As we head towards spring, it’s time to shake off the winter blues by planning one or two gourmet trips to France. And there is no better place to start than the world’s number one region for sparkling wine production – Champagne. Whether you are visiting for the first time or you know the region well, there is always something new to discover.  The two main towns of the northern Champagne region in the Marne are the small provincial town of Épernay, completely surrounded by vines, and the larger city of Reims, featuring one of the most impressive cathedrals on the planet. 

© Richard Esling

Getting there from the UK is easy: Reims is 3.5 hours’ drive from Calais and Épernay is about 4 hours. Or if you don’t feel like driving, take the Eurostar to Paris and then the TGV. A car does, of course, have the advantage of a capacious boot and the ability to visit the area more thoroughly. 

In Champagne, there are hundreds of producers to visit, both large and small, but I can thoroughly recommend the following two. Champagne Lallement Massonnot is a Premier Cru Champagne in Coulommes-la-Montagne, currently run by the friendly, young new generation of the family – Marie and Xavier Lallement. Not only do they produce excellent, multi award-winning champagnes, but they run a thriving wine-tourism business, allowing visitors to understand all the work and processes, both in the vineyard and in the winery, which make champagne the wonderful sparkling wine that it is. Start and finish the visit, led by this charming couple, in the tasting room and boutique, where a tasting immediately confirms the high quality of the wines they produce. 

© Richard Esling

A short drive away, nestled in a tiny village with the wonderful name of Bouzy, is another family-run company, Champagne Delavenne Père et Fils, a Grand Cru producer and one of only 17 champagne villages with this classification. Passionately run by fourth generation winemaker Jean-Christophe Delavenne, the aim is to produce seductive, elegant and refined champagnes which ultimately reflect the terroir and grape variety. Going beyond the laudable principles of organic and biodynamic production, Jean-Christophe is developing a vineyard management system with treatments based on mineral elixirs, avoiding the use of chemical and artificial products, thus having the ultimate respect for nature, the environment and biodiversity. Exquisite champagne from an outstanding family grower. 

An interesting comparison is a visit to one of the so-called Grand Marque Champagne houses, such as G.H. Mumm, located on the edge of the city of Reims. Founded in 1827, Mumm is currently ranked fourth amongst the champagne houses in terms of number of bottles sold worldwide. With a vineyard area of nearly 216 hectares in the heart of Champagne, 160 of which are Grand Cru, the company has been making top quality champagne for nearly 200 years. Founded by a German family, G.H. Mumm has always been at the forefront of innovation and in 1838 was the first producer to have grape presses in the vines in order to have the freshest juice possible. The scale of production is staggering as you visit the cellars, the underground tunnels extending for an amazing 28km! Naturally, a tasting is included in any tour and, much as I dislike this overused word, the Mumm Cordon Rouge bottle is iconic! 

© Richard Esling

Start planning your champagne break now and delight in the gourmet tastes of the local cuisine and world-famous wines of this very special corner of France. 

Where to Stay 

The boutique Domaine du Chalet in the village of Chigny-les-Roses, almost midway between Reims and Épernay, was built in 1860 as a hunting lodge for 19th-century champagne producer Madame Louise Pommery. It is now an intimate, luxury guesthouse owned by Champagne Palmer, with five rooms which can be summed up in three words: elegant, stylish and spacious. Enjoy pairings of Champagne Palmer cuvées at the table-d’hôte, with delicious, inventive cuisine which could sit comfortably in any Michelin-starred establishment.  

© Richard Esling

Four-star hotel and spa La Caserne Chanzy in the very heart of Reims, opposite the cathedral, has 80 bedrooms in what used to be the town’s fire station. The hotel’s restaurant La Grande Georgette offers delicious dishes which combine inventiveness with traditional French cuisine, alongside an outstanding wine list, stuffed full of champagne cuvées to suit all tastes and all budgets. To finish your meal, don’t miss a delicious glass of the unusual Ratafia de Champagne, a slightly sweet liquor made from natural grape juice from the champagne grape varieties, with the addition of grape spirit.  

© Richard Esling

About the Author 

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine journalist, writer, educator and consultant. With experience in the wines and spirits industry spanning several decades, he is a member of the prestigious Circle of Wine Writers and an International Wine Judge.

Twitter @richardwje

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  1. A great way to visit the Champagne region is to take a small barge trip aboard the Serenity. Visit lots of different champagne houses and see the area in a relaxing and FUN way to explore. BTW, I am a former passenger, not a promoter!


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