During my last week in Reims, I reflect on what it does best: champagne! Who could leave the Champagne region’s most popular city without a quick sweep of the specialist houses it has to offer?
In 2015, UNESCO granted the champagne industry a protected status. In short, this meant that consumers would only be drinking ‘real champagne’ should it be produced in its designated French region. Champagne ‘counterfeits’ (bottles produced anywhere else in the world) would be known simply as sparkling wine, from then onward. On the other side of the coin, this development ensured that producers local to Reims, Epernay and surrounding communes would be reassured of the consistent high quality of their trade.
When walking through Reims, you are never too far away from a champagne house. From the famous Veuve Clicquot to the lesser-known but equally enchanting Martel, touring and tasting spots are abundant. Only a short train journey away, neighbouring Epernay is home to the globally renowned Moet-Hennessy as well as a handful of smaller-scale, family-run retailers. Each has its own specialities and many offer both cellar tours and tastings.
Perhaps the city’s most decadent champagne house, Pommery is the founder of Brut. Priding itself on this innovation (champagne with considerably less sugar mixed in), Pommery’s cellar tour also shows off its vast collection of art. Why would a champagne cellar house mesmerising art, you ask? The answer is one of a historical nature: the widowed Madame Pommery was not only the pioneer of female entrepreneurship in the industry but also conceptualised the ‘champagne tour’. Unsurprisingly, she envisioned making Pommery’s cellars as aesthetically-pleasing as possible for visitors. This ambition lives on today. For a taste of Vranken’s art (and, of course, a glass of its champagne!) a standard cellar tour with subsequent tasting amounts to 22 euros per person.
Veuve Clicquot, Reims
A five minute walk away from Pommery, the luxurious base of Veuve Clicquot can be found. Much of Veuve’s significance comes through its prestigious brand reputation. The fact that the organisation pioneered ‘riddling’ (a crucial champagne production technique) only adds to its historical importance. Tastings are readily available at the house, as are captivating tours. For those who fancy a glass of Veuve’s finest produce, tastings begin at 12 euros per person and are best enjoyed on the house’s bright yet elegant terrace in brilliant sunshine.
For a low-key tasting and a comprehensive explanation of what you are drinking and how it is produced, Martel is the place to go. Although tours do not operate here until mid-late summer, the 3-glass tasting offered (12 euros pp) comes complete with a friendly connoisseur in a luxurious sitting room. For an alternative champagne experience, away from the grand houses which tend to dominate international markets, Martel is highly recommended.
In neighbouring Epernay, Moet-Hennessy is by far the biggest name in town. However, whilst in the area, a few of the smaller houses are definitely worth a visit. Take Jacquart, for example. A family-run business, passed down through generations, Jacquart offers an informative tour of its chalk cellars and production rooms which are still in action today, in contrast to many larger houses. Whilst failing to compete with Moet in terms of glamour, the pared-back experience Jacquart offers is inherently authentic, presenting a fascinating insight into the life of a champagne tradesman today.