A Day in Champagne Country

It is time, my friends, to talk about Europe.

There’s no real explanation on why I’ve held off on telling you all about the beauty that is France, Switzerland, and Italy, but that writer’s block has passed, and I’m ready to tell you all about the Old Country.

I’ll start off with Reims.

When roundtrip tickets to Paris are only $400, what do you do? You book tickets to Paris, that’s what you do. After a memorable study abroad trip, l’Italia era nella mia mente, and I finally found an inexpensive ticket to get there.

I knew I had many options of how I was going to travel, but I knew my best bet would be by train. After all, there’s fast trains all over Europe. I knew the one from Paris to Florence would take a day at least, so we decided to make a trip out of it. Starting with a little break to ease our jet lag in Reims.

Reims, France

Pronounced RAHMs, this quaint little town’s main attraction is living in the heart of Champagne country. I know that the meaning of “Champagne” has been lost in translation as some of you consider it as any kind of fancy white bubbly. NO. Erase that debauchery out of your head at once. In French wine country, wines are known and honored by region, and Champagne is no different. Only wine grown and bottled in Champagne can be called Champagne. The perfect trifecta of the grape varietals Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, Champagne used to only be exclusive to the elite and the royal.

Reims was relatively easy to get to by French TGV (their fast train line) from Charles De Gaulle Airport as they have a train station at the airport. We exchanged trains at Marne la Vallée Chessy (aka Disneyland Paris) which then took us to Champagne-Ardenne. From Champagne-Ardenne, we took a quick regional train to Gare de Reims, only a ten minute walk from our Airbnb.

Reims was quiet at night, but by morning was bustling with pedestrians and bikers who, I kid you not, seemed to all be carrying loaves of crispy fresh baguettes. We ate at Maison et Tartine, which also doubled as a boutique decor shop, making our breakfast super homey. We made the mistake of thinking we could just go to these grand Champagne houses and pay a tasting fee like we do in the States, but no. You must make a reservation or book in advance. Honestly, I really didn’t plan our day in Reims as it was only a stopover, but we did want to drink bubbly as what else are you supposed to do in Champagne country?

Champagne tasting & history lesson in Veuve Clicquot’s crayère cellars

We snagged an English-speaking tour at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin where we ventured down into crayère (chalk) caves that Champagne bottles are stored and rotated. As we sipped on flutes of their peachy vanilla Yellow Label Brut, our lovely tour guide told us the story about widow Lady Clicquot, a business woman who made the best of her circumstances after inheriting a dwindling vineyard in 1805. After, we checked out their Insta-worthy boutique shop and personalized airstream trailer.

Our tour guide then pointed us in the direction of this amazing growers champagne tasting room called Trésors de Champagne. In the past, Champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot, G.H. Mumm, and Moët & Chandon would collect only the best harvests from surrounding French vineyards, but in the last fifty years, those same vineyards are making a name for themselves by developing their own concoctions of bubbly. At Trésors, you could opt for a flight, glass, or bottle from their library of only growers champagne. Needless to say, after an afternoon of Champagne, we passed out at our Airbnb (only to wake up at 10 p.m. and cure our bubbly coma with moules frites, or steamed mussels and fries, at l’Édito.)

Trésors de Champagne’s interactive tasting room had informative bottles you could pull from the ceiling that coincided with its library and regional map of Champagne, which took up the entire floor.

Next on the blog: The Swiss Alps

Get Schooled on Champagne at Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club

Photo courtesy of Lori J Photography
If you haven’t been to RiNo’s Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club5280’s 2017 Top of the Town pick for Eatertainment—here’s an excellent reason for you to check it out: Champagne School. Nocturne co-owner and sommelier Scott Mattson and Breakthru Beverage sommeliers Sam Heider and Adam Vance debuted the class series in July, covering topics such as rosé and grower’s Champagne. Sadly, all of the summer classes are sold out—but there’s still time to make it to the last installment. The final(e) class, which will focus on Champagne winemaking traditions and the art of food pairings, takes place on October 29. This don’t-miss event features a four-course meal by chef Greg Weadick, ample bubbly tastings and pairings, and a set of tunes from vintage-jazz musicians Annie Booth and Matt Smiley.

Nocturne began holding cocktail classes earlier this year, but the new Champagne classes give Denverites the opportunity to dive deep into the terroir and culture of the famed French wine. As founder and co-owner Nicole Mattson says, “It’s a fun opportunity to educate the people of Denver on why it’s a lifestyle splurge.”

At a recent Champagne introduction course, I was welcomed to the chic, industrial venue with a flute of prosecco. While I was initially befuddled—why on earth would wine experts serve prosecco at a Champagne class?—the Italian sparkling wine served was a teaching moment. Prosecco’s quick process from harvest to glass can’t touch the complex flavors produced by the time-consuming methode traditionelle of true French Champagne. Soon, we were sipping samples of crisp, apple-y Nicolas Feuillatte and yeasty, effervescent Charles Heidsieck, nibbling on black lentil falafel, charred corn and smoked hominy fritters, and black cod croquettes, and jotting down tasting notes as our knowledgeable instructors shared their expertise. At the end of the class, we voted for our favorite sips; the winning bottle of bubbles from each class in the series will be featured at the October 29 dinner.

Written for 5280.com. Find the original blog post here.

Eat, Drink, and Be Family at Balistreri Vineyards’ Showcase Wine Dinner

Perhaps you’ve been to Balistreri Vineyards’ 17-year-old north Denver tasting room for glasses of Colorado-sourced wine or an Italian-inspired lunch. But you may not know about its outstanding seasonal wine dinners, which owner and winemaker John Balistreri launched 13 years ago.

You can experience one for yourself at the family-owned winery’s lush garden this Friday, August 4. The Showcase Wine Dinner promises six courses from chefs Ariana Pope and Chris Teigland, veterans of Blackbelly Market and Honor Society Hand-Crafted Eatery, respectively. They’ll be preparing summery dishes such as tuna carpaccio, Talbott Farm peach caprese, a play on surf and turf involving Snake River Farms wagyu beef and butter-poached lobster, and a sweet Olathe corn custard. All will be served on grandson John Domenico’s ceramic plateware, baked in a 30-foot Japanese kiln a few hundred yards away from the winery.

Of course, there will be wine, and lots of it. Balistreri plans to break out library wines as well as a never-before-released orange-style wine, which gets its color from the skins of white grapes that are left on during the fermentation process. At a recent spring barrel-tasting supper, my fiancé and I (and 108 others guests) were wowed by Balistreri’s fruit-forward 2016 Colorado Syrah, the green pepper notes of the 2016 Colorado Cabernet Franc, and the bold, oaky-vanilla flavors of the 2016 Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon. All are made with grapes sourced from Palisade vineyards and will be available in the tasting room this fall. Between the delicious food, familial hospitality, and award-winning wines, it was an experience that I look forward to repeating.

Written for 5280.com. Find the original story here.

Smart Sips: Adrift’s Macadamia Nut Chi-Chi

Colorado may be landlocked, but island-inspired Adrift Tiki Bar in the Speer neighborhood manages to deliver a slice of beachside heaven. That’s especially true now that the serene enclosed patio is open for the season, with its brilliant hula dancer mural (by Denver graffiti artist Jolt), grass-hut awnings, and piping-hot lava rock fire pit. Nothing pairs better with patios than cocktails, and you’ll definitely want to soak up the warm weather with Adrift’s macadamia nut chi-chi in hand.

Read more about this boozy cocktail here. Written for 5280.com.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem’s Dry-Hopped SB

Once upon a time, oenophiles might have have turned up their noses at the prospect of canned wine. Indeed, when RiNo-based urban winery the Infinite Monkey Theorem released its first line of canned vino in 2011, it had to convince consumers that its red, white, rose, and moscato were all just as good as their glass-bottled counterparts. Fast forward to 2017, and TIMT is still innovating: Winemaker and founder Ben Parsons defied convention by adding Citra hops to California Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc (SB) grapes at the end of the fermentation process, rolling out the groundbreaking dry-hopped SB this past February.

Written for 5280.com. Read more about Infinite Monkey’s canned brew here.