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10 Tips for Visiting Champagne Like a Wine Connoisseur

So, you're planning a trip to France and you'd like to do some Champagne tasting? Given that Bubbly Tourist has been visiting French vineyards for 30 years now, we like to think we know a few things about wine and the regions they are from. Dare we say it, we may almost be a bit wine snobbish? We wrote this article to share some of the wine basics of Champagne along with some of the sites worth seeing so you can have an educated trip to the spectacular region of Champagne where the bubbles are endless! Read on for our 10 Tips for visiting Champagne like a wine connoisseur.


Champagne

We are Bubbly Tourist and Champagne is the bubbly from which our name is inspired. Only an hour by train from Paris, the region of Champagne is convenient for a day trip from Paris or better yet, a trip of several days. This is the region of France from which all other sparkling wines in the world are compared. Yes, Champagne is la crème de la crème! If you take only one thing away from this article, remember that sparkling wine can only be labeled as "champagne" if it is grown in the Champagne region of France.

Champagne, France; Bubbly Tourist wines of France
Bubbly Tourist takes our Champagne seriously!

10 Tips for Visiting Champagne Like a Wine Connoisseur

1. What's the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?

Méthode Champenoise is the process of making sparkling wine that allows for the secondary fermentation in the bottle. It originated in Champagne in the 17th century. All Champagne is required to use the méthode champenoise whereas not all sparkling wine uses this method (e.g., prosecco) and will instead ferment in a tank. Furthermore, and more importantly, to be labeled Champagne, the grapes have to be grown and the champagne produced in the region of Champagne, France.


2. What grapes are grown in Champagne?

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

95% of Champagne is made from at least one if not all three of the grape varietals Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Usually, it's a higher concentration of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and a touch of Meunier. But don't come to Champagne expecting it to taste like Pinot Noir. It's cool and crisp, usually dry with hints of apple or pear, light and sometimes toasty. That is the bubbly that everyone is looking for.


3. What are the different styles of Champagne?

Champagne will always be consistently bubbly, but it's the grapes that are used that create the different styles like Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de noir, and Rosé.


Blanc de Blanc Champagne

This literally translates as white from white, meaning white champagne from 100% Chardonnay grapes. You will find Blanc de Blanc listed on the label.


Blanc de Noir Champagne

This literally translates as white from black, meaning white champagne from either or both of the black grape varietals of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. You will find Blanc de Noir listed on the label.


Rosé Champagne

Made mainly from the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, the pink comes from the maceration of the black skin of the grapes.  You will find Rosé listed on the label.


4. Does Champagne taste sweet or dry?

The answer is both. There are levels of sweetness that every champagne producer will uniquely decide for each of their bottles. It will vary from no sweetness ("Extra Brut") to very sweet ("Doux") as described below.


5. What does Dosage mean and what does it have to do with sweetness?

There is a tiny amount of sugar added back into the champagne just prior to corking. This is called dosage. It is measured in grams of sugar per liter and drives how sweet a wine will (or won't be) and its classification. There is a major trend in recent years by Champagne makers towards smaller ,if not zero, sugar amounts. By way of comparison, a 12oz. can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar.


6. If you prefer dry Champagne, what should you look for?

Dry Champagne will not be sweet because it contains very little to no dosage and will be classified as "Brut", "Brut Nature", and "Extra Brut" on the label. Brut is the most common form of champagne but as the market moves our tastes towards drier champagne like Brut Nature and Extra Brut, even Brut Champagne may begin to taste slightly sweet to the discerning palate.


How much sugar is in Dry Champagne?

  • Extra Brut: 0-6 grams of sugar per liter

  • Brut Nature: less than 3 grams of sugar per liter

  • Brut: less than 12 grams of sugar per liter


7. If you prefer sweet Champagne, what should you look for?

Look on the label for the words Extra Dry for mildly sweet, Sec for mostly sweet, and Demi-Sec and Doux for full-on sweetness. When a champagne is sweet, it's because the producer intentionally chose to add more sugar ("dosage") back into the champagne during production.


How much sugar is in sweet Champagne?

  • Extra-Dry: 12-17 grams of sugar per liter

  • Sec: 17-32 grams of sugar per liter

  • Demi-Sec: 32-50 grams of sugar per liter

  • Doux: more than 50 grams of sugar per litre


8. Want to taste premium Champagne? Here is how to identify them.

Premier Cru and Grand Cru classifications are an indication that the vineyards have demonstrated an ability to produce exceptional wine grapes that make high-quality Champagnes. You will find these classifications on the label. However, let us say that all Champagne is of excellent quality because every bottle needs to meet the strict criteria that governs the process for producing Champagne. If you're a beginner, don't get too caught up in classifications. But if you want to taste the differences, here's what you need to know:


Grand Cru Champagne

Grand Cru Champagne is the highest quality champagne. To be labelled a Grand Cru Champagne, 100% of the grapes need to have been grown in a Grand Cru classified area. There are 17 Grand Cru communes in Champagne.


Premier Cru Champagne

Premier Cru Champagne also guarantees a high quality champagne. They are labelled as a Premier Cru Champagne because the grapes are grown in one of 44 Premier Cru designated communes in Champagne.


Other Cru

If a Champagne is not designated Grand Cru or Premier Cru it is still of high quality. That's because the quality of all Champagne still has strict regulations set by the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne).

Champagne, France; Bubbly Tourist wines of France
Cute sign from the growers of Champagne translated: drink champagne whenever

9. Where can I find the Champagne Houses?

Bubbly Tourist has listed some of the more popular Champagne Houses below. These can be found in Reims, Épernay and Ay. We also highly recommend that you try some of the smaller growers as well. What you'll find is excellent quality and bargain prices. Check out this comprehensive interactive map of the growers and houses in the region to help you plan your visit.


The major Champagne Houses in Reims

Head to Reims and book a visit to the Champagne houses that include Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Taittanger, Pommery, Lanson and Mumm. Louis Roederer, best known for its prestige cuvée, Cristal, and Krug are also located in Reims but virtually impossible to visit.


The major Champagne Houses in Épernay

In Épernay, the self-proclaimed capital of Champagne, you can visit Nicolas Feuillatte, Perrier-Jouët, and Moët & Chandon, best known for its premium champagne, Dom Pérignon. Although also located in Épernay, Pol Roger is nearly impossible to visit.


The major Champagne Houses in Ay

Head to Ay and visit Bubbly Tourist's favorite Champagne House, Bollinger. Also in Ay, you can find Billecart-Salmon, Ayala, Deutz, and just a little further outside Ay in Tours-sur-Marne is Laurent-Perrier (but virtually impossible to visit).

Bollinger vineyard in Ay, France; Bubbly Tourist wines of France
Visit the vineyards of Bollinger in Ay as part of your tasting

10. What are the Major Sites in Champagne Worth Visiting?

Reims Cathedral

A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is considered one of the most important representations of Gothic architecture. The first Reims Cathedral was built on this site in 420 AD. The cathedral of today began construction early in the 13th century. In 496, Clovis, King of the Franks, is baptized at the cathedral. 1500 years later, Pope John Paul II commemorates the baptism of Clovis. In 816, King Louis the Pious is crowned in the cathedral and thus begins the long tradition of coronations at Reims Cathedral. The cathedral is huge and is reminiscent of the Notre-Dame of Paris. It draws 1 million visitors each year and is definitely worth seeing.


Palace of Tau

Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Palace of Tau is where many kings were dressed prior to their coronation in the Reims Cathedral. It's also where the post-coronation banquet was held. Today, it also displays tapestries and statues from the cathedral along with the remains of the cathedral treasury and other objects associated with the coronation of the French kings.


Avenue de Champagne

The cellars below and the above-ground part of the avenue are also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Start at the Tourist Office in Épernay. When Bubbly Tourist last visited Champagne, they were having Champagne tastings right there at the office by some of the local growers. After sampling, we were inspired to go visit one of them on site. The Avenue de Champagne in Épernay derives its name from the famous Champagne Houses located along it, and residents will tell you that this avenue is the most expensive in the world because of the millions of bottles of champagne stored under your feet. Worth a tour are the miles of chalk cellars just below you. Bubbly tourist visited Möet et Chandon's 28-kilometer maze of underground tunnels that form the largest network of cellars in Champagne and would highly recommend it.


Bubbly Tip: Book your Visits in Advance

Most Champagne houses and family-run estates require appointments, so be sure to book your visits through the Champagne house's website in advance of your arrival. They will book up, especially in the high season. As an alternative, you can book through Champagne-Booking.com.



Bubbly Tourist Bon Voyage!


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