Day 6: Picnic.Paillard.Party.

What do you do on a morning there’s no winery appointments? You get out in the vineyards.

We grabbed a bottle of Champagne from the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and we went straight to most famous vineyard in that village. The Clos de Mesnil is arguably the most famous vineyard in Champagne and one of the greatest bottles comes from it, produced by Krug. A bottle of Krug Clos de Mesnil can sell for upwards of 1000 dollars on release, and with age will go for much more. It’s a quiet patch of land surrounded entirely by the village, and totally walled in. We climbed a grassy knoll near the vineyard, popped that bottle of cellar-temp Champagne, (it wasn’t Clos de Mesnil) and drank it overlooking that sacred ground. There's something to be said for drinking Champagne that isn't ice cold. The flavor and aromatics are enhanced, and if you think about it you're drinking Champagne the way everyone in history ever drank Champagne up until refrigeration became commonplace.

We took the opportunity to drive around some more vineyards, taking in the great vistas of the Côte des Blancs- the region where some of Champagne’s greatest white wines come from. It’s actually illegal to plant Pinot Noir in the Côte des Blancs.

We got hungry and it just so happened that we found a butcher shop across from a boulangerie in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. We scored some country bread, head cheese, and a whole roast chicken. We drove through the high woods back to Avize, and found a picnic bench overlooking the vineyards. Picnicking is a national pastime here and we partook heartily.

Later it was time to head up to the city of Reims for a visit with our friend François Colas, who is the sales director for the house of Bruno Paillard Champagne. We toured the winery, scored some tastes of awesome vin clairs and Champagne, and then headed into downtowns Reims. The cathedral is a sight to behold. You can see its imposing bulk on the skyline as you drive in. I’ve seen Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Milan Cathedral and St. Francis of Assisi, but I have to say Reims is the most impressive façade of any of them. It’s just breathtaking, and even a little frightening.

I had a chance encounter with my friend Jim, who passed the MS exam with me last October. We got Champagne in the square and hung with with some friends in front of the cathedral, then François invited us to his house for dinner. It just so happens that his house looks out on the cathedral square, so we had a view for dinner all night long. We popped good bottles, ate François’ slow-simmered veal blanquette, and enjoyed one another’s company. Even in a country with lots of great restaurants, on a trip with lots of great meals, the chance to have a home-cooked meal is always very welcome. I’m grateful for friends in faraway places. Tomorrow it’s off to Paris, and then back to Seattle. Champagne was good to us.