Champagne or Sparkling? Or Both?

some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?


As far back as I can remember I thought champagne was wine. Sorry I thought sparkling wine was wine, but my grandma called it champagne. In fact it was Baby Duck wine and I owe champagne, wait any sparkling wine, wait any drink you put in your mouth a huge apology for thinking Baby Duck was champagne. Or a drink of any kind. Baby Duck was a big deal in the 70s, the only way I can describe it is extra sweet alcoholic 7-up (sorry 7-up). But my grandmother loved it and I learned to associate champagne with glamour, special occasions, and celebrations. So obviously I wanted in.

It wasn’t until I was 19 I got try try actual champagne. My mom had bought a bottle of Dom Periginon to celebrate a birthday I think. Though my palate was underdeveloped (quite probably from a university diet of Kokanee beer and Southern Comfort, thankfully not together, but still shudder), I loved it. Bearing no resemblance to Baby Duck this s champagne was delicious and unfortunately  for my mother, it is the only champagne she drinks.

I say that because, the world of champagne, indeed sparkling wine are vast. varied, and delicious. I was always fascinated by champagne and learned quite early on that only the Champagne region of France can produce actual champagne. Everything else is a sparkling wine, or a cava, or a cremant, or a prosecco. Well you get the idea. But I didn’t really understand the difference. So I did what anyone would do, set a serious course of study and travel to understand the difference. That is my fancy way for saying, I started drinking a lot of sparking wine. champagne

My first real foray into the sparkling wine arena came courtesy of @benton8tor’s British cousins. My first trip to the UK was in 2006 and we were meeting them at a pub. For lunch. I thought we’d be ordering a beer maybe. Upon greeting us, his cousin ordered a bottle of Tattinger Champagne.( We actually ended up finshing 2 the rest of that day is a bit of a haze) I am still unsure if I was more surprised that the pub carried champagne or that we ordered a bottle for lunch. By the way, I have definitely gotten over the surprise at ordering a bottle of wine for lunch and embraced it. Though I still haven’t embraced the breakfast beer. Teresa poured us a glass and another and another. By this time, my palate had evolved and I was in, in in. This champagne was fascinating. The bubbles were light, with a hint of toast which I later found out is quite common due to the amount of time the wine rests sur lie ( on dead yeast cells). Ok champagne, lets do this.

However my budget can’t afford non stop champagne so I had to try other sparkling wines. I stupidly thought because they weren’t champagne, they’d be inferior, they aren’t. They are just different. I have tried cremants from Limoux in Languedoc France ( the actual birthplace of sparkling wine). They are delicious, light, easy drinking with still those toasty, nutty notes. I loved cremants from both Bourgogne and Jura. In fact I love sitting on a patio in Beaune on a hot day enjoying a Bourgogne cremant. It feels both decadent and light. thumbnail_IMG_0721

The British have really embraced champagne and upon visiting London, we often book afternoon tea complete with champagne (usually Tattinger or Bollinger). Eating those delightful cakes and tea sandwiches with a glass of bubbly is heaven. Sometimes I remember to drink the tea. The Royal Hourseguards offers a fabulous champagne tea. That said I personally love going to the old OXO tower factory that is converted with the fabulous OXO tower restaurant and enjoying a glass of one of their many champagnes while gazing out over the Thames. last trip to London we  found ourselves with sometime to kill before boarding he train at St Pancras. So obviously we had to go to the Searcy Champagne bar. Right in the middle of the station, this bar offers a extensive selection of champagne is a super cool art deco environment. It make you feel special and relaxed. Just like champagne!!! It really is the drink of celebration.

At home, cavas and prosseccos are readily available and I have learned to appreciate the cavas especially. Cavas are a sparking wine from Spain and have similar charactertics to the Limoux cremants. All these cremants,  cavas and California and Canadian sparkling wines (thankfully not baby duck) are made in the traditional method or ancestral (which is different but still recognized) method., which means they are made the same way as champagne,aged sur lie though less time,  riddled, disgorged, with a cuvee ect.. but they have a different climate, soil and grapes (well sometimes).Prosecco the Italian sparkling wine is not made in the traditional method. It is a light bright, sparkling wine and very approachable. It is not my favourite. It lack the complexity and flavours of the other sparkling wine which is appealing for some. Just not me. Either way I have learned to appreciate the less expensive but delicious cousins of champagne and use them for celebrations like Canada Day,melting snow, housewarmings, birthdays, Christmas, and Tuesdays. However champagne still has my heart.

It was this love for champagne that took me to its epicentre Reims. Reims for those of us who watched Max the Mouse cartoons growing up is where Joan of Arc met Charles the Dauphin. It is also home to the Reims catherdral where every French King was crowned. It is also the capital of Champagne and famous for St Remi converting Clovis to Christianity. thumbnail_IMG_0723And it is home to some of the most famous Champagne Houses on the planet. Mumm, Pommery, Bollinger, they are all there. But I had my sights set on Veuve Clicquot. Famous for being led by the widow Clicquot (hence the name Veuve Clicquot) in the 1700s who came up with the idea for riddling racks that ensure we don’t actually drink the dead yeast cells, Veuve Clicquot is rumored to be among the very best.

And it is. The tour led by an amazing guide Sammi Jo explains the difference and the process of crafting these beautiful wines. Champagne is set on a very distinct soil of limestone and chalk with fossilized sea creatures. Champagne is very far north for a wine producing region with less sunlight than the southern regions.  This contributes to a very distinct flavour profile. As well they take their traditions very seriously from the blending of the wine, to the riddling, to the aging to the opening of the bottle. Despite what popular culture tells us don’t pop that bottle. Instead use a towel and gently twist the cork out, you sure hear a soft hiss. This preserves the integrity and bubble in the wine and quite honestly it is much much safer. Also make sure you have the right glass to drink it in. The tulip shaped is best for fully appreciating the champagne. Flute is second best. Though retro and fun, a coupe is a terrible champagne glass and does nothing for appreciating the complexities of this delightful wine. The tour at Veuve Clicquot started with an explanation of the region and the grapes they use  ( only 3  Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) On a 30 degree day and sweating we descended into the chalk cellar and it got cool really quickly. This is here the champagne we will later enjoy starts its life in the bottle. The cellars are fascinating but my favourite moment obviously is Sammi Jo pouring us a glass of Vintage Veuve Clicquot and it is simply the best champagne I  ever tasted. Light with floral and toast with the best bubbles, I finished my mothers as well. I am almost sure she was ok with that. Veuve Clicquot knocked it out of the park. I would recommend visiting the other houses as well. Reims is a beautiful city that has tons to offer including said cathedral with Stained glass made by Mark Chagall. So take time to see it along with the Champagne houses. That said, some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

But for now it is is the end of 2017 and start of 2018. So that means time to celebrate this first year of Vines and Voyages and welcome 2018 with a glass of Veuve  Clicquot of course. Cheers!thumbnail_IMG_0739

Beaune Appétit!

Try more wine, eat more food. just enjoy after all that is why we go to Beaune in the first place.

Beaune the heart of Bourgogne/Burgundy. The epicentre of Borgogne wine, home of the Hospice de Beaune, seat of the former Duchy of Burgundy and culinary mecca. If you haven’t bee there yet, go now. Seriously I will wait while you book your ticket. Ok you are back? Good, so sit back and read about Beaune and get all sorts of ideas for your upcoming trip.


As I am sure you know since you just booked your ticket, Beaune is and hour and a half north of Lyon, 3 hours east of Paris and 2 hours northwest of Geneva. Even shorter by train! And it is amazing. @benton8tor and I have been twice and can’t wait to go again. Beaune in the heart of Bourgogne (the French term, Many English speakers know it as Burgundy but in recent years there has been a movement to reclaim its French name worldwide). Bourgogne along with Bordeaux in the South West are well known as the powerhouses of the French wine industry. And they are very different in their approach to wine. Bordeaux has Chateau, and the Chateau are ranked. In Bourgogne, it is Domaines and the vineyards themselves are ranked.IMG_8971 Bourgogne unlike Bordeaux can have very small vineyard lots and a Grand Cru vineyard can be tiny. Bourgogne is home to the Cote d’Or including the more northerly Cote de Nuit home of the famous Romanee Conti vineyards and the Southern Cote de Beaune home to Pommard and Puligny- Montrachet. In fact some of the vineyards fame eclipses that of the village so the village has added the name of the vineyard to its Village name (see Puligny Montrachet). Famous for the Chardonay and Pinot Noir grapes, nowhere else in France does the terrior play such a prominent role.

Understanding Bourgogne wine can be overwhelming at first that is why I have a handy dandy guide to help you navigate the awesomeness of Beaune so:

  1. Go the Marche aux Vins which should be the first thing you do after you check on into your hotel.because you will want a drink and why not wine? After all you are in the most prestigious wine region in the world (don’t tell Bordeaux though, or other countries after all you don’t want to hurt feelings) Marche aux vins in located in the center of Beaune near the Hospices to Beaune. Marche aux vins allows you to taste 20 Bourgogne wines in the cellars and Abbey in central Beaune. Even better there is a sommelier to explain the Bourgogne labeling, terrior and vineyards so you can really understand and enjoy . what you are tasting.

  2. DO a wine tour. Beaune has tons of tours to pick from but @benton8tor and I chose Vinetours. It was amazing. We went to both Cote de Nuit and Cote de Beaune. Our guide was amazing explaining the history of the vineyards and vines (including vineyards that have been continually planted since Charlemagne’s time) we drank wine in the vineyard ( my fav!!) saw the old huts where the wine harvesters would rest and toured the  domaines. It was amazing.
  3. Beaune Market as I mentioned Beaune is a culinary mecca so go to the market, olives, seasonings, jams, bread,IMG_8986 cheese, produce, goods. It is all here and it is spread out and easy to navigate. the only difficulty in the market is dragging @benton8tor away from the array of mustard.Yes that is right IMG_8985, Beaune is in Bourgogne as is Dijon so Dijon mustard is easy to get and spectacular. Also go to  Emond Fallot for mustard.
  4. Did I mention Beaune is a culinary mecca? Oh I did? well it is. Famous for Bouef bourguignon, Coq au vin, gourgeres, Charolais Beef, Chicken in Mustard and its terrines. Where to start. Well you can go high end such as 21 Boulevard and Le Cheval Noir and your food will be amazing or you can go to an everyday or mid range restaurant and still have an out of this world meal. My personal favourite places to eat were La Grilladine with its Charolais Beef, Boeuf bourguignon, Chicken, Ham terrine and pears in wine. It was delicious with exceptional service.

    Le Brasserie le Carnot has amazing gazpacho, beef tartare, and jambon au beurre. In fact we went here with my parents once and my mom ordered a jambon au beurre  and salad. What she got back was a huge baguette and salad. ‘ How am I going to eat all of this? I ordered too much’ she tells us. We go on enjoying our dinner and she is remarkably quiet. In fact we look over at her and not only dd she finish everything, she kept insisting on finding a restaurants that served the jambon baguette every other place we went. However we finally got her to try the chicken in mustard and then she switched to that instead. She is definitely a creature of habit and a finicky eater so if she likes it, you know its good. Bonus point Brasserie le Carnot has that beautiful French look and feel that makes you feel as though you are in a movie, drinking out of this wold wine and eating delicious food.


    We also frequented le Concorde. It has the very best croissants and features superb (Beaune is so good, I am running out of superlatives) Cremant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne’s sparking wine which is delicate, toasty (I know but it is) and extremely enjoyablethumbnail_IMG_8426. Though my favourite part was people watching, including the locals that went there at 10 am every morning for their 2 beers.

  5. GO to the Villages. This is where you find the wines and the villages themselves are beautiful. Puligny Montrachet is a short drive from Beaune and it should be your first stop. Olivier Leflaive is located here and it is all kinds of fabulous. We booked for lunch and wine tasting. ‘Would we like a tour of the vineyard first’ its probably not appropriate to scream ‘hell yes’ so i settled for ‘mais oui’. The vineyard tour gives a great overview into winemaking process and of course the impact of terrior and micro climate on the grapes. You move onto lunch and oh my gosh go hungry because your five courses will be so ridiculously good and well paired that you will continue to eat and drink no matter how full you are. We had gorgeres, carrot souffle (simply one of the lightest, tastiest, most delicious dishes I have ever tasted) ham terrine, and chicken along with dessert. The wines were perfectly paired. The whites were crisp, citrus and full bodied. the reds were silky, velvety and I wanted more. It is a definite must visit ééééé

You’ll need to stay somewhere in Beaune and both @benton8tor and I recommend Hotel Henri II. It is a beautiful hotel with old oak beams, the nicest bathroom ever and the friendliest service that will dispel any stereotype you have heard about France in 11 seconds. It has an beautiful bar which is a great place to relax and drink some wine at the end of the night while watching the world cup. Side note: probably don’t tell the other guests they are cheering for the wrong team even if they are, it can be awkward. But all kidding aside staff and guests were all kind and we had so much fun.


There is still more to do in Beaune, go shopping, visit the Hospice de Beaune, see more villages, Go to Bourg En Bresse for chicken, Try more wine, eat more food. just enjoy after all that is why we go to Beaune in the first place.IMG_8968

Market to Market to buy a ….

Sure in my case that is mostly wine stores an vineyards but I also do buy other items, for instance one time I bought scotch and another time whiskey.

One of my favourite things about travel is shopping. Not for touristy items and certainly not at malls but at places you can get unique items that capture the the spirit of he town/city/village/country you are visiting. Sure in my case that is mostly wine stores an vineyards but I also do buy other items, for instance one time I bought scotch and another time whiskey. All joking aside, I do love buying regional items whether it be food, clothing, soap, jewelry ect… My visa card loves it too! My bank account? Maybe not. But if you are like me and do like to shop for specialty or regional goods, why not check out the local markets? It is fun, food is amazing and you will find something unique! Here are my top picks for my favourite markets ( though it isn’t in my top 10 a shout out to the markets in Cameroon!)

10. Esperaza France- Just south of Limoux in the Langedoc wine region is Esperaza. Esperaza is known for being a site for pilgrims on their way to Spain through the mountains, hat making, and dinosaur fossils. I however went for the market and I wasn’t disappointed. Esperaza has a sizable market for the own of roughly 2000. The market is busy but not crowed, making it easy to navigate. Full of fresh fruit (delicious!!!! and super refreshing on a hot day) and cheeses, the market did indeed offer hats (you bet I bought one). clothing and soaps. It is definitely worth checking out and he drive to Esperaza is beautiful.

9. Leadenhall Market in London. Though more familiar to Harry Potter fans as the setting for Diagon Alley, Leadenhall is indeed a functioning market and has been since the 14th century where it was predominantly a meat market. Today you will find additional shops and pubs.Cheese at Leadenhall provides cheese and wine tasting with cheeses and wines from around he world.  They know their cheese and the wines and is simply one of my favourite tastings to date. The cheese selection is amazing. After you are done with all that cheese and wine stop at one of the beautiful pubs for a quick pint! and then walk it off.

8. Saskatoon Farmers Market. Saskatoon like many Canadian prairie cities is often underrated. It has a vibrant culinary scene, great hat shopping (sensing a theme?) and one of the best farmers markets. Saskatoon’s market is full of regional goods, prairie specialties (perogies, I know a Polish/Ukrainian specialty but hey the prairie culture loves perogies) and amazing fruits and vegetables including the Saskatoon berry.

7. Cadanet France. tucked away in the Luberon in Provence. Cadanet is a small village with a charming market. the market and parking are easily accessible.thumbnail_IMG_6383 Olives a plenty, lavender products galore, shoes, and produce. Pretty much everything including Laguiole knives and wine openers. Bonus, it boasts a beautiful village church.

6. Chelsea Market New York City. You won’ be at a loss for shopping in New York but Chelsea market, a former cookie factory host some unique designers and products. I bought a fair bit of clothing in the Chelsea market but sadly not a dress that had the sleeves attached the dress itself with holes cut out of the arms and random zippers. I loved it but it didn’t fit. @benton8tor? 4.jpgNot so much, later on in Times Square, someone in a Batman costume passed us, @benton8tor quipped ‘look they are wearing your dress. side note, don’t shop or ea in Times Square but definitely check out Chelsea market.

5. Camden Market London. I have already done a whole post about Camden but suffice it to say, it should not be missed. Full of interesting dresses, shoes, jewelry, food cartIMG_0697s you name it. And of course hats. Despite is recent fire, Camden Market is still open for business and despite the crowds, it is well worth the visit.

4. Marche du Vieux-Port Quebec City. One of my favourite markets ever. Located in lower town, this covered market boasts everything from the Ubiquitous maple syrup to foie gras.  Local produce is widely available. There are specialty items such as jewelry, purses ec.. but my favorite is the wine products from Quebec’s under appreciated wine industry. It is also a great spot to but local liqueurs and beer.

3. Viktualienmart- Munich- Located in Munich’s central square, his food market is legendary. Be sure to try a pretzel and sop to buy some local specialties, it is a great showcase for Bavarian food. Also Munich’s side streets offer one of a kind clothing shops with a distinct identity. I bought many clothes here and loved it. Sadly a did not buy a pai of silver lame sandals/knee high socks that @benton8tor claimed made me look like a reject from an Abba video and were distinctly hideous. @benton8tor has no fashion sense obviously bu 35 euros was too much to pay for socks, even if they claimed to be sandals.

2. Beaune France. The heart of Burgundy’s amazing food and wine culture, Beaune is host to one of the best markets ever. If you like usual products or have an inner gourmet, his is the market for you.Europe June 2010 362 Complete with spices, meats, sauces, and wine, don’t miss this market. They also have locally produced items like clothing ect.. Also after the market you can enjoy wine at the marche au vins or food at any one of the amazing Burgundian restaurants.

  1. L’Isle Sur La Sorgue- France. My favourite market and it is a busy one so go early. tons of local produce , goods and wines you can easily spend hours here. I bought a beautiful silk dress, goats cheese, tomatoes, wine, soap and tea towels so it offers a varied selection. Afterwards have a drink at one of the many cafes lining said river or check out the antiques market full of luxurious French treasures that I cant afford but are beautiful to see.

Honorable mentions to Bandol market in France, beautiful, beachside and delicious. Halifax’s market is equally amazing so check them out.Markets are one of my favourite things to see when traveling, so if you are ready to spend or really just want to absorb it all, check out a market!


Vines and Voyages 5 Fav Restaurants in France

Le Vivier is nothing short of amazing and considering it is a Michelin restaurant, very affordable. The food is updated Provencal. I had a green tomato gazpacho that was out of this world

Often when travelling, deciding where to eat can be a challenge. Maybe you have done your research, read the reviews, and made your plan. There is a lot of value to this approach. You are less likely to be disappointing and it can save time but… you can miss out on lesser known amazing restaurants, you can be disappointed and maybe once you are actually travelling you feel like trying something different. Or maybe you take the other approach and decide to ask locals once you are there or simply scout around looking for a restaurant that looks good. Whatever the approach, they all have benefits and drawbacks.

Eating in restaurants and trying different foods is one of my favorite reasons to travel. In France especially, the food is usually fresh, seasonal and regional. Asking for recommendations is key and staying away from restaurants in tourist areas (i.e. Eiffel tour) is key. I have put together a list of my top 5 favorites.

5. Cafe L’absinthe Paris France. Located in the northern part of the Marais, Cafe L’absinthe is a very local bistrot. The service is especially friendly, the atmosphere cozy and the wine delicious and inexpensive. The food is solid. I had the charcuterie and @benton8tor the lamb. Also try the absinthe!

4. Brassiere le Carnot in Beaune, France has the classic French feel. dark wood, french lighting and wine served in beautiful porcelain jugs. thumbnail_IMG_0704Beaune in the heart of Burgundy is the center of Burgundy’s famous wine and the epicenter for Burgundy’s legendary gastronomy. Burgundy is famous for bœuf bourguignon, Coq au Vin, and more. Le Carnot features local ingredients. In the summer the gazpacho is amazing along with the jambon. Beef tartare is a don’t miss.

3. Still in Beaune La Grilladine offers amazing set menus featuring Burgundy classics. Both the restaurant and the patio offer a lovely atmosphere.Europe June 2010 393 The bœuf bourguignon is delicious as is the parsilined ham.. @Benton8tor swears by the perfectly cooked Charolais beef and scallops. My dad loved the escargot and my mom had the underrated chicken in mustard dish ( You are close to Dijon so…). The wine is incredible ( you are in Burgundy after all) but ask the servers for recommendations to pair to get the best wine experience. My dad and I had wines from the famed cote de nuit which we loved. Desert for me was pears poached in the the burgundy wine. Definitely check it out.

2. Olivier Leflaive. Well we are still in Burgundy. It is a culinary hot spot so it makes sense. If you are violivier-2siting Burgundy make sure to check out Olivier Leflaive. located in the famed Puligny-Montrachet village and appellation, Olivier Leflaive is vineyard, hotel and restaurant and is not to be missed. The 5 courses were paired perfectly with some of the best wines.2014 We started with the lightest gougeres and moved on to a ham terrine with mustard sauce.We also enjoyed a amazing carrot souffle, chicken and desert. We upgraded to the 7 tasting with our meal which included a a few grand and premier crus. Looking for a wonderful French experience, try Olivier Leflaive.

  1. Leaving Burgundy fr Provence, My favourite French restaurant to date is Restaurant le Vivier in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is amazing. @benton8tor had researched Michelin starred restaurants and we decided to give it a try. Away from the main drag in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue le Vivier is nothing short of amazing and considering it is a Michelin restaurant, very affordable. The food is updated Provencal. I had a green tomato gazpacho that was out of this world, followed by a bacon, mozza and tomato soup. My pork course was amazing and my peach and chocolate desert with raspberry sauce was incredible. @benton8tor nicknamed it the space odyssey dessert as when you poured the raspberry sauce on the chocolate sphere, it opened to reveal a peach based dessert inside. The wine was Provencal, light and easy drinking. @benton8tor opted for a rose and pigeon pie. His dessert featured violets from the neighboring Langedoc. the patio overlooks the river and the service is perfect. You won’t be disappointed.

There are many other amazing restaurants in France, I didn’t get to mention but asking locals, restaurants featuring regional specialties, or just going to the market yourself, you are sure to enjoy France and its its world famous food.