Ahh… Champagne. That delicate, bubbly deliciousness whose presence is usually reserved for special occasions or to symbolise a celebration of some kind. Or not. If you’re like me that is, and find that the arrival of a Friday night is sometimes reason enough to pop the cork. The first time I remember really developing a taste for (by which I mean, fell in love with) Champagne was around the time of my engagement. Every lunch, brunch, dinner or drinks with friends and family was another opportunity to crack open the bubbly and it was then that my passion for French wine really began.
It is of course, also the famous grape growing region where the sparkling wines under the rules of the appellation are produced. I returned to the picturesque region in June of this year, after an initial visit some years back in a decidedly grey and damp November. Living in London one is fortunate enough to be driving distance from the region, making the absence of airport rig moral for a long weekend trip a welcome change.
We stayed at Parva Dormus in Epernay, a grand 200-year-old mansion with just five beautifully decorated guest rooms run by an adorable couple who also happen produce their own Champagne. Situated on the Avenue de Champagne, it also happens to be the only rent-able accommodation on the street thereby allowing guests claim the illustrious address for oneself – even if it only for a night or two.
This time around, I was adamant about visiting some of the smaller vineyards. Aside from a tour of the cellars and a tasting at Veuve Cliquot (something we missed out on from the last trip, not knowing you needed to book months in advance), we stuck to visiting lesser known producers. We also stopped by a few champagne tasting ‘shops’. More of a cafe-come-bar vibe, these were fantastic places to while away a few of hours while getting an education in the nuances of the different local varietals.
One of these shop which is certainly worth a visit, is Au 36. Situated in the small quaint village of Hautvillers, one of the most famous in the Champagne region, made so by Dom Perignon who was based at the Abbey nearby. Au 36 is a small wine boutique that offer’s a dégustation of two or three flutes of Champagne along with a plate of regional specialties – Chaource cheese, Reims ham, lentils and pink macarons. Spending time talking Champagne with the wonderfully friendly and enthusiastic staff who work here with their encyclopaedic knowledge on the subject, is a truly eye-opening experience.
Another highlight was making a stop by the Saturday morning farmer’s market in Epernay, recommended to us by a Belgian couple who are regular visitors to the region. Called Les Halles, it truly is a feast for the eyes. Filled with excellent local produce from seasonal fruits and vegetables, to meat and fish, exquisite flowers, fresh oysters and well known fine local cheeses such as Maroilles, Chaource and Langres and of course the Boulanger’s stall offering freshly baked baguettes and pastries. The French really do know how to do a farmer’s market properly, and Les Halles probably is one of the best I’ve been to. The perfect spot to fill your basket before heading out for a picnic at a nearby local vineyard. Bottle of champagne in hand, of course.
- Parva Dormus B&B parvadomusrimaire.com
- The degustation at Au 36 wine boutique au36.net
- Tasting and views at Tribaut vineyard champagnetribaut.fr
- If you’re serious about your purchasing, Tyson Stelzer’s The Champagne Guide 2014-15 is an invaluable tool