Champagne, the iconic drink that epitomises refinement, elegance, and prestige. Beyond the status of this century-old beverage, why all the fuss, and what goes into it that makes it so unique?
The Champagne region is the ultimate and exquisite destination for wine enthusiasts, where aficionados alike can explore the region's picturesque vineyards, visit countless cellars for tastings, and learn about the history and art of Champagne making. But remember, Champagne is not just a sparkling wine; it's a symbol that signifies luxury, enjoyed worldwide, particularly for special celebratory occasions and gatherings. Its production and tradition have made the Champagne region an integral part of French wine culture and a global icon of excellence in winemaking.
I started to "get" into Champagne a few years ago when I was finally able to afford it more regularly because, in reality, when you taste Champagne, it's almost impossible not to want more of it. Thanks to the introduction of supermarket-owned Champagnes in the UK, such as Waitrose, M&S, and Lidl, this beverage is now more affordable than ever. However, even still, when you sip one of the proper and well-known brands, there is a world of difference.
A brief introduction into the Champagne region
Just a 3-hour train ride from London, you'll find the Champagne region in north-eastern France. It's known for its rich history, culture, and of course, the famous sparkling wine celebrated for its unique production method and superb quality. In 2015, this region was even designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural significance and Champagne-making practices.
What makes Champagne truly special is the meticulous "Méthode Champenoise" (Traditional Method in English) used in its production. This process involves a second fermentation in the bottle, creating those iconic bubbles. Originally, before the industrial revolution, each bottle of Champagne was manually turned twice a day, a tradition still followed by smaller, independent Champagne houses. A visit to one of these houses will give you insight into the labour-intensive process that adds to Champagne's price tag.
The Champagne region is also divided into various subregions, each with its own unique characteristics. The region's chalky soils, cold climate, and well-drained vineyards contribute to the distinctiveness of its grapes, which are crucial for Champagne production. The primary grape varieties used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, each lending its unique touch to the region's flavour profile.
Pictures: Champagne area, Dom Perignon and a Champagne cellar.
In summary, the essence of the Champagne region is a combination of exceptional sparkling wines, unique terroir, traditional winemaking methods, rich history, delicious food and culture.
What to see and and some of the most famous champagne houses
The region is home to many prestigious Champagne houses (known as "Maisons de Champagne"), which is where each brand produces their champagnes.
My wife and I visited the region last year to celebrate our first anniversary and as cheesy as it sounds, we tried to immerse ourselves in the world of Champagne, if only for a weekend. However, with so many Champagne houses and areas to explore, choosing can be a bit overwhelming. From our own experience, we recommend a mix of the well-known and smaller houses, independent producers. These smaller producers often craft artisanal Champagnes from their vineyards, offering a unique touch to the visit.
But, visiting the Champagne region in France isn't just about the 'wine'. There are plenty of attractions and experiences to enjoy, including beautiful landscapes, charming architecture, a rich history, and, of course, mouth-watering cuisine.
A long weekend is more than enough to capture the essence of the region and will allow you to get a taste of what life in this region is all about. Here are a few recommendations to make your visit memorable:
Épernay: The heart of Champagne and home to the prestigious Avenue de Champagne, where you can find the cellars of several Champagne houses in one street.
Champagne Cellar Tours: Explore hundreds of kilometres of underground cellars of renowned Champagne houses such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Ruinart as well as independent ones, such as GH Martel & Co. All these tours offer insights into the Champagne-making process which end with a delightful tasting.
Champagne Museums: Explore museums dedicated to Champagne, such as the Musée du Champagne in Épernay. The museums provide insights into the history, culture, and production of Champagne.
Champagne Festivals (if you’re lucky enough): Check the local calendar for Champagne festivals and events, which feature tasting and cultural performances. We were lucky enough to enjoy dinner al fresco next to a jazz festival.
Local Markets: Explore local markets in towns and villages for the chance to sample regional products, including cheese, bread, and other culinary delights that pair perfectly with Champagne.
Gastronomy: True to France’s culinary heritage, Champagne also offers fantastic eating opportunities from high-end restaurants to meals at taverns that will take you back on time. We went to Brasserie Le Jardin and had an outstanding alfresco dining experience. Their steak with Foie Gras was an absolute delight.
Pictures: Crab with caviar, seafood platter, steak with Foie Gras
In summary, the Champagne region offers a blend of wine culture, history, natural beauty, and exquisite gastronomy, providing the perfect package for an indulgent weekend getaway in one of the world's most renowned wine regions.