champenois a la Mangue,
Jus de Passion ed Copeaux de Chocolate Ivoire
Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec Carafe


The food was all delicious, but the Risotto was heavenly.  As for the Champagnes, there was nothing I didn’t like, but I appreciated the Vintage Rich the most.  I was also surprised by the Demi Sec, a dessert wine that wasn’t quite as sweet as ones I’m used to thanks to the bubbles, but worked perfectly.  After a well-needed good night’s sleep, I enjoyed a croissant, cheese and fruit breakfast, explored the grounds of Manoir de Verzy and took off to join my group for a day in Reims.

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