You can say what you want, but there is nothing in the world like champagne. Of course there are some excellent sparkling wines, particularly in Germany, but the taste of real champagne is unique. And the great news is that it is not that far to drive to Champagne country. From Kaiserslautern it is about 3 ½ hours or 325km to Epernay. From Wiesbaden, it is a little over 4 hours if you’re driving. From Stuttgart, you’ll need about 5 hours.
Keep your eyes out the window as you will be passing beautiful sceneries along the Marne River, which bisects the region. The “Route de Champagne” (or Champagne Road) is clearly marked and keeps you on the main trails.
Some people casually refer to any sparkling wine from any country as “champagne.” Legally, however, a sparkling wine can only be called champagne if it is made in the Champagne region of France.
Sparkling wine from Germany is called Sekt. If made in Alsace, France, it is called Crémant, and sparkling wine from Spain is Cava. The best known sparkling wine from Italy is Prosecco. None of these should be referred to as champagne.
Classic champagne is made from three grapes: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, but it can be made from only one of these grapes or any combination thereof.
The two main cities in the champagne region are Reims and Epernay. There are numerous excellent hotels in these areas. You will want to stay for at least one night, maybe two.
The first thing you want to do is take a tour of one of the big champagne houses. You have a huge choice: Pommery, Moet & Chandon, Perrier-Jouet, de Castellane, Nicolas Feuillatte and many, many more.
These houses have excellent tours (you must make an appointment in advance):
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (means Widow Clicquot)
Closed 15 Dec to 1 Feb. Call +33-326-89 53 90 or email: email@example.com. A 45 minute visit costs €25. Children are €15. Includes a tasting of two different champagnes. A little expensive, but a uniquely excellent champagne. The story of the Widow Clicquot is interesting. She was a tough lady, well known in French history. www.veuve-clicquot.com
Founded by Eugene Mercier at age 20. He became famous for building the largest champagne barrel in history. The story of how he did it is amazing. This champagne house has over 18 KM of cellar space – the largest in the world. During the tour, an elevator takes you to the cellars almost 100 feet below ground. A laser guided train glides through the underground labyrinth and you listen to an audio guide to hear the story. A visit costs €11; kids 10-17 cost €5; children under 10 are free. Closed 17 Dec-10 Feb. www.champagnemercier.fr/en
The first established champagne house in 1729 by the nephew of the Benedictine monk Dom Ruinart. They specialize in champagne made from chardonnay grapes. www.ruinart.com
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte
CD 40, Plumecoq, 51530 Chouilly. Tel: +33-326-59 64 61. This is a large, well-known house. Great reputation. Must have appt to make tour and tasting but good price: tour with one tasting €5.50, with two tastings €8.00. www.nicolas-feuillatte.com/en/
Once you have done a tour at one of the bigger houses, you are ready to go off on your own. The smaller house will let you taste champagne without charge; the larger ones usually charge a fee. You don’t always need an appointment, but it is a good idea to make one.
Here are some good champagne houses where you can meet the owners, listen to their family history, and taste some great champagne at reasonable prices (€13 to €17). They do not charge for a tasting but it would be a good idea to buy some if they open a couple of bottles:
Mignon Pére & Fils
This is our favorite, especially the rosé champagne. 5 Rue du Banc de Pierre, 51480 Venteuil. Tel: +33-326-58 48 90. www.champagnemignon.com.
Champagne Gonet Sulcova
Interesting family story that takes a turn when a marriage with one of Slavic descent takes place (the name Sulcova). 13, rue Henri Martin, 51200 Epernay. Tel: +33-326-54 37 63. http://champagne-gonet-sulcova.fr
An excellent house, English spoken. 28, rue de Mailly, 51360 Verzenay. Tel: +33-326-49 40 06, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.champagne-michel-arnould.com
Champagne J.M. Gobillard & Fils
Super champagnes; reasonable prices. 38 rue de l’Eglise, 51160 Hautvillers. Tel: +33-326-51 00 24. Email: email@example.com. www.champagne-gobillard.com
48, rue Léon Bourgeois, 51530 Pierry. Tel: +33-326-54 03 05. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.champagne-vollereaux.fr
Champagne Legras & Haas
The Haas family is from Saarbrücken. You can “sprechen” a little with them. 9 Grande Rue, 51530 Chouilly. Tel: +33-326-54 92 90. Email: email@example.com. www.legras-et-haas.com
14, rue Anatole France, 51480 Damery. Tel: +33-326-58 40 92. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.goutorbe-bouillot.fr