'The Amazing Race' Pit Stop Fiver: That Part of France Where Champagne Is Made
Friday, March 19, 2010
This week's episode of The Amazing Race keeps us in France, but unlike last week--where low-flying planes and explosions were the norm--we'll have a considerably quieter leg. Surely you've seen the promos. Wine bottles, wine glasses, wine corks... crashing, crashing, crashing down.
We're headed to the French city of Reims this week, one of the centers of champagne production--and a very important city in the country's history. So, with the help of trusty Wikipedia and the spoiler forums, here's five bits that will set you up for Sunday's leg. You might've guessed I'll talk about champagne.
They're pretty strict about which wine gets called Champagne. Champagne, after all, is the name of both the wine and the region where it's grown. The winemaking community there has set really strict rules governing every aspect of Champagne production--from the types of grape to be used, to the time spend processing those grapes. Only sparkling wines produced in Champagne, from grapes grown in Champagne, can be called Champagne. The rest are just sparkling wine.
You can say Champagne is made underground. The fermentation and aging process is usually made inside caves and tunnels, some dating back to Roman times. (After all, the first wines in the region were made by Roman monks, although they aren't exactly modern Champagne as we know it.) I think one of this leg's tasks will be done under those tunnels.
Reims may not be the capital, but it's the center of many things. Of course, Paris is the capital of France. But Reims isn't the capital of the Champagne-Ardenne region nor the department (roughly our county) of Marne, and yet it's of such historical importance. A major city during the Roman period, Reims became an important part of French monarchy, as the Cathedral of Reims is where the coronation of new kings are held. Years later, Reims was witness to the German forces' surrender to the Allied forces.
It's all because of this little vial. The Cathedral of Reims was home to the Holy Ampulla, a glass vial that contained the oil used to anoint the new kings of France. Legend has it that it was found near the remains of St. Remigius, and was used to baptize the first Christian Frank king. It since became an important part of the French coronation, until it was destroyed during the French Revolution. A fragment of the original is now within the Saint Ampoule, or holy flask.
And, of course, Joan of Arc. Reims was, of course, where Joan of Arc brought Charles VII to be named king of France. Here's one thing bugging me, though: is she from Arc? She was born in the village of Domremy, so no. Turns out her father was named Jacques d'Arc, and it's understood that English translation of his last name somehow amounted to "of Arc". To complicate things, she did not use that last name when she lived.
So, when you drink Champagne one of these days, think of these things, and realize it's a really, really, really complicated process. The war would've destroyed the grapes, for one.
(Image courtesy of France.com)