Select Page

Champagne in Reims

Paris, France: Today's adventure was on our 2020 planned trip itinerary, so we are only three years behind schedule to visit Reims (kinda pronounced rahms), the center of the famed Champagne region. It was going to be a full day, so I booked a very early train from Gare L'est to Reims, about a 40 minute ride.

As we were going up to our room from our after-dinner ramble last night, there was some sort of IMPORTANT NOTICE posted outside the elevators explaining Saint Germain was going to be in basic lockdown tomorrow due to (we are not 100% sure) testing for something (we are not 100% sure) about the 2024 Olympics. The front desk at the hotel suggested we leave 15 minutes earlier than our overly-early previously targeted departure.

Yuck, were we groggy as we left the hotel at 7a for a 8:28a departure. The planned drill was happening - lots of officials out in cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring doing stuff - but it did not bother traffic in any way except to keep everyone in their beds - except our taxi. We arrived to the train station with plenty of time to spare. Time for a proper cup of coffee. After riding the train (sometimes at speeds up to 200mph), we took an Uber directly to the Veuve Clicquot cellars for our 10a tour (in English) and tasting. The champagne house is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as miles of caves were dug in the region while harvesting sandstone/chalk to use a building stones for the community. The hundreds of miles of caves are now used to age champagne. At this time Clicquot owns about 15 miles of caves. Reims was heavily damaged and bombarded during WWI and many of the locals spent the war living in the tunnels underground. Our guide, Gwendolyn, told us WWII was better to Reims as they were protected by a lot of nearby Allied/American soldiers.

Veuve Clicquot
Veuve Clicquot visitor center
Veuve Clicquot
Stairs down to the cellars at Veuve Clicquot

When Madame Clicquot was widowed, she wanted to take over the family business, but at the time it was illegal for a women to even have her own bank account, let alone operate a business. Somehow it was established she could take over her husbands business if she called herself a widow, so the champagne house continued under a new name (Veuve means widow). The genius of the Widow Clicquot was she discovered the technique for making champagne clear (it was previously cloudy and had a very high sugar content), figured the method for making rosé champagne, was the first to make "vintage" champagne (wine made 100% with grapes for one vineyard), and in her spare time, was a marketing genius by making champagne the preferred drink of nobility and European high society... and La Quinta homemakers.

Veuve Clicquot riddling
Riddling Rack

Wine is made clear by a process called riddling. The bottles are placed upside down at an angle and are turned a little every few days as the yeasts slowly settle down to the stem of the bottle. After a month or two, the bottle stems are frozen and when the top if removed, a little yeasty ice cube pops out. The bottle is then resealed, labeled, and is ready for your next party. This process is still used today in every champagne house, though much of the turning process is now done by machine.

Old Riddling Rack

The stamp on Clicquot champagne bottles is Veuve (widow) Clicquot (her husbands family) and Ponsardin (her family).

Another set of stairs in the cellars -
with exceptional champagne years on the risers
Veuve Clicquot
Obviously 1955 was an exceptional year
Exit through the gift shop!
Traveling carry-on only means no souvenir shopping though.
Another bucket list check-off

If only The Widow hadn't chosen ORANGE (patented with it's own Pantone code - 137c, Hex: FFA300, CMYK: 0, 41, 100, 0) as her signature color. The house calls it yellow, but I know better.

Clicquot airstream
Even something for RVers!
Excelsior Reims
Excelsior Reims

We were early for our 1p reservation at Brasserie Excelsior Reims, but they seated us in their pretty shaded courtyard and we had a lovely luncheon - along with champagne.

Smoked Salmon
Appetizer of three types of smoked salmon - rillettes, seared, and lox.

Dave had another appetizer for his entre: duck confit rillettes. Chicken Fricassée was flying out the door, so I ordered this dish. Very nice, with a giant round of mashed potatoes. I highly recommend Brasserie Excelsior.

The brasserie sits at the very beginning of the main drag in town and is directly across the city park from the train station. After lunch we headed off to explore the town. Photos from our walk:

Reims, France
Reims, France
Reims, France
Double-decker carousel

We walked for miles around the beautiful city, more window licking window shopping and we really enjoyed Reims and perfect weather. Besides being the home of champagne, Reims has a cathedral that has crowned every King of France - including all those Louis-teenths! It is also called Notre Dame and is larger and older than the famed Paris church with the same name. It is also known for beautiful stained glass windows, many which were repaired/replaced by famous Jewish artist, Marc Chagall.

Notre Dame

Our last stroll was through the massive city park.

Reims, France
Reims city park

The park has a large children's play area, complete with all the usual swings, climbing structures, and slides, but it also has a very cool tube to climb on/in made of rope netting, and a water feature. Today there were so many adorable children playing in the dancing fountains - in teeny speedos of course.

Suddenly, it was time to catch the 5:15 back to Paris. Look what we found in the Paris Gare L'est train station:

Gare L'est
He has his own universe!

By the time we returned to our hotel (the drill from the early morning must have been completed as traffic was normal), we were a bit tired, but DT wanted to work-out as we had left far too early for his usual morning routine. He rode the bicycle in the hotel fitness center and then we decided to go out and get some food. It was 9p, but that is when things are getting started in this town.

One restaurant on my list for this week was The Relais de l’Entrecôte and it is directly across from our hotel. This is an odd joint as they do not have a menu. They only serve one thing: steak frites - with a famed green herb sauce. Seriously, except for a salad with walnuts, this is the entire menu. I wondered if this was some-sort of gimmick or what? However, each evening as we come and go from our hotel, we see hundreds of people lined up to enter The Relais de l’Entrecôte. (Translates to something like The Prince of l’Entrecôte?) When we exited our hotel this evening, there were only about 30 people in line. Do or die decision. We stood in line.

Line for Relais de l’Entrecôte - this photo was taken several nights ago, when we could not figure what the fuss was all about.
Tonight, as we were nearly to the front of the line

While standing in line, we talked to others - mostly locals - to learn the drill: seconds after being seated, a salad is delivered to your seat, along with sliced baguette. A bit later, your server will stop by and ask how you like your steak cooked. The server makes a note of your choice by writing it with a Sharpie on your paper table cover! There is a wine list. DT chose a bottle of their own red - $20 and quite good, served chilled.

Relais de l’Entrecôte
View from our table
Walnut Salad
Relais de l’Entrecôte
We both ordered Medium

Their famed herb sauce was very basily-parsleyish to me. Maybe some tarragon? Fries were super crispy and delicious and not salted. (Salt shaker on table.) But the steak was so tender - not like the usual steak frite usually served in French bistros.

The thing about this restaurant is when you finish your dinner (this is luncheon-sized plate), the server brings around more steak and more frites! Seriously, I am not sure if they will come by 2 or 22 times, but she kept coming around. I did not partake of more food, but the guy across from me had a few more slices of beef. The place is also known for their desserts. We are not dessert eaters (don't count the Alain Ducasse boat luncheon, okay?), but we had to succumb.

Profiterole - cream puffs with ice cream and chocolate sauce

The check came. We had no idea of any prices except for the wine and dessert. Wow, were we pleasantly surprised:

Our Visa card was charged 99.14 US dollars.
(Meaning steak dinners were $31.55 each)

Yeah, it probably could be a racket, but the food was so good. I now understand why people stand in line. Fun evening as well - and a short walk home.

Another fun and busy day in France. Until my next update, I remain, your "champagne dreaming" correspondent.

Pedometer: 17,000 steps.

Veuve Clicquot Website
All About Veuve Clicquot
Brasserie Excelsior Reims