If you’re love the finer things in life, you’re probably a huge fan of champagne. But with so many options to choose from, and a limited selection available in the UK, it can be hard to know whether the bubbles you’re sipping are actually any good.
To help you discover how to drink the finest champagne on the planet, we’ve explored the region of France where champagne is available by the gallon – for a fraction of the price in UK stores.
Where does champagne come from?
Champagne comes from, you guessed it, Champagne! Nestled in the North East of France, the famous wine region arouses the senses .
You’ll find vines parading up hillsides and vertical processions of tiny, sparkling bubbles as your imagination and the intellect are engaged, with the chance to explore Champagne cellars revealing the magical processes that transform the world’s most pampered pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes into this Unesco World Heritage–listed region’s most fabled wines.
This winemaking region surrounds Paris on the northeast side, with the cities of Reims and Epernay often used as visitors’ home bases (heavy-hitter producers like the aforementioned Veuve and Mumm are there, too).
They’re both easily accessible by train from Paris and less than a two-hour ride away, though you can rent a car (or hire a driver—particularly recommended if you plan to drink and not stay overnight).
Where to Taste
Champagne has five main regions, or zones. Stay in Reims to explore the Montagne de Reims, which focuses on pinot noir. This zone makes the fullest bodied Champagnes, often intended to age.
By contrast, base yourself in Epernay to explore the pinot meunier–focused region of the Vallée de la Marne. Pinot meunier is usually blended with other grapes; for example, it’s used with pinot noir to make delicious blanc des noirs. Stay there, too, if you’re curious to see the Côte des Blancs, which focuses solely on chardonnay-based bubbly. This is also used in blends or to make the light, aperitif-style blanc de blancs Champagne.
You could make Troyes your base if you want to explore two lesser-known areas: the Aube, which contributes grapes mostly for non-vintage fizz, and the newish Côte de Sézanne, which specializes in chardonnay-focused plantings.
In Reims, you’ll find the Lanson champagne house. Here, you can enjoy a 90 minute tour and four glasses of the good stuff for just 40 euros a person. A true journey of initiation, the Tour takes visitors through the different stages of the Champagne production process in a magical environment.
You’ll also find the G.H Mumm champagne house, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Geoffroy Aÿ, Trésors de Champagne, La Boutique and Larmandier-Bernier Vertus.
Reims has its own attractions beyond the local wine—its Gothic cathedral, for example—and as a university town, is much livelier in the evenings. Stay in the city center at the historic, 18-room Grand Hotel des Templiers.
There’s a fistful of Michelin-starred restaurants in the city—and though delicious, they tend to be overpriced. Consider eating among the locals at fish restaurant Le Bocal, tucked in the back of a fishmonger, and the funky, deli-style wine shop and wine bar Au Bon Manger.
Club Trésors de Champagne, which is an association of 28 artisan growers is an inexpensive place to buy champagne by the bottle. Here you can buy their wines, plus also the Special Club bottlings that they all make. Prices are really good: lots of fun to be had here in the 20-30 Euro zone. The shop is very stylish and modern, too, and it’s near the large market.
Epernay is arguably the handiest base, as it’s at the center of the region. What’s more, its main drag is the Avenue de Champagne, where you’ll find Moët & Chandon (tip: despite the SNL skit, it’s pronounced “Mo-ET”), Perrier Jouët, Pol Roger, and more.
A new five-star hotel and spa, Royal Champagne, opened this spring north of the town and is owned by Franco-American couple Denise Dupré and Mark Nunnelly, who also own biodynamic Champagne house Leclerc Briant. It’s on a storied site, where Napoleon once guzzled a few magnums.
To buy fine champagne by the bottle, visit Nicholas, a small wine store (38 Rue Saint Thibault, 51200) where you’ll find locally sourced produce from just 10 euros a bottle!
Of around 15,800 champagne grape-growers, some 4,300 make their own wines. That’s so many different tastes and so many human stories, which the international brands can’t match.
If you’re looking to step away from the large champagne houses, curve round the Montagne de Reims, to Verzy where, 18ft up, Olivier Couteau’s Perching Bar is the only champagne bar in a tree. Book on 0033 607 679442, and sit, sundowner-style, on the cabin terrace.
Among grower champagnes, you should also try Eric Rodez in Ambonnay, which makes an unusual blanc de blancs from chardonnay grown there, or the Côte des Blancs–based Henry de Vaugency, where the English-speaking owner Pascal conducts tours personally (his Grand Cru quality wines start at less than €20 per bottle, too).
For more suggestions of standout boutique producers, check Vine Trail. One major advantage to visiting smaller produces like these: The entire process takes place onsite, so you can see the journey from grape to bottle. Larger brands, by contrast, tend to welcome visitors solely to their cellars, where the bottles are stored.