During our stay in Paris we did two amazing day trips to the Champagne region; most specifically to Epernay and Reims.
I learned to enjoy (real) champagne from Paul and his mates. One of the reasons why we included this part of the itinerary in our trip was because Paul did it with them 4 years ago, right before we met. This was a massive highlight of our trip! I got so involved on the heap of information we received about how champagne is made and the history of it all that I started considering taking a sommelier course when we get home :D. Let's see!
So anyway. Having booked it all very long in advance (thanks to my well-prepared husband!! <3), we were able to visit a few famous champagne houses. I'll report the facts in a non-chronological manner, because I wanna take this opportunity to make this post a recommendation on how to visit the champagne region when you get the chance!
1. Go to Epernay (the capital of Champagne) and start your day at C-Comme. CComme is a champagne tasting house, which serves only genuine champagne from the 'cru'*** chateaus in the region. It's great to start here because for about 10-15 euro you get to taste different blends of champagne and compare their taste. With that you start to find out which type(s) you like best, e.g. Chardonnay only (or blanc de blanc as they call it), 50-50% pinot noir and chardonnay or more of one than the other, or even the amazing rosés! It's cool to know what you like before you start a massive tasting journey, because after a couple of champagne houses you might start feeling like they all taste the same, but really you're just tired! At C-Comme you can also purchase the bottles of what you like best for a fair price - which is great for the following nights of your trip. We left Ccomme with 9 bottles!!!
2. After C-Comme, head to Chateau Mercier. Mercier is a less famous champagne (at least I had never heard of it), but it is actually quite good and this is a house that played a very important role on the internationalisation (does that word exist??) of Champagne. The owner, Mercier, had a vision of making champagne in large scale to export, to make it accessible to the masses. He was greatly responsible for spreading champagne around Europe and beyond, with very innovative methods of transporting and advertising at the time. But the coolest part of it is that this house has a little train that takes you around the 40m-underground cellars, everything is very beautiful and they have audio guides in (almost) all languages! So I guess I would say, if you're a real beginner in the champagne tasting business or if you have children with you, do this one and skip the rest.
3. Billecart-Salmon. This one is in Reims, another very important city in Champagne. Their champagne is amazing and very famous, so they restrict the visits quite a bit. I'm not sure how Paul managed to get us a visit, so if you're really interested let us know and we can try to help :). I recommend this to be the second visit (even though it is in another city) because they show some details about the production of champagne which I didn't see in any other house. They take you to the vineyard, where you can see the grapes and the sheep that eat the weeds and poo to fertilise (it's all organic in their production!!). They show you around the fermentation barrels, the production of the actual wine used in the blends, they explain about what they do with the residues of their production and everything. It's good to do this one at the start as well because you're a little fresher and probably able to absorb more information - it's a lot, but it's fun if you're interested like I was.
4. Back in Epernay, Möet&Chandon! It's cool to attend this tasting when you already understand a bit about the production. Because you can see how special their production is and what makes the difference between Dom Perignon (their Grand Cru) and Möet&Chandon itself. Our guide in this tour for me seemed to be the most passionate about champagne. It was a great experience, and I think you start appreciating champagne a lot more just from understanding what a massive effort is involved in the production of each bottle. Especially when it's a vintage bottle. :)
5. Best for last: Ruinart! This is definitely the coolest tour, the most beautiful chateau and the tastiest champagne. It is also the most expensive tour. :P But if you have the time and the $, please please do it! After having learned about the general champagne production techniques, it's very interesting to learn about the unique ways adopted by Ruinart, and to learn about their history too. Ruinart is the most ancient champagne house, and great part of their caves (or underground cellars) were dug by the romans in the 3rd century! You get to visit those 2k-year-old rooms, they're just breathtaking. And at the end you get to taste their amazing champagne, including their vintage! it's really really special.
I'll share one very cool learning point I had during this trip. Möet&Chandon, the most popular brand of champagne in the world, is commonly pronounced wrong by English speakers (I should say, non-French speakers). I learned about their name with the pronunciation 'Mo-ae shandon'. During the visit I noticed that the guide pronounced it differently, so I asked him to teach me. I'll try to reproduce it; it's: 'm'wet-ashan don'. The [ö] is a very short, almost muted sound that has nothing to do with an 'Oh' sound, it's a w - M'wet. And yes, the T is pronounced: M'wet-ashandon. I hope that's clear enough. I loved finding that out! Please pull my arm if you see me say 'Mo-ae' again!
Ok this is getting too long now - I'll stop. Next in line is Bordeaux and San Sebastian!!! :D
***Being a 'cru' means that the grapes are not classified as 'special' or 'high quality' grapes. They're like, the 'normal' ones. That's mostly because the vineyard is not positioned in a privileged spot in relation to daily sunlight, terrain inclination and soil quality. That means that no matter how delicious the champagne produced with these grapes is, it will always just be a 'normal' champagne, because it's 'cru' vineyard. The 'Grand Cru' is the top-notch, the grapes that grow in the best position and with the best soil. Out of the hundreds of vineyards in the champagne region, only 17 are grand cru. The mid-level one is the 'premier cru'. (I hope I remembered that correctly..!).