“It takes years of effort for a few minutes of pleasure”, our sommelier at Moet & Chandon said; as we toured the cellars of the largest champagne producer in the world. A brand which is synonymous with “Champagne” and its history, its rigorous making process and the charm associated with it.
A trip to the Capitale du Champagne
Epernay, the capitale du Champagne, situated in the heart of the champagne growing region is the perfect place to explore the wineries and taste the finest creations of some of the best and the oldest champagne houses.
When in Paris, please do not fall into the trap of any organised champagne tasting tours; they overcharge and offer limited freedom to explore and discover your own favourite champagne house. Take a train (it is just an hour and a half ride from Gare de l’Est station) and explore the town on foot.
Stay at Comfort Suites located at the end of the town. It offers comfortable studio and duplex rooms and great views of the surrounding vineyards. It is easily accessible by public buses. Note: Public buses shut operations at 8 pm every day.
Why every Champagne you're drinking isn't Champagne
Too often people use the word “Champagne” as a generic term for sparkling wine they consume (Even I did, until my encounter here). Beware! It is a huge misconception. Only and only the sparkling wine produced from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of France (a small wine growing region north-east of Paris) can be called a “CHAMPAGNE”. Not only that, there are strict rules that the producers need to follow; these are related to the types of grapes used (Only three varieties are allowed Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier), the fermentation process (second fermentation must happen in the bottles for at least 3 YEARS) and many other standards which are regulated and monitored.
What you see and what is hidden
The Avenue de Champagne in Epernay is one of the most prestigious avenues in the world. However, this iconic UNESCO listed street has two sides to it, one which you see and another which you don’t.
What you see: Rows of luxurious mansions which are home to the world’s top champagne houses.
What you don’t see: 110 kms of cellars and caves housing more than 200 million bottles of champagne. A few years back, one of the houses even hosted a car rally in its cellars without breaking a single bottle!
To see what is hidden, take a dégustation tour which these houses offer (had to check google for this one: Dégustation is the careful, appreciative tasting of various foods, focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company).
We have listed down the names of a few we visited and liked :
Every second in the world there is a bottle of Moet being opened : No wonder, Moet and Chandon are the largest champagne producer in the world. Their “Traditional Cellar Tour” (Cost EUR 25 / person, pre-booking required on the website) is a perfect start to your bubbly sampling extravaganza. The celebrated brand is built on a strong foundation of a rich history of champagne-making and the passion and pride of its employees of serving the best champagne in the world. The guided tour gives an incredible insight into the peculiarities of their production process and gives access to their chalk-cellars, which are the largest amongst all the houses and of course the best part: the tasting of their flagship Imperial Brut collection. The Imperial Brut priced at EUR 35 which is an absolute bargain of a souvenir to take back home when compared to its exorbitant prices back in India.
The house with a watchtower : Champagne De Castellane house is instantly recognisable; their tower is a solitary figure in this town of low-rise mansions. Their tour (Cost EUR 14 / person, no pre-booking required) gives you access to the watch tower which gives an excellent view of the town and the surrounding valley layered with grapevines. Being a smaller house, their tour gives a deeper insight into the production process. We could actually see the wine-blenders and the champagne being bottled and shipped in front of us. Come here for the breathtaking views of the city and detailed wine-making process guided tour. One thing struck me after the tours; every house has their unique own process, which makes their end product unique.
Is to choose your next destination for champagne dégustation; if you are SOBER enough and have some more time to spend.
We have a few recommendations (You can also check with the tourist office located right outside the train station; they have a very helpful English speaking staff):
Champagne Charles Mignon: A boutique family-run house; they produce the BLANC DE BLANCS, a variant made with only a single type of grape. It's a must try, we were advised by the locals.
Boizel: A house with rich history, only opened its doors to public in 2018.
Georges Cartier: Located right beside Moet and Chandon; its opened until 7 pm; quite late compared to others which shut around 5 pm. Save the good one for the last.
Refuelling Stations, Bon Appetit !
Rarely do these champagne houses serve food, so you are bound to get hungry in the middle of this adventure. These are some recommendations by locals that we tried and tested :
- Les Gourmandises d'Amaelle offers excellent pastries and baguette sandwiches.
- Jean Jaurès Pizza has exotic (with aubergine and artichokes) and very large vegetarian pizzas at a great bargain (For EUR 9.9); undoubtedly the best pizza-place in Epernay. To top it, the owner goes out of his way to make sure you enjoy the pizza and the place.
Eh! Care for a little hike
Naturally, being in the centre of the grape growing region, Epernay offers hiking opportunities in its picturesque “Vineyard Slopes”.
The Chemin de Ceinture road on the outskirts is surrounded by vineyards with breathtaking views of the town below. It is a tough climb though and we weren’t ready for it; however, the view was worth it. Please stock up on some water and food and of course be ready with your camera at hand.