Champagne wine region - where dreams are Made

I was very surprised by the beauty of the Champagne wine region.

Not that I thought it would be ugly. But everybody always talks about South of France, Tuscany, North Cal.

Having been to those places I can say - Champagne is up there. Even though we visited in November - right in the middle of the flood warning.

Champagne wine regionChampagne wine region - stunning, I tell ya!

Heading to the Champagne wine region I had one goal in mind - to have Champagne come out of my ears.

I love Champagne wine but I rarely drink it - because it’s too bloody expensive.

Chateau Perrier in EpernayGlamorous side of the Champagne business - Chateau Perrier on the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay.

A decent bottle of Champagne in my neck of the woods starts at $75. That’s at the shop. Restaurant prices begin the climb at $200.

Champagne cork coverChampagne - we pay premium for that word.

I wanted to get sick of drinking Champagne so that I would no longer feel like a poor kid in a candy store.

Mission accomplished. With gusto.

Champagne and bust of a lady"Me? I couldn't have finished all that Champagne." Exactly how I felt after a whirlwind tour of the Champagne wine region.

Is Champagne worth the hype?

Allow me to tell you a little story.

My sister and I once visited a wine fair in Toronto. There were a bunch of traditional sparkling producers from around the world - including Cava from Spain and Franciacorta from Italy.

We aren't very discerning wine drinkers - we tried them all.

Champagne-wine-tour-ruinartBottles of Champagne ageing in Ruinart's cellars. The white line on the floor - so that you don't get lost.

One of the Cava producers took out his most prized cuvée for us. It was packaged like a nuclear warhead and indeed was very good.

By the time we made our way to the Champagne section, they only had half a bottle of basic-bitch Champagne left.

They passed it to us - like they would throw a bone to a bunch of hungry dogs.

Cellar at Champagne GeoffroyChampagne bottles at one of the numerous caves of the Champagne wine region. I guess they save up on cleaning fees.

We tried it. And that Champagne blew everybody else out of the water. Even the warhead Cava was exterminated.

So, yes - Champagne is worth the hype.

Why is Champagne so good?

Some people say - it’s the peculiar chalky soil of the region. It is soft and porous and allows the vine roots to go deep - extracting delicious minerality.

Grower in the Champagne vinesVines in Champagne - where magic starts.

Others insist that the main reason is the very rigid rules that help maintain the quality of the champagne.

Everything is controlled by the syndicate of Champagne wine-growers. And I mean everything - from the time you start the harvest to how much juice you can squeeze.

There is very little room for creative freedom in Champagne. And if you want “Champagne” on your label - you comply.

Traditional press at Champagne Michel FagotTraditional press at Champagne Fagot. The entire pressing process is heavily regimented.
Presser at Musee du Vin in EpernayThis one at the musée du vin de Champagne in Épernay is humongous.

I will put my 2 cents in. I believe the long ageing process that is customary in Champagne has a lot to do with how good it tastes. It adds another level of complexity.

All Champagnes must spend at least 15 months in the cellar ageing. Most Champagnes get released even later than that.

Bottles of Ruinart in CrayèresBottles of Ruinart in the cellar - guarded by humidity, constant temperature and low impact of yellow led lights.
Abyss by Champagne Leclerc BriantAbyss by biodynamic Champagne producer Leclrec Briant. This one gets aged in the sea for about a year. Not a standard procedure in Champagne, by any means. But cool, nonetheless.

Champagne weather

Champagne is the northernmost wine region in continental Europe. It gets pretty cold there and plenty wet.

We visited in November. It’s no Siberia, but it does get quite uncomfortable outside.

The producers in Champagne aren’t worried about the cold though.

Au contraire. Global warming is the public enemy number one.

Champagne-wine-glass-bottle-Leclerc-BriantChampagne as we know it - is a dying breed.

Part of Champagne’s allure is high acidity level and low alcohol content. That’s why Champagne tastes so delicate and goes down easy.

Nowadays, some Champagne wines are approaching 14% alcohol. Mais quel horreur!

30 years ago harvests took place in October. Now - everybody harvests a month earlier - in September.

And since 2003, harvest took place in August - 7 times!

If that’s not a sign of global warming, than I don’t know what is.

Champagne wine region

Champagne villageDreamy or what!

I honestly thought it would be boring. I expected it to be flat and unattractive - with endless rows of short stumpy vines.

Somebody slap me for being an ignoramus.

Church in Hautvillers in ChampagneÉglise Saint-Sindulphe in the cutest village of Hautvillers - Dom Perignon is buried inside.

Champagne is breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling hills, picturesque villages, abundant forests.

In November, the grapes had been long harvested, but the multi-coloured vine leaves created a tapestry-like vision.

Driving through this landscape was like a dream.

Montagne de Reims viewView towards Montagne de Reims covered in thick forest.

Champagne is peppered with villages. They are all very cute. And very wealthy.

I remember thinking that Tuscany was one of the richest wine regions I had ever visited - perfectly coiffed and manicured.

Well, Champagne is next level.

If you are a grower in Champagne - you have dough.

Champagne wine region with bushes

Our tour guide at Ruinart told us that one of the greatest blessings in life is to be born a daughter of a Champagne grower. You are set for life, she said.

I thought she was joking - until I saw the countryside.

Apparently Champagne commands some of the highest prices for vineyard land in the world. I was told that paying up to 30 million euros per hectare is not unheard of.

Grower Champagne

You'll hear this term a lot in Champagne.

That's what you should be drinking.

Forget Moet, Krug, Veuve - all owned by the same company by the way. You can find these wines in every duty free shop in the world.

Tasting room at Tresors de ChampagneTasting room at Trésors de Champagne in Reims only showcases Grower Champagne producers.

Grower Champagne houses are small wine producers that grow their own grapes, make their own wines and typically have a little more care about what they put in the bottle.

Grower Champagne wines are also usually much cheaper. We visited some great producers and paid 30 euros a bottle. Say what?

Down to business - Champagne wines

There are 5 distinct wine subregions in Champagne. But nobody really mentions them.

Everyone talks about the style of Champagne - whether it’s blanc de noirs, blanc de blancs or rosé.

Wine tasting at Tresors de ChampagneA gorgeous line-up of different types of Champagne at Trésors de Champagne.

Blanc de blancs Champagne

Blanc de blanc wines are made from Chardonnay grapes. These wines are usually lighter, more delicate, with a more pronounced yeasty/doughy character.

They also showcase Champagne’s signature chalky notes.

Blanc de Blancs at Domaine GeoffroyBlanc de Blancs. Grower Champagne by Domaine Geoffroy.

Blanc de noirs

Blanc de noirs Champagne wines are made from dark-skinned Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes. These wines have a stronger nose and taste.

They are crunchier, juicier and more flavourful - with red fruit notes, which can be confusing for a white wine.

Champagne Guillaume SergentChampagne Guillaume Sergent, Extra Brut. Blanc de Noirs from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Natural and heavenly.

Rosé Champagne

Rosé in the Champagne wine region is usually a blend of red and white wines.

This method of making a rosé is considered to be a big no-no in most other regions in the world and is often outlawed.

But Champagne gets away with it.

Champagne rosés are lovely - they got a little more punch and flavour than your average blancs de blancs and blanc de noirs.

Champagne Francis BoulardVintage Rosé Champagne 2017 by Francis Boulard & Fille. This one is made "properly" - in a saignée method. 100% Pinot Meunier

A quick recap (mostly for myself):

  • Blanc de blancs (Chardonnay) - light, delicate, mineral
  • Blanc de noirs (Pinot Noir &/or Pinot Meunier) - more body, fruity, juicy
  • Rosé (Anything goes) - pink, crunchy, flavourful

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the main grapes of the region. But Pinot Meunier won us over with its ethereal quality.

Natural Champagne producers like playing around with Pinot Meunier because of its fruity and innocent character.

I will also briefly mention ratafia here. A wonderful drink that is not a Champagne, but is made by almost all Champagne producers. A must try!

Ratafia by Champagne Geoffroy at le PressoirCan never say no to a glass of Ratafia de Champagne, or a 5-litre bottle of it.

Brut vs everything else

Sugar level in my Champagne - pardon my French, what the fuck does it mean?

  • Brut Nature - Great for cleaning old stains
  • Extra Brut - With burger and fries
  • Brut - Order at a restaurant
  • Extra Dry - Buy to drink at home
  • Dry - For your mom
  • Demi-Sec - For your grandma
  • Doux - For that weird aunt who drinks Icewine

Most Champagne wines are Brut - just enough sugar for them not to taste like pure acid. That’s where my comfort zone lies.

Many natural Champagne producers are churning out Extra Brut. Depending on the producer, Extra Brut can be heavenly or an s&m experience.

Champagne by Aurore and Florian LavalSymposium Champagne by Aurore & Florian Laval. This Extra Brut was a little extra without food - but still a natural beauty.

Extra Brut is wonderful If you are pairing a bottle of Champagne with food - especially rich and greasy food like burgers and fries. It cuts through the grease and dissolves fats in an extra layer of acid.

I’ve seen a few Brut Nature bottles - with zero dosage - at natural wine shops in Champagne. I simply didn’t dare to go there.

Champagne-proper-glassForget flutes, coupes and mason jars. A proper glass for Champagne is your standard tulip-shaped all-rounder.

Now that I mentioned burgers and fries

Champagne wine region has an obsession with that holy trinity:

Champagne - greasy burger - even greasier fries

Every place we went to had its own variation. Luckily, most places had vegan and gluten free options.

Champagne, fries and burger at Sacre Burger in EpernayVegan and gluten free burger, fries and extra brut Champagne at Sacré Burger in Épernay.

But generally speaking - Champagne goes with everything. A wicked combination of acidity, bubbles and gentle flavours that makes it a perfect match with whatever you're eating.

Even if it's notoriously difficult foods like salads, omelettes, wedding cakes and the most demanding of them all - sushi! You can always rely on Champagne to save the day, or night.

Things to do in the Champagne wine region...

…If you get tired of drinking Champagne. Trust me - it can happen.

Reims Cathedral

The Cathedral in Reims is an absolute must.

I am not religious but the sheer size and majesty of this building filled me with desire to repent for the sins I don't recall committing.

I got neck cramps trying to look up.

Reims Cathedral front view at nightBeats Notre-Dame de Paris, in my humble opinion
Reims Cathedral interior at nightWhat did I tell you - neck cramps!

The region was severely bombed during the first world war - including the cathedral.

Prominent artists and artisans were involved in the restoration process. The Cathedral features incredible modern stained glass art by Marc Chagall, Brigitte Simon-Marq and Imi Knoebel.

Reims Cathedral interiorTo enjoy a view like this - sans tourists - come before closing time at 7 pm. Surpisingly, entrance is free. Is anything free in this world anymore?
Reims Cathedral back view during the dayNot so ominous during the day.


Champagne wine region has an extensive ancient cave system. Cut out from pure chalk, these caves were used throughout centuries as quarries, shelters and wine cellars.

Large cave at Ruinart Champagne houseThe great cave at Ruinart - hard to express through a photo how huge it is.

Nobody knows exactly how large this network of caves is - hundreds of kilometres at least.

I was told that when you are buying a house in Champagne - you have to conduct a study to make sure your property doesn't fall into some cave underneath.

Cave system at Champagne GeoffroyEntrance to the underground cave at Champagne Geoffroy in Aÿ. These cellars run right under the winery and the vineyards.

But seriously - caves are everywhere in Champagne. Most Champagne houses, restaurants, wine bars and wine shops have a jaw-dropping cellar.

The Reims market

This is one of the cutest, cleanest and friendliest markets I’ve ever visited in France.

We stayed just around the corner and took full advantage of itl You should too.

Reims Market Halles BoulingrinThe lovely market with the unpronounceable name Halles Boulingrin
Champagne Geoffroy and food on the tableAnd the fruits of the market - on our pre-dinner table

Reims vs Épernay - the ultimate question

Took me a long time to figure out in which town to stay in Champagne. General public's opinions are quite divided on the matter. We chose Reims - and I was very happy about it. Here is why:

Épernay - drink and stay, but no play

Épernay is cute, lovely and posh. It is the centre of the large-scale Champagne production.

Avenue de Champagne is like a fashion runway for all major Champagne houses - Champagne’s Rodeo Drive.

Champagne house on Avenue de Champagne in EpernayFancy Champagne house with some expensive modern art by Richard Orlinksi - on Avenue de Champagne
Moet Chandon hotel in EpernayOne of the properties Moet-Chandon owns on Avenue de Champagne in Épernay.

If you are a high-roller or a couple on honeymoon - it’s a great place to stay in the Champagne wine region.

But the nightlife is non-existent and you must have reservations for food. Because even in November, most hype places were full to the brim.

Rainy Epernay streetÉpernay - cute and quiet

Reims - natural wine paradise

We loved Reims - small enough to explore on foot and large enough to have a variety of things to do.

Rainy Reims streetRainy night - and Reims still somehow looks fun and inviting
Cute patio in reimsA cute little patio at a wine bar in Reims. Check out that disproportionate chandelier. Reims has a thing for chandeliers.

Reims is the best place to discover the alternative side of the Champagne wine region. Natural wine scene in Reims is alive and kicking.

Many places specialize in grower Champagne.

Food is great, people are lovely, natural Champagne is abundant.

Reims is the centre of the universe, as far as I’m concerned.

Me in ChampagneFlip of the hair cause I've been there!

Explore Champagne Ox's way