How to do Champagne on a prosecco budget: a tour of France’s most famous wine region
20.11.2023 - 12:07
Forgive me for sounding a little smug. You would too if you were sitting in stylish lodgings sipping a glass of grand cru minutes away from a prestigious address, the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, east of Paris. The mile-long avenue is lined with expensive champagne houses, from Moët & Chandon to Perrier-Jouët.
But instead of forking out a fortune, I’m indulging my champagne taste on a prosecco budget. That glass of top quality grand cru? It’s from a half bottle I picked up at the independent producer Mouligneaux-Gourdain for €10 (£8.70).
As for the apartment, it’s one of four in a building under the Bubble 8 name, each beautifully done up with the feel of a boutique hotel, yet at a fraction of the price, from €95 a night. They’re incredibly well equipped, with a full kitchenette allowing you to self cater on the cheap, and, bien sûr, an ice bucket and champagne flutes.
A three-hour drive from the Channel tunnel, Bubble 8 is a great place for me to stay with my son Christian, who has just turned 18 and is keen to dive into the world of fizz.
Another fine place to stay is Le Logis aux Bulles (€90 a night B&B) in Verzy, between Rheims and Épernay, which has three beautifully decorated B&B rooms, offers a tour and tasting (€7) and sells Mouligneaux-Gourdain grand cru.
There’s no better place to start than the pretty village of Hautvillers, less than 15 minutes away from Épernay by car. It was here in the hillside abbey that the 17th-century cellar master Dom Pérignon supposedly cried out to his fellow monks: “Come quickly brothers, I am tasting the stars.” He might not have invented champagne, but he did refine its production, with the help of Dom Thierry Ruinart.
We pay homage to both their tombs in the quaint church before visiting the local producer G Tribaut. I could have sat in the tasting room for hours gazing through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the sea of pinstripe vines. But there’s tasting to be done, and although it costs €5 a glass, or €7 for vintages, if you buy six bottles you get three samples free. Very lovely they are, too, particularly as the least expensive comes in at €20.10.
You can taste other independent producers’ wares at the wine bar Au 36 (€21 for three glasses) in Rue Dom Pérignon, where boxes of six bottles are sold at the same price charged at the vineyards. My tip would be to avoid Au 36’s expensive dishes and pick up a sandwich or quiche at the bakery and take it to the picnic spot beyond the abbey.
By now we’re ready for a tour and tasting at one of the big champagne houses, which offer a good introduction to the champagne-making process in their labyrinthine cellars. They all offer something different, and on past trips I’ve visited many in Épernay and Rheims, half