Last weekend was spent in the Champagne region of France with family from the Åland Islands. After about tree hours drive we were happily cruising down the famous Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, heading for our first stop at Champagne Mercier.
Founded in 1858, Mercier has some of the most extensive networks of underground tunnels in the region. We descended down into the cellars, dug from chalk quarries, and were able to explore a small portion of the tunnels via an electric train. It’s a fascinating trip and a great way to learn about the history of the champagne house and Mr. Mercier himself.
Of course, the highlight is the champagne tasting. We enjoyed three glasses: the Brut, the Brut Réserve and the Brut Rosé. The Réserve being my favourite. In the evening we strolled through Épernay, had dinner at Le Progrès, and continued to the much cozier Brasserie la Banque. There we spent the rest of the evening enjoying their great selection of champagne and some seriously delicious desserts.
The next morning, after a lovely breakfast at Paul, we hopped back in the car for a quick trip to Bouzy. After driving by a few big names (Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, Laurent-Perrier) we arrived at Champagne Paul Bara.
Unlike Mercier’s “tourist attraction” feeling, the House of Bara maintains its family-run atmosphere. The tasting was held in the main office, where there was a relaxed and unhurried atmosphere. My favourite was the Special Club, consisting of 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay. We learnt that the red wine that Bouzy is famous for is often used in the “addition” to create a rosé champagne. The House of Bara belongs to the récoltants-manipulants, or R.M.s, one of the few that still grow their own grapes and make their own wines.
After an excellent time with Stéphanie from the House of Bara we continued to Hautvillers. This idyllic village was home to Dom Pérignon, the monk who supposedly invented champagne. We took a peek inside the Abbey de Hautvillers where Dom Pérignon’s tombstone can be found. After paying our respects, we crossed the street and enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Restaurant de l’Abbaye.
The restaurant has a lovely terrace where we were able to enjoy the surprisingly warm weather. 19 degrees in November! Marvellous! We enjoyed melt-in-the-mouth duck, tender beef plus local sausages served with colourful vegetables. If you find yourself in Hautvillers, and you should, this is a little gem of a restaurant not to be missed!
Stéphanie at Paul Bara had recommended Au 36… A small champagne tasting bar and boutique located on 36 rue Dom Pérignon in Hautvillers. The tasting bar offered us the opportunity to taste three champagnes, each made out of 100% chardonnay, 100% pinot noir, and 100% meunier. It was a great way to better learn about the individual characteristics each grape offers. Au 36 also offer delicious regional food specialties to go along with the bubbly. It stocks 50 different champagnes, and for a case of six, the price is exactly the same as directly from the winemaker, while for a single bottle, €1 is added.
After Champagne we visited Château du Faucon in the Ardennes and Luxembourg, but more about that in a separate post.