Reims Stories and Tips

Champagne tasting

For those who have been wine tasting in the Napa Valley, tasting in France will come as a surprise. Napa is highly commercial and tourist-friendly; the smaller wineries in France (and our experience extends to tasting in the Cote du Rhone, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne regions) can be intimidating, especially if you speak no French because they are so small and informal. Nevertheless, if you dive in and try, you''ll have some interesting experiences and great memories. One tip: be aware that during the harvest season (mid-September to mid-October, depending on region and weather) picking involves all the winery staff at the small family-run places and while they are picking, the tasting rooms (which may be a corner of the storage room) will probably be closed.

The major champagne houses line the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay. They are all imposing buildings of various styles. Don't miss the stylish art nouveau entrance to the Perrier-Jouet house. Stop by the tourist office at 7 Ave. du Champagne for information about the champagne houses, including tour and tasting information. We did not take any of the tours, but saw a large group assembling in the courtyard of Mumm, by the statute of Dom Perignon, for what is supposed to be a very informative tour. Krug has tours by appointment only. In the smaller towns of the champagne region, such as Bouzy, Ay and Villers-Marmery, there are numerous signposts pointing the way to the various wineries. The wineries themselves are also well-marked.

We had a car and ventured into the countryside in search of smaller champagne wineries. We stopped at Champagne Herbert Beaufort and had a very warm welcome. The man in the tasting room readily switched to English as soon as we began to stumble with our limited French. He offered a taste from one bottle that had already been opened. (This did not affect the quality; the bottle was sealed with a special cork to keep it fizzy.) Then he offered another blend and opened a fresh bottle for us. We talked about the differences with him and ended up buying a bottle to take home with us. For about $12 we bought a very nice champagne, which was coddled in our carry-on and now waits for a special occasion when we can remember our tasting adventure. Champagne Herbert Beaufort is at 28 Rue de Tours in Bouzy. The phone number is 03-26-57-01-34. To get there, take the D19 east from Fontaine-su-Ay about 6 km. Follow the signs in Bouzy to the winery. It's easy to spot.

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