Piper Heidsieck and Maxim’s

After we toured Taittinger, we visited Piper Heidsieck and Maxim’s. Our tour at Piper was sort of like the rides at Disneyland, where you are in a car on a track, and you visit various tableau, with commentary as you go. Maxim’s was our first “short” tour, where we skipped the caves.

After we toured Taittinger, we visited Piper Heidsieck and Maxim’s. Our tour at Piper was sort of like the rides at Disneyland, where you are in a car on a track, and you visit various tableau, with commentary as you go. Except ours was unintentionally funny, when the sound went out on the car we were in. We didn’t get the commentary, just the visuals and sound effects which, without a context, were mostly baffling.

Our mild disappointment quickly turned to pleasure, when we arrived at the end, and they refunded our money, but still let us do our tastings, three glasses of champagne, two of which were quite good. The folks at Piper were unfailingly cheerful, and dressed smartly in red and black, the Piper colors. We ended up spending quite a bit of time in the gift shop, which included a very rare bottle of champagne in a Fabergé case, but ended up buying only a few small items.

As it was getting on in the afternoon, we rushed to Maxim’s, to find that we’d missed the day’s last tour. Once again, disappointment was averted; we were able to do just the tastings (at the same price). This was actually nice, because we’d just done two tours (and four glasses of champagne each), and didn’t feel up to a third. The tasting, we could handle.

And then it was time to go back to our hotel, and dinner.

Taittinger

Our first Maison de Champagne, or House of Champagne, was Taittinger. “Maison” is a term generally reserved for the larger champagne producers, and most of the major houses give tours of their extensive tunnels, and take justifiable pride in them. Our tour at Taittinger was fascinating, descending into the tunnels and seeing more champagne than we ever imagined existed in one place at a time.

Our first Maison de Champagne, or House of Champagne, was Taittinger. “Maison” is a term generally reserved for the larger champagne producers, and while Taittinger is far from the largest, they’re still huge, producing about 5 million bottles of champagne a year.

Taittinger is one of the many houses to take advantage of the chalk quarries dug by the Romans for building material in and under what became Reims. These quarry pits follow a formula, and are remarkably similar from house to house. The pits are connected by tunnels, and have additional galleries added, where racks upon racks of champagne are stored. The excavations, or caves de champagne, are quite cool (virtually every tour guide had a cloak to wear when visiting the caves) and humid, which creates the perfect conditions for aging champagne.

Champagne is aged in the bottle, for varying lengths of time depending on the house, and while Taittinger produces about 5 million bottles in a single year, at any given time the tunnels, pits, and galleries hold nearly 20 million bottles. Most of the major houses give tours of their extensive tunnels, and take justifiable pride in them. Our tour at Taittinger was fascinating, descending into the tunnels and seeing more champagne than we ever imagined in one place at a time.

In the photos we took you can see some of the features of the caves, and the use to which the maisons now make of them, as well as ancient carvings in the chalk, which pre-date the maisons by centuries (see the photos).

One of the most interesting photos is of the various sized vessels in which champagne is bottled. Rochelle is in the photo for scale, and you can plainly see that the largest bottle is nearly as big as she is!

Here’s an interesting tidbit: the best size bottle to buy champagne in is the magnum (1500 milliliters, or the size of two regular bottles); the volume inside the bottle is larger compared to the area out which the gasses which make champagne sparkling can escape. It stays more sparkly than champagne in smaller bottles.

You would think that would mean that the larger the bottle the better, but no, most houses don’t normally bottle champagne in sizes larger than the magnum, because they are too large and heavy to handle, require special machinery, etc. When they need to fill larger bottles for a special order, they actually decant magnums into the larger vessel, which obviously causes some of the fizz to dissipate.

It’s still pretty damn good; when I worked at Be we opened a giant bottle of Veuve Clicquot at one summer picnic, shortly after we went public, and while I drank my share, others did not, which surfaces another problem with these big damn bottles: what do you do if you don’t finish it? (The answer: don’t open it if your guests won’t finish it, because it’s impossible to preserve.)
Taittinger (Photos)
Champagne Bottles (Photo)

The Cathedral

A quick update that the photos of our trip to France are starting to come online. I’ll try to upload them in sync with the weblog postings. The first ones are of the Cathedral of Reims.

A quick update that the photos of our trip to France are starting to come online. I’ll try to upload them in sync with the weblog postings. The first ones are of the Cathedral of Reims.

Our First Real Day

Our first real day in France began when the cleaning folks came into our room, because we forgot to put up the Do Not Disturb sign. We quickly got up, showered, dressed, and fled the hotel in search of food and fun.

Our first real day in France began when the cleaning folks came into our room, because we forgot to put up the Do Not Disturb sign. After we shoo’ed them out, Rochelle muttered about them getting started pretty damn early “over here,” not realizing that it was way past her normal wake-up time of 7:00am. It was nearly noon!

When we realized we’d slept half our day away, we quickly got up, showered, dressed (me in the same clothes as yesterday, because Virgin Atlantic still hadn’t found my luggage), and fled the hotel in search of food and fun.

Getting into Reims was pretty easy, we just went a few more exits up the freeway from our hotel, and followed the signs to the cathedral. After driving around relatively aimlessly for 10 minutes, we spotted a parking space and stopped. Another 5 minutes to figure out how to use the parking “meter” (a box down the street which dispenses slips of paper with your expiration time on them — all instructions in French, of course), and we were loose.

So, the first thing we really did in France was visit the cathedral of Reims, which is a pretty impressive cathedral, as much so as the much more famous Notre Dame. However, churches get boring fast, and when we exited we spotted the Tourist Center, and popped in there.

We quickly got set up with a map to the big champagne houses in Reims, with notes on which ones require reservations and which ones you can just tour when you visit, as well as a detailed map of Reims with greater resolution (i.e., more street detail) than the one in our guidebook.

In spite of our very late start, we managed to visit that afternoon three of the champagne houses that don’t require reservations: Taittinger, Piper Heidsieck, and Maxim’s (which, if we understood correctly, actually private labels wines from the Comte de Noiron champagne house).

But that’s another post.

L’Assiette Champenoise

While our trip to France began poorly, fortunately for our sanity, we quickly recovered. Driving from Charles De Gaulle to our hotel just outside of Reims took about two hours. And our hotel, L’Assiette Champenoise, was wonderful.

While our trip to France began poorly, fortunately for our sanity, we quickly recovered. Driving from Charles De Gaulle to our hotel just outside of Reims took about two hours, with only one wrong turn, quickly realized and corrected.

And our hotel, L’Assiette Champenoise, was wonderful. We checked in, dragged our bags to our room, and headed straight for the bar (we needed, and deserved, it).

Settling in at a table in the hotel bar, we ordered glasses of (what else?) champagne, and reviewed the hotel restaurant’s menu. We had reservations for dinner there the next night, and had originally not planned to eat there more than once. But it was also much later than we’d planned to get in, and we had no energy for going out to find something else to eat. Plus, the menu looked really good.

So, we decided to eat. We were seated immediately, and had a wonderful meal. Regrettably, in our addled state, we forgot to bring our camera, and so did not photograph our meal. All I can tell you is I started with a wonderful slice of terrine of foie gras, that it was outstanding, and that it was my favorite part of the meal. (Get used to this. My favorite thing is always the foie gras.)

Our dinner was accompanied by a bottle of the same delightful champagne we’d started in the bar with. It had a beautiful ruby hue, a much deeper red than most rosé champagnes usually take. Again regrettably, we neglected to write down the name, and have only the vaguest idea of what it was.

Sated and much more relaxed, we tottered off to bed — and (once again) regrettably forgot to put the Do Not Disturb sign on our door.

How Many Sides Does Your Underwear Have?

Our trip to France included some of the worst travel experiences either Rochelle or I have had. Between losing most of our luggage, some of it for days, some of it permanently, and the almost complete indifference to same, we’re quite unhappy with Virgin Atlantic.

Our trip to France included some of the worst travel experiences either Rochelle or I have had. We didn’t have a non-stop flight, flying from SFO to London Heathrow, and then to Charles De Gaulle in a second plane. On the flight out, the airline lost three of our four checked bags. Yes, 75% of our luggage did not arrive in France when we did. Only Rochelle’s gear got there as expected.

One of the missing bags arrived on the next flight (from Heathrow to CDG), about an hour and a half later. That was the empty hard-sided suitcase we had brought so we could stuff it full of champagne to bring home.

We waited another hour and a half, for the next flight after that, but no more bags appeared. The airline said they couldn’t find them in the system, which meant they’d gotten lost when changing planes (as we very nearly did; our two flights were too close together, and we had to run through Heathrow, something we’ve vowed never to do again).

So we picked up our rental car and drove to Reims, two hours away, and checked into our hotel, sans all of my clothing, and both of our toiletries kits.

Now, the experienced traveler will no doubt tsk tsk, and suggest we were traveling too heavy, and not very smart, by not having at least our essentials as carry-ons. But we were ambitious in what we wanted to be able to bring back (we’ll get to that in another post), and our packing strategy made sense, at least at the start.

Still, after two more days, my bag had not arrived. After turning my shorts inside-out the second day, I was at a loss for what to do on the third. And the shirt I was wearing, for the third day, was starting to get rank. Finally my suitcase arrived, and I was able to change — but not before I broke down and bought new socks, underwear, and shirts.

But that’s not all! My bag took three days to show up, but the fourth never did. Which is astonishing, because it was an empty box. Well, not really empty. It was a very thick cardboard shipping box with styrofoam inserts molded to contain and protect a full case of champagne (I told you we were ambitious). These shipping packs are relatively easy to get in the US, but impossible to find in France — and god knows we tried. This made the lost item almost priceless. We literally were unable to replace it.

And we had to try. Because the airline told us that they had lost it, and since it was an “empty” box, it had no value (to them), so they wouldn’t even look for it. Indeed, even if they accidentally found it, because it was empty, they would just destroy it instead of trying to give it back to us!

You want to hear the most amazing, and appalling, part of the story?

We were flying Virgin Atlantic. Yes, that supposedly Nirvana in the sky, the airline everyone wants to emulate, Virgin Atlantic Airways totally fucked us on our luggage.

I’ll have quite a bit more to write about Virgin Atlantic; this is only the flight to France. But the summary is we’re never flying Virgin again.

Vacation in France

Yes, we just got back from 16 days in France. Yes, we took a lot of photos. Yes, we have a lot to write about. And yes, we’re behind on putting these up.

Yes, we just got back from 16 days in France. Yes, we took a lot of photos. Yes, we have a lot to write about. And yes, we’re behind on putting these up.

Rochelle will write the commentary to the photos, while I’ll post a bunch of stuff here. Look for it over the next couple weeks, starting this weekend.

Of course, there would already be stuff posted if my damn server hadn’t died while we were gone…

France 16, Mexico 3

Our trip in France lasted 16 days, and we obviously ate a lot of French food. Which was wonderful, but it’s time for a rest. So today I ate Mexican food for the third day in a row.

Our trip in France lasted 16 days, and we obviously ate a lot of French food. Which was wonderful, but it’s time for a rest.

So today I ate Mexican food for the third day in a row. Mexican is one of the cuisines you have real difficulty finding at all in France. In fact, the closest we found was a TexMex restaurant. (We were too scared to eat there.)

So, since we got back, I’ve been eating a lot of Mexican food. For three days straight. Well, Sunday it was only margaritas (and margaritas only)…

Murphy Strikes

On Monday, September 3rd, at 4pm, my flight from San Francisco to Paris took off, the beginning of a 16 day vacation in France. 20 hours later, the power supply on my server died, taking this blog, and my mail and DNS, and other services, with it. Two weeks later, when I got home, it took me less than an hour to fix. Grrrr.

On Monday, September 3rd, at 4pm, my flight from San Francisco to Paris took off, the beginning of a 16 day vacation in France. Approximately 20 hours later, the power supply on my server died, taking this blog, and the rest of my web sites, and my mail, and DNS, and other services, with it.

The defunct server is a Pentium 166 with 256 megs of RAM and a 2.1 gig hard disk, and qualifies as useless junk in those excess-and-salvage auctions of defunct companies that are all the rage these days.

I had all my sites and services back up and running within 2 hours of getting home, by moving the hard disk from that system to another useless PC (this one a 150MHz Cyrix system with only 80 megs of RAM), and running on it instead.

The dead server is more than 4 years old. You would think that it could have died a few hours earlier, or a few weeks later, and not caused me to be down for more than two weeks.

Ah, well…

As if I Need an Excuse to Eat Foie Gras

Just in time for Rochelle’s and my vacation in France (a mere few months away!), news that the low-fat, lots of grains diet may not be good for you. An article in the New York Times asks whether Dr. Atkins isn’t right after all, and we should be eating bacon double-cheeseburgers, without the bun.

Just in time for Rochelle’s and my vacation in France (a mere few months away!), news that the low-fat, lots of grains diet may not be good for you. An article in the New York Times asks whether Dr. Atkins isn’t right after all, and we should be eating bacon double-cheeseburgers, without the bun:

Willett is the de facto spokesman of the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed, which have already cost upward of $100 million and include data on nearly 300,000 individuals. Those data, says Willett, clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message “and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.”

Not that this was going to stop us from being total pigs in France. My personal goal is to eat foie gras every day I am in France. Every day.