Wines of Champagne – Reims and Epernay, France
- MUSEE DE LAVIGNE ET DU VIN
This outstanding wine museum, in the comely village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, belongs to the Launois family, champagne-makers since 1872. It displays a collection of century-old winery equipment. Two-hour tours run in French and English.
- CHAMPAGNE DOMI MOREAU
Nathalie and Max run scenic and insightful three-hour minibus tours (in French and English) of their vineyard in Mancy, outside Epernay, passing through local villages, getting among the vines and then finishing with a tasting back at their house. The pick-up point is in Epernay; they can also organise self-guided cycling tours.
- VILLA BISSINGER
You can try champagne anywhere but if you want to know more, Villa Bissinger near Epernay, home to the International Institute for the Wines of Champagne, runs an informative two-hour workshop (in French). Besides covering the basics such as names, producers, grape varieties and characteristics, the workshop includes a tasting of four different champagnes.
Pronounced `moom’, Mumm is a convenient tasting stop in central Reims, founded in 1827. Engaging and edifying guided tours take you through cellars filled with 25 million bottles of fine bubbly and conclude with a tasting.
The headquarters of Taittinger are an excellent place to see a clear presentation on how champagne is made. Parts of the cellars, now Unesco-listed, were 4th-century Roman stone quarries; other bits were dug by 13th-century monks. The maison is a mile southeast of central Reims .
- EPERNAY’S AVENUE DU CHAMPAGNE
This handsome street in the region’s champagne capital is lined with mansions and maisons de champagne. Moet & Chandon and Mercier are both based here; the tours at Moet are impressive, offering a peek into its 17-mile labyrinth of cellars
Food and champagne:
There’s a relaxed ambience at this champagne bar in Epernay, which offers tasting plates and a stash of 350 varieties of champagne in its cellar ready for sampling. The bar-bistro is kitted out with funky bottle-top tables, and plates include rillettes (pâté), regional cheese and charcuterie.
- LA CAVE A CHAMPAGNE
“The Champagne Cellar” is rated by locals for its champenoise cuisine – such as snail and pig’s trotter casserole, and fillet of beef in pinot noir – served in a warm, traditional atmosphere in Epernay.
- PATISSERIE VINCENT DALLET
This sweet dream of a chocolaterie, patisserie and tearoom is the place to come for a champenoise speciality called the ‘Baba’ – vanilla cream topped by a cork-shaped pastry flavoured with champagne.
There are no direct flights to the Champagne region, but it’s around 2’/2-3 hours’ drive from Calais and is easily reached from Paris and its airports. Trains run from Paris Gare de L’Est to Reims in less than an hour and to Epernay in about 11/2 hours (US$47). Direct trains also run between these two regional hub towns (US$15; 22-42 minutes). The best way to get to Troyes is by bus from Reims. To explore the countryside and wine-growing villages you’ll need a car: Hertz has a base in Reims and Europcar is in Epernay.
- WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Les Comtes de Champagne is ensconced in a trio of pastel-hued 16th-century half-timbered houses in Troyes, in the south of the region. Its bright courtyard lobby and flower boxes give it a lovely feel, and there’s a 12th-century cellar.
Sitting handsomely beside the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay in grounds with an outdoor pool, La Villa Eugene is a class act. This beautiful 19th-century mansion once belonged to the Mercier family.
To sip champagne in the lap of luxury, book into Les Crayeres on the fringes of Reims. Manicured lawns sweep to this graceful château, where you can dine in Michelin-starred finery.
- Champagne Savoir-Faire:
Blanc de Blancs: Champagne made using only chardonnay grapes. Fresh and elegant with a bouquet reminiscent of fruits such as pear and plum.
Blanc de Noirs: A full-bodied, deep golden champagne made solely with black grapes (pinot noir or pinot meunier). Often rich and refined, with great complexity and a long finish.
Rose: Pink champagne (mostly served as an aperitif), with a fresh character and summer-fruit flavours. Made by adding a small percentage of red pinot noir to white champagne.
Prestige Cuvee: Usually made with grapes from top-classed grand cru vineyards, and priced and bottled accordingly.
Millesime: Vintage champagne produced from a single crop during an exceptional year. Most champagne is non-vintage.