Saturday, May 28, 2011

Champagne Ruinart

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To call it a dream come true seems to understate what I was feeling as we took a long flight of stairs down into the cellars of Champagne Ruinart. The chalk pits are absolutely amazing - you can feel the moistness of the chalk, and almost get a sense of how porous the material is. And then we stepped into the largest chalk pit, about 38 metres or so underground, excavated by the Romans. It was completely dug by hand, and you can still see the pick marks. Extraordinary.

I don't have much experience with Ruinart, and a few things stood out for me after the visit. Of course, these visits give you a much better understanding of the production process, and how incredibly labor-intensive it is. Ruinart makes three non-vintage cuvées, and the two vintage Dom Ruinart wines. The wines spend many years in the cellar before release - the Dom Ruinart frequently ages for more than a decade before going on the market. I didn't realize that there are still instances of bottles letting go. That is, exploding. Take a look at the proceeding photos, and see if you can spot them. Seeing the walls and walls of Champagne is extraordinary. We were told that the bottom bottle in a 10 row stack endures about 4 metric tons of pressure.

The dosage used is quite low, roughly around 6 g/l of sugar. The wines are made in quite a reductive style, which lends itself well to aging, but not to drinking young. There is an entire cuvée of wine which will never be released, and never publicized - it is meant as a heritage to be passed onto future cellarmasters, almost like a historical artifact. It will be a way for future generations to experience past vintages, and study how the wines were made and how they develop.

A portion of the wines are still riddled by hand, to preserve the tradition, but Ruinart makes heavy use of gyropalettes to do the work. They're currently installing elevators, to make the movement of machinery easier. The disgorgement and bottling lines are upstairs. In all, a very sophisticated setup.

Being such an old Champagne house (historically, the first), you get a distinct sense of respect for tradition. Some of the chalk pits were damaged during the war, but they managed to carry on. What an impressive legacy. Back upstairs, shaking off the chill of the cellars, we settled into the salon to taste Dom Ruinart.

DF

Friday, May 27, 2011

Down into the deep

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Finally, we were here. My dream come true. Thirty metres underground, into the depths of ancient chalk pits, to learn about one of the world's greatest wines.

DF

Notre-Dame de Reims

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

So, a short train ride and we were in the village of Reims, the heart of Champagne region. The first thing I wanted to see was the grand cathedral. And what providence . . . we arrived 2 days away from it turning 800 years old. This cathedral has been the site of the coronations of 33 of France's kings and queens. The history alone was inspiring enough, but look at how monumental the structure is, how imposing it all is. Extraordinary.

And not even the locals knew what the spider was all about.

DF

Jardins du Château de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

The gardens out back were absolutely stunning. Reminds you that Versailles used to be the royal hunting retreat. There was a music show at the Fountain of Mirrors, and they were piping some stock Baroque piece throughout the garden. The Apollo Fountain was stunning; unfortunately, it was shut off, as were all the rest of the waterworks. A great example of the classic French-style garden, it's indeed a peaceful, calming place. In many ways, a much more significant achievement than the palate itself.

DF

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In hallways and on pedestals

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

The infamous Hall of Mirrors was supremely disappointing. Too many idiot tourists milling around, spoiling the ambience. The hallways were nice though. Row upon row of royal assholes, wigs and hips at jaunty angles and all.

DF

Château de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

I left this place feeling distinctly underwhelmed. There's very little connection with its (true) history, political intrigue and all. And it's really gold and tacky and worn down inside.

The most memorable moment our entire day was cutting into the line to get in, and avoiding another 2 hour wait on top of the 45 minutes killed waiting to buy tickets. Oops. How do you say excuse me in Italian?

DF

Pyramide du Louvre

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My friend taught me about the subtlety behind the design of the Louvre's famous glass pyramid. A shame I knew nothing of it when I was actually there. It's striking to see the entire Louvre structures in person - not in how they contrast each other, but rather how they seem to oddly complement each other.

I've heard whispers that they've begun the installation of LED lights in the framework of the pyramid. Since our apartment was an 8 minute walk away, we went at night to see the courtyard. No lights, but you can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. No Da Vinci Code moment, but it's very beautiful.

DF

Rock hard

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This is so juvenile but I felt surrounded by penis at the Louvre. In all shapes and sizes and trims. I probably should have been more impressed, but even the Code of Hammurabi, the only surviving example carved on a diorite stele, started looking phallic.

DF

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hey pretty pretty

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They are absolutely stunning from the front, but especially so from the back.

DF

Napoleon's things

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There's a whole wing of the Louvre dedicated to Napoleon's personal effects. Stuff from his apartment, all that. Are people really that interested in seeing the silverware that this asshole used? The French do realize that after he was exiled, he was referred to as the usurper, and that whoever came under the even slightest suspicion of being a Bonapartist was guillotine-d. They realize that right?

DF

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mona Lisa

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What a zoo. An absolute disgrace for what is possibly the most important piece of art conceived by man. And if that's the real thing, I'll give my next 3 month's salary to the inbred imbecile who claimed the world was coming to an end May 21.

DF

La Liberté guidant le peuple

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Admit it . . . if you were a peasant in early 19th century France and saw this, you'd be up in arms too. She's beautiful.

DF