The city has a long and interesting history, and was very important in the Latter Roman Empire. There are several monuments still in evidence dating back to that era, including a Triumphal Arch, the Forum and the stone quarries or crayeres, which are still used as cellars by many of the regional Champagne houses. The 13th century cathedral has wonderful gargoyles and statues, such as ‘The Smiling Angel’; and fine stained glass, including windows by Marc Chagall. The early Frankish Kings were all crowned here and the Kings of France continued this tradition. During the First World War, Reims was besieged and partially destroyed. Thankfully, some of the most beautiful and impressive buildings, such as the Cathedral and the Palais de Vergeur, remain.
Today, Reims is a lively commercial centre and university city. Our hotel is in the city centre, which has a very good selection of shops, delicatessens, wine stores, cafés, brasseries and restaurants that are bound to suit all tastes and budgets.
We select a good range of Champagne houses to visit from Arblaster & Clarke’s years of experience, so that you have a great choice of champagnes to buy, and we will taste around 20 different champagnes over the weekend! The vintages and special cuvées from the top houses can be much better value when bought on location, and the top quality, smaller producers that we visit have excellent quality and great value champagnes. You can bring back up to 36 bottles per person, plenty to keep you going over the following months or for a special occasion – or simply so that you can continue your champagne education at home!
We travel by coach as it is a comfortable, hassle free and convenient way to get to the region, and means that it is easy for you to bring back lots of champagne! We do everything possible to ensure that you have a very comfortable journey and are able to put your feet up, read a book, catch up the week’s news, sleep or just enjoy the scenery. Our Tour Manager will serve complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits a couple of times throughout the journey, and there will be no distracting background music or videos to watch. Pure bliss.
For our April departure, Day 3’s morning visit is to Champagne House Cattier.
For our December departure, Day 2’s morning is spent at Champagne Mailly. On Day 3 our morning visit is to Champagne House Cattier and we have lunch at Canard Duchene.
We depart from London in the morning and stop off briefly on arrival in Calais, to allow you to stock up on French cheeses, wine and bread to enjoy en route – all of which will surely make the journey pass pleasantly and quickly! We arrive into Reims between 1600 and 1700 local time. This evening, your Wine Guide will choose a selection of champagnes in order to introduce us to the various styles, different houses and growers in what will be a fun and illuminating evening. No two of our tastings are alike and no two Wine Guides have the same approach to presenting them. However, you will always taste a diverse range of different champagnes. Most will be very much to your liking, but perhaps some less so as we like to seek out unusual wines along with those you may not be familiar with. Your evening will be spent at leisure.
Reims has a wealth of wonderful restaurants and bistros from those boasting two Michelin stars (early booking essential) to more reasonably priced gourmet restaurants along with traditional style brasseries. We will provide a list of all our tried and tested eateries before the trip, so you can book ahead if you wish. However, we will make a reservation at one of our favourite reasonably priced brasseries and you are more than welcome to join our Wine Guide or Tour Manager for dinner if you would like to.
Start today with a glass of champagne to accompany your buffet breakfast – breakfast at home will never seem the same again! Afterwards, we depart for the first of our visits to a champagne house. Champagne Brice* used to feature on our very first Champagne weekends! They are based in Bouzy but also have vineyards in Cramant and Verzenay. The Brices have taken the decision to produce a range of non-vintage mono-cru champagnes that age well. Remi Brice is a charming and charismatic host, who will be sure to maximise your enjoyment of this region of Champagne.
After our visit, you will have free time to explore Reims. Why not choose a café table to sit at and people watch while you enjoy some local food and perhaps a glass of champagne? In the First World War, Reims was besieged and partially destroyed Thankfully, however, some of the most beautiful and impressive buildings – such as the Cathedral and the Palais de Vergeur – remain. The rebuilding process resulted in many fine buildings with extra ‘art nouveau’ touches. Reims today is a lively commercial centre and university city. It was very important in the latter Roman Empire and there are several monuments still in evidence dating back to that era, including a Triumphal Arch, the Forum and the stone quarries or crayères, which are still used as cellars by many champagne houses. The 13th century cathedral has wonderful gargoyles and statues, such as ‘the Smiling Angel’; and there are fine stained glass windows, including a spectacular piece by Marc Chagall. The early Frankish Kings were all crowned here and the Kings of France continued this tradition.
This afternoon, we visit the great Taittinger. Champagne Taittinger remains one of the few top houses owned and actively run by the family named on the label, and their significant vineyard ownership makes them the second largest domaine holder in the Champagne region, providing them with uninterrupted quality control from vine to bottle. Many of their champagnes, such as their top prestige cuvée Comtes de Champagne, are matured in Taittinger’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed, 4th century Roman cellars. The hallmark of their wines is the high percentage of Chardonnay used, which gives them elegance, delicacy and – of course – finesse.
* For our December departure, Day 2’s morning is spent at Champagne Mailly. The Mailly co-operative draws its members from within the boundaries of the grand cru village of Mailly-Champagne and today has 70 members owning 70 hectares of vineyards. In the mid 80s the vines suffered from a great frost and the wines lost their way for a few years. However they are back on form now and producing excellent wine which have a high Pinot Noir content.
After our second champagne breakfast today we check out of the hotel and have a morning visit to Champagne Jean Milan*, situated in Oger, a famous village in the Cote des Blancs, near Epernay and ranked among the 17 Grand Crus of Champagne. Jean Milan vineyards produce Chardonnay terroir, 100% Chardonnay for its champagnes (except for the rosé) a unique white grape variety, known for his nobility. Coveted for the production of prestigious wines, it essentially gives the wine elegance, finesse, freshness and length. Founded by Charles Milan, five generations of wine makers have since 1864 grown grapes to sell to the Grandes Marques, such as Krug, Veuve Cliquot and Pol Roger (who still have small vineyards in Oger today) Charles was the person who dug their underground cellars, that were cut into the chalk rocks and still used today to age the fine Champagnes of Milan.
Today, Caroline and Jean-Charles Milan follow the footsteps of their parents in developing the family estate in accordance with ancient craftsmanship while developing new and more modern techniques. Thus the name “Jean Milan” owes its international renown to the quality of its vineyards and its champagnes. Champagne Milan is a family house where we see tradition and passion for the sole purpose of offering you a complete range of exceptional champagnes.
For lunch, we dine at André Jacquart & Fils**, based in the Premier Crus village of Vertus. They own 24 hectares including a substantial holding in the Grand Crus-rated Le Mesnil sur Oger. They are one of the larger ‘grower producers’ in Champagne and without doubt one of the best. Chardonnay is their main cepage and their range of champagnes display a richness and complexity that comes from the base wines having been largely fermented in oak barrels. Over lunch, Marie Doyard, who co-owns and runs this property with her brother, personally presents their wines to us. Departing here, we make our way back to Calais for our return journey to the UK, arriving in London at around 2200h.
*For our April and December departures, Day 3’s morning is spent at Cattier.
**For our December departure, Day 3’s lunch is at Canard Duchene.
Cattier – The family firm of Cattier based in Chigny-Les-Roses make excellent champagnes with a distinct Montagne de Reims character. The crown jewel is the single vineyard ‘Clos du Moulin’, a complex champagne with a fine balance of pinot noir and chardonnay. This is a firm that is definitely ‘on the move’, whose quality is ever increasing and quantity too! They now produce the historic ‘Maximes’ brand in conjunction with Maximes of Paris. In 2014, rapper Jay-Z purchased global distribution rights for Armand de Brignac, a champagne brand produced by Cattier colloquially known as ‘Ace of Spades’.
Canard Duchene – Champagne Canard Duchêne is in Ludes. The Champagne is perhaps simple, but has a very accessible fruit-driven style. We will be given a guided tour of the cellars, which contain an interesting and unusual exhibition. This will be followed by a spectacular demonstration of opening a champagne bottle (sabrage), a tasting and the opportunity to visit their great shop where you can stock up on champagne related gifts.
Breakfast & lunch included
Formerly a presenter of ITV’s ‘The Food Programme’, Conal is a Master of Wine and has written a number of fascinating books. Travel with Conal on our September and December departures.
Not only does he hold the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits, Matthew is also an Associate Tutor with the Cambridge Wine School. Travel with Matthew on our March and April departures.