A few weeks ago I ventured to the famous Champagne region, one of great provinces in France known worldwide for its production of sparkling white wine. Having drank a lot of wine the night before (though nowhere near the standards of champagne), I had already started the weekend as I meant to go on, expecting to take full advantage of any désgustations (tasters) on offer. According to French and EU laws, only bubbly exclusively from this region by means of the methode champenoise – using the grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier, grown only in designated areas, then aged and bottled following highly complex and strict standards – can be branded as champagne. For example, all cellars must have a temperature of exactly 12 degrees and the sugar content is strictly regulated – the sweetest being doux, then in order of increasing dryness, demi-sec, sec, brut and extra brut. I can now definitely see how champagne manages to claim the honour of being the best. The locals are very proud and protective of this prestigious title – any mention of such absurdity of ‘Californian champagne’ will be met with outcries of protest here.
After a speedy visit to the region’s capital Reims and a gander at its cathedral, we pursued the real goal of the trip: tasting France’s finest tipple. The first cave (cellar) G.H Martel, has impressive medieval cellars dug between the 4th and 15th century with a collection of typical tools and machinery used for cultivating the champagne on display. Here we were lucky enough to have three tasters (doux, demi-sec and brut). I don’t know if all the tasters were starting to go to my head a bit, but there was something quite mesmerising about watching the tiny, titillating bubbles, almost like liquid confetti, flood a tall, glass flute. Our second stop was at Canard-Duchêne, a more modern cellar found in Ludes tucked away in the Reims mountain area. The talk about the production process here was particularly interesting (which I suppose made up for the fact that we were only given one sample of champagne here!) On the subject of alcoholic drinks, I just have to quickly comment on how the French say cheers (santé). I first came across their tradition of staring right into your company’s eyes whilst saying “Tchin” (which apparently represents the clink of the glasses) whilst on an exchange here during sixth form. Even though I am definitely getting used to it, I still admittedly find it rather odd!
After a long, hard day of wine tasting (I know, such a hard like I have being an Erasmus student…), we collapsed back onto the minibus, where the majority slipped into a slightly tipsy nap. Though a simple return back to Paris was not on the cards – whilst happily dozing away, I was rudely awakened as our bus collided into the car in front of us. This resulted in us sitting on the motorway for about an hour, watching angry French men battle it out and angrily swap insurance details, as well as a visit from the police. Seeing as any witnesses had said it was our driver’s fault, we were all a bit nervous when we finally took to the road once again. To make things worse, the bus was definitely jumping and jittering. In fact, some girls protested so much that the driver stopped as soon as we hit the outskirts of Paris and let us all off! A rather eventful end to the trip to say the least!
G.H Martel : http://www.champagnemartel.com/fr/index.php
Canard-Duchêne : http://www.canard-duchene.fr/#/lang