In the north east of France, about a hundred miles from Paris, there’s a region that offers a product which has perhaps become more famous than its place of origin. It’s ironic that the most famous wine of all comes from the very periphery of the wine-growing world, Champagne. A visit to the region will make you eager to replenish your stocks when you return and look out for champagne deals.
The Champagne Region and Its Grapes
The region’s high altitude and low mean temperature make it difficult for grapes to ripen. However, it hasn’t prevented this and grapes have been grown here since Roman times. The chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes have to be coaxed and treated with care, yet the conditions produce grapes that have high levels of acidity and are ideal for producing sparkling wines.
The image we have of Champagne is a true one. The area’s gently rolling hills, forests, and villages extend an open invitation to wander at will, going where the fancy takes you and indulging in a tasting at every turn. The Epernay and Hautvillers region creates plenty of scope for you to visit wine-producing villages such as Mareuil-sur-Ay and the perhaps appropriately named Bouzy and Dizy. Moet & Chandon, Pol Roger, and Perrier Jouet are among the grand champagne houses you’ll find Epernay, acknowledged as the capital of the champagne-making region.
Hautvillers, with its charming flower-bedecked lanes, is believed to be the place where champagne was created. In the abbey here the 17th century Benedictine monk Dom Perignon perfected the methods required for fermenting and bottling champagne. His grave can be seen in the village churchyard, should you wish to pay your respects.
Touring the Champagne Trails
Anyone who enjoys cycling, hiking or scenic driving might wish to explore the trails along the Routes du Champagne. There are various itineraries to choose from including the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs. These are designed to be enjoyed slowly and at leisure and often follow secondary and tertiary rural roads, so make sure that you have an appropriate guide book. With a stirring combination of art deco architecture and Gothic heritage, the attractions of Reims are many, including the 13th-century Gothic cathedral which was once the coronation church for French kings. Also worth seeing is the Musée des Beaux Arts, housed in the 18th century Abbey St. Denis, and its collection of 15th and 16th century paintings.
For wine enthusiasts a visit to the Maison de Pommiers is a must. It’s a popular cellar visit in a huge subterranean complex with miles of tunnels excavated from the chalk. What wine lover would want to miss the chance to walk where millions of bottles of champagne are maturing? Here you can witness the various stages of champagne making by way of a guided tour, followed by an opportunity to make a purchase. The sight of thousands of hectares of champagne vineyards is a heady one indeed. What better place in the world is there to learn about champagne and enjoy an authentic wine tasting experience?
Image by Megan Mallen, used under Creative Commons license.
Margaret Renwick is a wine tourist and local historian. In between touring the world’s wine regions and reading, she enjoys classical music with a glass of rosé.