It was a 4-day weekend, so we decided that a visite des caves & dégustation in Reims was in order.
This was both inspiration and aspiration!
Reims is a short 45-minute train ride away from Paris and we toured 2 houses – the widely popular Taittinger, which produces one of my preferred cuvées, and a lesser-known one, G.H. Martel & Cie. They were about a 20-minute walk away from the train station.
As a larger house, Tattinger organises English tours a few times a day – we managed to join one on arrival at 11 in the morning – while Martel only had one at 3 pm for the day so it would best to make calls ahead to your preferred houses to make the most of the trip.
What did we think of each tour?
Taittinger started off with a fancy video but all we found was marketing spiel – number of bottles sold worldwide/exported per year, total number of wines stored in the caves, the heritage of Taittinger, how many acres of vineyards are owned by Taittinger… etc. but what we really want to know more about was the making of this fabulous wine!
A case of 5 different wines – great for gifts or to get a sampling across the house
The Comtes is a premium champagne made from the best grapes of the house and set to age for a minimum of 10 years with the flavour developing in storage. The shape of the bottle sets it apart.
Thankfully Martel more than made up for that with a most informative introduction video – tracking the production of champagne from grape varieties and harvest to production and the final bottling.
Taittinger has some impressive chalk caves from the Roman-era – they used to house an underground monastery (13th century Saint-Nicaise abbey) with the harvested chalk used to build Reims.
Bottles in storage in the chalk caves at Taittinger
The Taittinger guide could not have been less enthused with her by-the-marketing-book tour while we found the one of Martel to be really personable and sweet.
Our lovely G.H. Martel guide
The bottles are turned a quarter round daily on the racks; the first machines used for the final bottling is on the left
The passion of winemaking and authenticity really comes through from Martel while Taittinger was too clinical to be enjoyable. You can compare the difference simply by the pictures of the cellars – Taittinger’s are nicely whitewashed while Martel retains its rugged charm. I guess it depends on what you’re after. It was all very classy with the connoisseur at Taittinger nonetheless.
Both maisons were within 5 mins walking distance of each other so we had quite enough time for some morning bubbly, a leisurely lunch, afternoon bubbly and some sights after.
What else in Reims?
Lunch was at a traditional restaurant located right between the 2 houses – Au Plat du Jour.
Dine there only with lots of time to spare as it’s family-run and the chalkboard menu is wheeled to you only after Madame has finished serving the prepared dishes from the kitchen, the guests who arrived before you are done with the menu, and Madame has managed to have their orders taken. We could finally leave slightly less than 2 hours later. Portions here taste of home cooked goodness but only get the formule (starter, main, dessert) if you can manage HUGE portions.
The portion of fish was the size of 2 hands!
We had a casual walk around the cathedral of Reims and various other monuments to soak in the sights and sounds of the city.
Fast fact: All the French kings after Hugh Capet (except for one) were crowned at the cathedral of Reims and surprisingly not in Paris.
It’s a great and relaxing day trip from the capital if you fancy and have the time, but I definitely would try making a trip by car to Epernay the next time for the vineyards and to discover other houses.