Planets Email Us blog twitter

Discover Champagne

 

Champagne Region

Champagne. part of the region Champagne-Ardenne, is only about an hour by train from Paris through lovely farms and vineyards, chateaux, typical ‘champenois’ timber-framed churches and pretty villages. The region, rich in history and culture, is perfect for leisurely strolls, fine food and sampling the king of all wines that is used for so many celebrations and joyous occasions, Champagne.

The wine made from grapes in this area have a natural tendency to sparkle, but in the late 17th century Dom Perignon, cellar master at the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers near Epernay, discovered that giving the wine a second fermentation could produce a wine that had lots more sparkle. He also discovered that by blending grapes from different vineyards and mixing with wines from different harvests, the overall quality and uniformity improved and became more consistent in character. Perignon was the first to initiate the practice of aging, conserving and transporting champagne in bottles, and he is credited with being the first vintner to use corks to seal the wines and thicker, English-made glass bottles that held up better under pressure.

Key Cities

Epernay, Reims and Chalons-sur Marne, not too far from each other, are the three towns most associated with the great Champagne Houses who give tastings and tours of their cellars.

Epernay dominates the champagne industry with its Rue de Champagne lined with the offices, warehouses, factories and cellars as well as the mansions of the premier champagne producers: Moet et Chandon, Perrier Jouet, Charbaut, De Venoge and Pol Roger.

• Moet et Chandon, founded in 1743, has a walk through its very large champagne cellar and gives an explanation on how champagne is made.
• Mercier is near one end of the Rue de Champagne and has a modern visitors’ center. The tour of its cellars is very sophisticated using a glass-sided elevator down and an electric train to take you through their vast ‘caves’.
• De Castellane in rue de Verdun, offers a more personalized tour accompanied by a "degustation"
• Chateau Perrier, built in the 19th century by Charles Perrier, now accommodates the town museum where you can learn more about champagne production. There is another museum housed in the Maison de Castellane.

Reims is home to some world-famous champagne houses who give tours and tastings:
• Maison Mumm - film, guided tour of the cellars, and tasting
• Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin - film and tour
• Pommery - film, guided tour of the cellars and tasting
• Piper-Heidsiek - tour of the galleries in six-passenger cars with dioramas and explanations.
• Tattinger - tour includes a video, visit to the 13th century cellars and tasting

Chalons-sur Marne is the center of the vineyards producing Blanc de Blancs. It is a picturesque town with canals overlooked by half-timbered houses. It is also famous as the scene of Attila's great defeat in the fifth century, one of the world's fifteen decisive battles.

Moet et Chandon

Moet et Chandon can trace its history back to 1743 when it was established in Epernay by Claude Moet, a wine trader descended from an old family resident in the Champagne region since the 14th century. In the company's archives can be seen an invoice of 1743 when Moet shipped Champagne to Paris for t he first time. The real rise of Champagne was in the reign of Louis XV and became a favorite for romantic suppers for the king and his favorites, including Madame de Pompadour. Moet et Chandon expanded and its Champagne was shipped to new markets: From 1750 to England, then Germany, Spain, Russia, America, Poland, and Bohemia in 1791

In 1794 Claude Moet bought the walls and the vineyards of the former Abbey of Hautvilliers, the same Abbey where Dom Perignon founded the method for producing Champagne. Hautvillers is a charming flower-filled wine village with sweeping views of the Marne River valley, and the Abbey has now been converted into a museum describing the process of making Champagne.

In the 19th century his grandson, Jean-Remy Moet, expanded Moet et Chandon even further afield. by opening up new foreign markets. .Jean-Remy Moet handed the house over to his son and his son-in-law, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon de Briailles. It then took on the Moet & Chandon name.

Taittinger

In 1734, Jacques Fourneaux, a merchant of champagne wines, established the company that would some day become Taittinger. The Taittinger family had its roots in Lorraine, but left its native province in 1870 following the Treaty of Frankfurt and settled in the Paris area in order to retain its French nationality.

Around 1912, Pierre-Charles Taittinger was running a business involved in the distribution and export of champagne with one of his brothers-in-law. After the First World War, a merger occurred between the company, which had come to be known as Fourneaux-Forest, and the Taittinger family, who would ultimately take control. From 1945, Pierre-Francois, the third son of Pierre Taittinger, along with his two brothers Jean and Claude, oversaw a period of remarkable growth for the champagne house. At this time it also began operation in the cellars of the Saint-Nicaise monastery in Reims, built in the 13th century on magnificent Gallo-Roman chalk cellars dating from the second century. Remains of the Abbey, destroyed during the French Revolution are still visible today throughout the tunnels, in an excellent state of preservation.

Pierre died in a tragic car accident in 1960 and since then Claude Taittinger has presided over the destiny of one of the last great champagne houses to bear the name of the family that runs it, himself overseeing the quality of its products in line with tradition.

Mumm

The Mumm brothers, Jacobus, Gottlieb and Philipp, who were from a rich family of German wine merchants and who also owned vineyards in the Rhine valley, arrived in Reims in 1827. Along with their business partner Friedrich Giesler, they set up P.A. Mumm et Cie., the initials standing for the forenames of their father, Peter Arnold Mumm.

Piper-Heidsieck

Florens-Louis Heidsieck was the son of a Lutheran minister from Westphalia. He moved to Reims to work as a cloth merchant, and discovered winemaking there. He started making his own wine in 1780 and founded his own House on 16 July 1785. He dedicated one of his wines to Queen Marie-Antoinette which he was granted the honor of presenting to Her Majesty in person. Piper was exceptionally gifted in business and as an entrepreneur of his time, he traveled the world promoting Heidsieck champagne. Fourteen royal and imperial courts made the House their official supplier, and quite soon, "Heidsieck from Piper"was the only champagne which true aficionados would drink. And thus the wine with quality standards rigorously defined by Florens-Louis Heidsieck himself very quickly became known as "Piper-Heidsieck". In October 1838, the two names came even closer together when Henri Piper married Christian Heidsieck's widow! In 1851, Henri Piper teamed up with his cousin J.C. Kunkelmann.

For the House's centenary in 1885, he commissioned Faberge, the celebrated jeweler to the Russian imperial court, to make a gold, lapis lazuli and diamond ornament to adorn the special champagne created for the occasion. When J.C. Kunkelmann died, his son succeeded him. Then his daughter and son-in-law took over the business, and the House remained in the family. At the end of the 89's Piper-Heidsieck joined the internationally known Remy-Cointreau Wine and Spirits Group.

Veuve Clicquot

Philippe Clicquot-Muiron established Veuve clicquot in 1772. However, it was Phillipe`s daughter-in-law, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot, who really laid the foundations of the modern company. . It is after her that &La Grande Dame& is named, and of course Veuve Clicquot. The world "Veuve"means"widow". She became a widow in 1805, at the age of 27. Madame Clicquot had a young daughter and no knowledge of the business, but she eagerly took control of the organization and did quite well by it. It was she that developed the system of removing sediment, 'remuage', from the Champagne bottles - by cutting holes in her kitchen table! Now it is part of the LVMH Group.

Pommery

In February, 1858, Alexandre Louis Pommery, Reims wool trader, was just starting the Pommery Champagne House when he abruptly died. His widow, Louise, took over the control of the Pommery winery at the age of 39, with two children to care for as well. She built elaborate buildings over her cellars, and developed a brut style of Champagne that the British adored. She brought her winery from a small, multi-wine shop to a large Champagne house, respected the world over. The Pommery estate extends over a large patch of land in the southern part of Reims, called the Butte Sainte-Nicaise.

Drinking Champagne

When to drink:
Champagne can be drunk as soon as you buy it. You can keep the bottle for three to four years after purchase but the wine will not improve. Champagne is something you should not put away.

Storing Champagne:
Champagne is stored for drinking just like any other wine - at around 55F, in a dark, damp location, stored on its side to keep the cork from drying out.

How to open Champagne:
As the pressure in the bottle is so high, it is dangerous not to open the bottle correctly:
1. Remove the foil from the top of the bottle.
2. Place your hand on top of the cork, never removing your hand until the cork is pulled out completely. This may seem a little awkward, but it is very important
3. Take the wire off
4. Wrap a towel around the bottle for safety and spillage
5. Remove the cork gently, slowly turning the bottle in one direction, and the cork in another. The idea is to ease the cork out gently rather than cracking the bottle open with a festive pop and letting it foam. When you pop the cork off the carbon dioxide escapes and the carbon dioxide is what Champagne is all about.

Cooling the Champagne:
Champagne should be served at about 45 degrees. Always chill Champagne in the warmest part of your refrigerator, e.g. the vegetable bin. If you need it quickly put the Champagne in an ice-filled bucket with water. It should be ready in twenty minutes. Don’t put Champagne in the freezer as it can freeze and explode in a matter of fifteen minutes. Do never store in fridge for more than a few days.

Glasses for serving Champagne:
Flute and tulip-shaped glass are most commonly used as the Champagne does not lose its bubbles and flavor as fast as in the old-fashioned wide and shallow glasses.

Buying Champagne

Sweet or dry:
The process of producing Champagne is a long and complicated one. Towards the end of the “Methode Champenoise”, the special process by which Champagne is made, there is a stage called ‘Dosage’ when a combination of wine and cane sugar is added to the bottle. At this point, the winemaker can determine whether he wants sweeter or drier Champagne. The following shows you the guidelines the winemaker uses when he adds the dosage:
• Brut - driest
• Extra dry - less dry
• Sec - more sweet
• Demi-sec - sweetest

Brute and extra dry are the wines to serve as an aperitif or throughout the meal. Sec and demi-sec are the wines to serve with desserts. Pink Champagne, often with a touch of fruit flavors, gains its color from blending white wine with the red wine from the vineyards of Bouzy or leaving the red grape skins in contact with the ‘must’ for a short period of time.

Style
Determine the style of Champagne you prefer, full-bodied or light bodied. The more white grapes used in the blend, the lighter the style of the Champagne, the more red grapes used in the blend, the heavier the style. Also wines fermented in wood have stronger characteristics than those fermented in stainless steel.


Fully-Bodied

Krug - Ruinart - -Pol Roger

Medium-Bodied

Roederer - Pommery - Taittinger

Light-Bodied

Bollinger - Veuve Cliquot - Perier-Jouet

Mumm Charbaut - Moet & Chandon - Laurent-Perrier - Deutz

Vintage:
Vintage bottles, like most wines, are from a single year's worth of grapes. Unlabeled or non-vintage bottles are from a blend of years. ‘Vintage’ in Champagne is different from other wine regions as each house makes its own determination on whether or not to declare a vintage year. Usually each house declares a vintage three years out of each decade.

Prices:

The reasons for the tremendous price difference between non-vintage and 'luxury'Champagne is:
• Made from the best grapes at the highest-rated vineyards
• Usually made from the first pressing of the grapes
• Spends more time aging in the bottle than non-vintage Champagne
• Made only in vintage years
• Made in small quantity, and the demand is high. Price is dictate largely by supply and demand
Champagne that is non-vintage often tastes as good as luxury or vintage Champagnes and is definitely the best value for money.

Vintage Years
Vintage Champagne must be 39 months old before it is sold, that is 3 years after the 1st January following the harvest around September. Many 'Marques' will age their wines for longer than this legal minimum.
1996 - Very good year
1995 - Good year
1994 - Average year
1993 - Average year
1992 - Average year
1991 - Good year

Prestige Cuvées
Most Champagne houses produce a special bottle in a vintage year and these are normally deemed to be "Prestige or Deluxe cuvées". The most famous of these is perhaps Moët's Cuvée Dom Pérignon, and in fact it was Moët who invented the Cuvée Prestige with D.P. in 1921. Prestige cuvées represent the pinnacle of a house's achievement and can be a vintage or occasionally a blend of vintages. They cost around three times more than a Non-Vintage, and around double the price of a Vintage.

Testimonials

Thanks so much for organizing my place on the Champagne tour and the cooking class. I had such a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I would not hesitate to recommend your service to friends traveling to Paris in the future

Thanks again and have a very happy Easter.

Thank you Larry for a nice trip to Champagne.

Please say hello to Elio for us. I think he had a nice time with us 6 girls also... :-)"

 

Champagne vs Wine

bottle of moet
The Difference

First and foremost, Champagne has to come from the Champagne region of France which has the perfect conditions to produce the best sparkling wine in the world. Sparkling wine is produced in many areas and the quality varies from wine to wine. Spain, Germany, Italy, and the United States all produce sparkling wines, some of which are good and of excellent value. Unless it is a very fine sparkling wine, other methods than the "Methode Champenoise" are used.

Champagne Mumm

Champagne Region

Champagne part of the region Champagne-Ardenne, is only about an hour by train from Paris through lovely farms and vineyards, chateaux, typical 'champenois' timber-framed churches and pretty villages. The region, rich in history and culture, is perfect for leisurely strolls, fine food and sampling the king of all wines that is used for so many celebrations and joyous occasions, Champagne.

Cellar at Ruinart

Champagne Cellar Tours

Discover the cellars of one of the most famous vineyards like Moët & Chandon as well as lesser known producers in the village of Hautvillers home of Dom Perignon.

champagne vineyard

Overnight Tours from Paris

Let is create a one or two night overnight package to visit Champagne, its vineyards and wine producers. Overnight stays with private guided day tours start at 350€ pp per night.

 

veuve cliquot vineyard

Overnight Tours from Reims

Reims played a very important role in French history, as the place where the kings of France were crowned. The most famous events was the coronation of Charles VII in 1429 in the company of Joan of Arc.

 

veuve cliquot vineyard

Vineyard Walking Holiday

This hike will take you through the vineyards and villages of the Champagne region where you will discover monuments and curiosities, as well as testimonies of a long and glorious past. This journey will help you to learn about and appreciate the different vintage wines of the Champagne region in all their wonderful diversity.

 

Champagne Cellar

Cruises in Champagne

The Etoile de Champagne as it was called in 1932 when, was built as a transport barge in the Belgian estuaries. During World War II, her bow was replaced with a landing bow so she could sail up on the beaches. She was sunk during the war but later lifted from the river bottom .