Forgive me for sounding a bit smug. You’ll too when you have been sitting in fashionable lodgings sipping a glass of grand cru minutes away from a prestigious tackle, the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, east of Paris. The mile-long avenue is lined with costly champagne homes, from Moët & Chandon to Perrier-Jouët.
However as an alternative of forking out a fortune, I’m indulging my champagne style on a prosecco funds. That cup of high quality grand cru? It’s from a half bottle I picked up on the impartial producer Mouligneaux-Gourdain for €10 (£8.70).
As for the residence, it’s one in all 4 in a constructing underneath the Bubble 8 identify, every fantastically carried out up with the texture of a boutique resort, but at a fraction of the value, from €95 an evening. They’re extremely effectively outfitted, with a full kitchenette permitting you to self cater on a budget, and, bien sur, an ice bucket and champagne flutes.
A 3-hour drive from the Channel tunnel, Bubble 8 is a good place for me to stick with my son Christian, who has simply turned 18 and is eager to dive into the world of fizz.
One other positive place to remain is Le Logis aux Bulles (€90 an evening B&B) in Verzy, between Rheims and Épernay, which has three fantastically adorned B&B rooms, provides a tour and tasting (€7) and sells Mouligneaux-Gourdain grand cru.
There’s no higher place to begin than the beautiful village of Hautvillers, lower than quarter-hour away from Épernay by automotive. It was right here within the hillside abbey that the Seventeenth-century cellar grasp Dom Pérignon supposedly cried out to his fellow monks: “Come shortly brothers, I’m tasting the celebrities.” He may not have invented champagne, however he did refine its manufacturing, with the assistance of Dom Thierry Ruinart.
We pay homage to each their tombs within the quaint church earlier than visiting the native producer G Tribaut. I may have sat within the tasting room for hours gazing by the floor-to-ceiling home windows on the sea of pinstripe vines. However there’s tasting to be carried out, and though it prices €5 a glass, or €7 for vintages, when you purchase six bottles you get three samples free. Very beautiful they’re, too, notably because the least costly is available in at €20.10.
You’ll be able to style different impartial producers’ wares on the wine bar Au 36 (€21 for 3 glasses) in Rue Dom Pérignon, the place packing containers of six bottles are offered on the similar value charged on the vineyards. My tip can be to keep away from Au 36’s costly dishes and choose up a sandwich or quiche on the bakery and take it to the picnic spot past the abbey.
By now we’re prepared for a tour and tasting at one of many huge champagne homes, which supply a great introduction to the champagne-making course of of their labyrinthine cellars. All of them supply one thing totally different, and on previous journeys I’ve visited many in Épernay and Rheims, half an hour away.
However they don’t come low cost – Moët fees €40 and Veuve Clicquot €35. Among the best worth is Mumm in Rheims, with 15 miles (25km) of cellars divided into areas named after champagne-producing villages (look out for Bouzy and Dizy) branching off the central Champs-Élysées tunnel (€28 with tasting).
We make a day of it by prepare, taking within the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral, its gothic facade dripping with ornament and a few of its stained-glass home windows portraying the champagne-producing course of. Thirty-three kings of France have been topped in Rheims, a convention began when Clovis was baptised there within the fifth century by Saint Remi; you’ll be able to see his carved tomb on the different finish of city within the Basilica Saint-Remi.
Not removed from the basilica is Vranken-Pommery, which has began good-value self guided excursions (€26 with tasting). Whilst you don’t get the identical rationalization as at Mumm, it’s price going to see the big chalk mines quarried by the Romans, which Madame Pommery utilized in her personal sprawling cellars, adorned with monumental chalk reliefs.
Close to the station, the world round Rheims’ Les Halles du Boulingrin market is the spot to seek out someplace to mop up the champagne. I’ve eaten earlier than at Le Bocal with its choice of small seafood plates for underneath €10, so this time we settle right down to beneficiant cheese and meat platters at Cheese Bar for €12pp earlier than taking the prepare house.
Again in Épernay, Mercier provides the best-value excursions (from €20), with its underground prepare experience chugging by a few of its 11 miles of cellars. We gape on the scale of the galleries and admire the statue of Blanche Mercier – the daughter of founder Eugène – holding a glass. Even when you don’t do the tour, pop in to see the big oak barrel within the foyer that wanted 24 oxen to tug it to the 1889 Worldwide Exposition in Paris.
There are a few first rate locations to line our stomachs not removed from the flat; Café le Progrès serves steak and chips for €17, whereas a superb three-course dinner on the Cave à Champagne is simply €27. And also you’re not in need of locations to drink: you’ll be able to benefit from the poshest bar crawl on the earth alongside the Avenue de Champagne, the place most champagne homes supply glasses for about €8.
To get good-value fizz to fill the automotive boot, although, that you must drag your self away from this compelling road. A ten-minute drive away is the grand cru village of Aÿ, and Champagne H Goutorbe, with its excellent excursions and tasting for simply €10. We tour the press, storage vats and rows of bottles within the cellars with Madame Goutorbe, whose husband’s household has been making champagne for the reason that Nineteen Forties whereas their vine-grafting enterprise dates to 1918. Their Brut custom (€21.50 a bottle) is available in on the even cheaper charge of €19.50 when you purchase six.
One other grand cru village, Cramant, quarter-hour from Épernay, has lengthy featured on any journey I make to the area, as a result of it’s house to Voirin Jumel. Their scrumptious brut prices €21.50 a bottle, and must you wish to make full use of their wine bar or tasting courses, additionally they have nice (although fairly small) B&B rooms from €74.
There’s one factor price forking out for on this journey, which we save till the tip of our keep. Christian has lengthy wished to strive sabrage, the artwork of slicing off the tip of the champagne bottle with a sword.
And so up the Avenue de Champagne we go one final time, to Comtesse Lafond’s turreted chateau to strive sabrage. Lafond provides this with three tastings for €60. First up, within the atmospheric cellar with its wall of 53,651 bottles, Christian pulls off the feat with aplomb, and celebrates by elevating his first glass. My very own try, exterior the spectacular Nineteenth-century chateau, takes significantly extra time.
I’m about to surrender when, lastly, there’s a satisfying pop because the fuel escapes from the sliced-off bottle high. It’s a unbelievable, fizzing finish to a bubble-filled journey.
The journey was supplied by Marne’s company for tourism and by Eurotunnel