Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Epernay, France

Along the "Avenue of Champagne" in Epernay the champagne houses aren't the 16th-century tilting earth-brick constructions we were visiting in the smaller towns in the hills, but massive marble and gilt mansions with high gates and a general air of "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, Perrier Jouët, and 50 others line both sides of the kilometre or so of the avenue that's in Epernay proper, though technically it stretches out for another several along the D3 road.

We stopped in only one spot, a small storefront connected with the Collard-Picard house, and tasted a flight of their blended champagnes for 12 euros - the first time we'd been charged anywhere - plus a glass of the grand cru Dom Picard made of 100% chardonnay grapes. That was good, but, as we commented with an authentically jaded air of ennui, we'd had better ... we did end up going back to the Caillez-Lemaire house in Damery to get another bottle of their cuvée Jadis because that one was truly excellent.

Tour bus groups were swarming the Moët & Chandon building entrance, but we considered going in there anyway because one of the independent vintners had told us that they have very beautiful caves that date back centuries, and that there are bas-reliefs carved into the walls above the racks of bottles, and that also the ornate mansion above the cellars is all chandeliers and gold, which would be fun. But we didn't want to fight the crowds. Or pay the entry fees.

The town is full of well-maintained 19th-century architecture and 21st-century boutiques, and lots of delis selling prepared foods and bakeries with complicated and delicious-looking pastries. We passed a chocolate shop with intricately molded sweets, like the horse above, and we drooled over the dozens of cold and hot options in the trays in the windows of the traiteurs. The Portail Saint-Martin, a remnant of a 16th-century church, sits at the edge of a small park, and there are fountains in the middle of several traffic circles.

We didn't have picnic gear and the weather was still chancy, so we went back to one of the restaurants we'd passed earlier after parking the car and walking towards the center of town that morning. Le Chapon Fin serves good food at a reasonable price, with traditional specialties like the onion soup that John ordered. They substituted avocado for the soft-boiled egg on Mom's endive salad, and I enjoyed their house-smoked salmon with avocado. We all had the honey-glazed pork ribs for the main dish, and those were quite tasty. No champagne at lunch.

We could have taken the boat up from Mareuil-sur-Ay to Epernay but it was much quicker to drive. I think we would have enjoyed docking there, though, and taking a bottle back to the boat with some of the ready-to-eat delicacies from the shops. That will have to go on the agenda for the next trip.

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