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Champagne Houses in general

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      13.09.2006 22:00
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      You don't need an excuse to drink champagne, you can drink it anytime

      INTRODUCTION

      “Champagne is not a luxury, it is the joy of life” is a famous French phrase and if you have never visited the Champagne region of France then you have missed out on one of life’s most important pleasures: drinking champagne in Champagne. This review is not only about the Champagne houses, but also gives you some useful information about this expensive fizzy drink! Some people may not like champagne, but me? I love the stuff!!!

      LOCATION OF CHAMPAGNE HOUSES

      The Champagne region, “La Champagne,” is situated in Northern France, about 100 miles from Paris stretching from the Belgian border right down to the Plateau de Langres north of Dijon.

      In one of its major towns, Epernay, the Champagne Houses of some of the Grande Marques, such as Moet et Chandon and Mercier, can be found along the Avenue du Champagne. You can see the grand houses of Bollinger, Pol Roger, Tattingers and many other well known champagne producers.

      THE CAVES

      It is possible to visit the caves of many of these large producers to see the production process and gaze in awe at the stacks of champagne bottles, all at different stages of maturity. Admission charges vary so it may be worth checking out their websites for prices and times of tours prior to visiting.

      In the Mercier caves visitors are taken on a tour by train, which travels through the long corridors of the champagne cellars. Be warned though, it is cold down there, even on the hottest of days, so take a warm jacket! There is an English speaking guide accompanying you and s/he explains the process of production, explaining what happens at each stage of production and pointing out the thousands of bottles in various stages. The caves stretch for miles and miles and you learn how these were utilised during the war years as hiding places as well as being to store the wines.

      Throughout the Champagne region there are other famous producers, including Veuve Cliquot, the famous “Champagne Widow” who carried on her husband’s champagne production after his death.

      REIMS

      The town of Reims (pronounced by the French as “Rance”) is worth a visit, perhaps to see the Cathedral of Reims with its beautiful stained glass Rose Window and of course there are many interesting shops to explore where you can buy mementoes relating to champagne. Perhaps a bottle opener with a handle made from wood taken from the champagne vines or a silver champagne bottle stopper. (Although the French will tell you that the handle of a silver spoon – for some reason unknown to me, it has to be silver - inserted into an opened bottle will preserve the fizz for several hours just as well as a stopper).

      THE CHAMPAGE AREA

      However, visiting this area is not just about champagne, the scenery is beautiful too! The north of the region is green with rolling hills, all covered by vines of the grapes which will be harvested to make champagne. Many of the vineyards will display signs showing the grapes are being grown for various champagne producers. At the bottom of the fields you may see a rose bush or two, which is used to predict if the vines will be subject to mildew.

      SMALLER PRODUCERS

      Further south in the middle of La Champagne the land is flat, and because of intensive farming, largely bare. If you follow the Champagne Tourist Route you will pass the caves (cellars) of many smaller champagne producers, who will be delighted to let you sample their products and buy them at a huge saving on UK prices. The French argue that the champagne from these smaller producers is equally as good as that produced by the major, well known ones, and a lot cheaper.

      OTHER INTERESTING PLACES IN CHAMPAGNE

      Near the southern city of Troyes the area is covered by the Foret d’Orient, a large forest that surrounds Le Lac d’Orient. This is a major tourist attraction and welcomes visitors from all over the north of France, who treat these huge lakes as their seaside.

      Troyes itself is a beautiful city with its timbered buildings and fine shops and restaurants. Not far away is a factory outlet shopping centre – well worth a visit to snap up bargains in French Designer label clothing at a fraction of their normal cost!

      HISTORY

      On a historical note, the area has, through the years, been affected by many wars. The Battle of the Marne is probably one of the most famous and was centred around the area of Sezanne. In World War Two the Germans attacked the last fort of the fabled Maginot line at Sedan, which fell leaving the Germans to overrun more of the country. In 1944 the area was liberated by the Americans and one of the surrender papers was signed in Reims.

      Further back in history the English laid siege to many towns during the 100 years war and both French and English kings were crowned in Reims Cathedral. A fine example of this period of time is the town of Langres where a huge middle ages wall surrounds the city.

      The economy of La Champagne is of course largely dependent upon the wine itself, but a large majority of the people in the area are farmers, which explains the intensively farmed land around Chalons sur Marne. In places this is so flat it bears a similar resemblance to the Lincolnshire landscape.

      THE PRODUCERS

      The people of Champagne? Well, they are extremely friendly and if you make friends with them and they invite you into their homes for a mid morning drink, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be champagne! The French don’t need an excuse to open a bottle of bubbly! Be prepared to drink more champagne in a week than ever before!
      They will also teach you the tricks of the Champagne drinking trade! These include avoiding the effects of alcohol taking over too quickly by dunking a “rose de reims” biscuit into your glass of champagne. These are wafer biscuits, usually pink, and the French believe that they help to soak up the effects of the alcohol. They will also tell you that champagne can be drunk to excess and will never give you a hangover! Believe it or not, it happens to be true!

      And of course, they will teach you how to open a bottle of champagne without popping the cork and spilling half the contents – the French frown upon this as a waste of good wine, and who can blame them! Anyone who shakes the bottle and then lets the contents spill out is not regarded favourably!

      Useful Websites:

      www.champagneescapes.com
      www.ville-reims.com
      www.destinationchampagne.com
      www.moet.com
      www.champagne.fr
      www.veuve-clicquot.com

      SIZES OF BOTTLES

      Champagne bottles come in a variety of different sizes and the chart below explains these and gives an idea of what size to serve for different occasions:
      Quart 20cl a big glass
      Demie 40cl tete a tete (for two people)
      Medium 60cl a meeting of three friends
      Bouteille 80cl 6 to 8 glasses

      Magnum 2 bottles) for a ceremonial meal
      Jeroboham 4 bottles )

      Rehoboan 6 bottles) for sumptuous feasts
      Mathusalem 8 bottles)

      Salmanazar 12 bottles) these are for
      Balthasar 16 bottles) grand receptions
      Nabuchodonosor 20 bottles)

      LAST WORD

      Veuve Clicquot is reputed to have said the following about champagne:
      “I drink it when I am sad, I drink it when I am happy, I drink it when I am ill, I drink it when I am well, I drink it when I have visitors, I drink it when I am alone….” And so the list goes on, but what she is saying in effect is that you don’t need the excuse of a special occasion to crack open a bottle of champagne, you can drink it anytime!

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