Monday, December 17, 2012

Follow the bubbles: tours for champagne lovers

Accept no imitations! Remember, especially when buying champagne online, that only the sparkling wines produced in the region 100 miles from Paris in the North East of France have the legal right to be called Champagne. For those who develop a passion for the drink of luxury, there can be few finer holidays than a visit to the region. These itinerary suggestions could help you get the most out of a tour, or at least get an idea of what’s behind your bottle next time you buy champagne online.

Reims and Montagne de Reims to Epernay via Hautvilliers Champagne is one of the most northerly of all wine growing regions, and its largest town Reims is in the north of the region. It is home to Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot and many other houses. Fortified by a few tastings, you can then follow the region’s official Champagne Tourist route up into the Montagne, where grapes mainly grow on the north facing slopes with Pinot Noir the predominant variety. There’s a very good reason why you should pass through the village of Hautvilliers on your way into Epernay. None other than Dom Perignon was from the village – and legend tells that the Benedictine monk was among the first to make a still wine sparkle. Epernay is the perfect place to finish a tour of Champagne. The pretty town is known as the capital of Champagne, and its ‘Avenue de la Champagne’ is home to most of the great houses. There are over 100 kilometres of tunnels in the chalk rock, housing treasures of the champagne world which are yours to be explored – and perhaps tasted too.

Sezanne to Epernay via le Chateau de Montmort For a different take on the Champagne trail, start in the less populous southern end of the region, in the picturesque town of Sezanne. Smaller producers such as Maurice Dugard and the Pinard family will take you on intimate tours of their houses here. There are 5,000 champagne producers in the region, and these smaller ones – often working with unusual grape combinations – are able to challenge the greats, as Pinard proved by winning the independent growers competition in 2011. Travel north out of Sezanne and en route to Epernay stop at the magnificent Chateau de Montmort. Open to visitors, the turreted fairy tale castle dates back to the 11th century, and is surrounded by vineyards.

From there it is only a short drive into Epernay, the Champagne capital, where the great houses of the Avenue de la Champagne await to reveal their contents and send you home with a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye.

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