Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Condé-sur-Marne / Ay

We arrived in Condé-sur-Marne on the boat too late for a champagne tasting on Monday, but we had time to walk around the village. There's a church there, the église Saint Rémy, which looks really interesting, but we couldn't find a way in. The houses are made of stone and wood and blocks of hard earth dug up above the limestone crust that makes for such excellent wine country around there. At every real estate agent's window we'd stop and see if there was anything we could afford - saw some really nice places for only a million or so dollars, and perfectly lovely ones for half that. And there was some discussion about selling everything and buying a boat to live on, especially after we'd met Carin and Graham, the couple from England who are in the process of doing just that. Selling everything, that is - they already have the boat, but they don't live on it full time.

On the way back the weather had turned sunny (though still nippy) and we enjoyed talking with the wife of Noël Potié, where they make and sell excellent champagne. Did we every have bad champagne last week? I don't think so. I wish I'd asked her name. We tasted several vintages and ended up buying two, one made all of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, and the other all of chardonnay. And then we went back the next morning to buy some of the chocolates filled with marc de champagne, a champagne brandy, which we didn't taste. She did however give us sips of ratafia, which from Mom's and my reading of silly Regency-era books we had expected to be a low-alcohol fruit-punch blend with wine of some sort, since in those silly books it's something served to women rather than the stronger stuff, a sweet wine suitable to a lady's delicate sensibilities. Well, those Regency women weren't all that delicate, apparently, or else they were drinking the British version. In the Champagne region, it's an 18-percent alcohol liquor made by combining distilled champagne with sweetened champagne grape juice, and is to be served chilled. It pretty much knocks your socks off. Mme. Potié said that it's dangerously easy to drink and that one glass goes down easily, the second even more easily, and by the third you can't stand up. It's a good thing she only had a tiny bit left in the bottle, otherwise we might not have made it back to the boat.

The buildings are all made of those earth bricks, braced with wood beams and covered with stucco. Some of the houses seemed to be about to fall apart, but none of them were the ones for sale, and it seemed like people were living in them, so they'd have to be more structurally sound than they appeared from the outside.

After staying in Condé-sur-Marne on the way back, we did the easy run back to Mareuil-sur-Ay Thursday, and on Friday morning we went to the market in Ay, before going out on more champagne tastings. Did I mention that we drank a lot of champagne last week? It was absolutely wonderful. I may be switching my focus from cheese to champagne soon.

We bought chicken thighs at the market, and fresh fennel and peas and a leek, and I made a sort of pilaf/paella dish for dinner that night that we ate with salad. We opened up another bottle of really good champagne and toasted our last day in Champagne. I, at least, am already trying to figure out how to arrange my life so that I can go back there. Every day should have champagne in it, don't you think?

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