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Introducing Champagne

Known in Roman times as Campania (Land of Plains), Champagne is a largely agricultural region celebrated around the world for the sparkling wines that have been produced here since the days of Dom Pérignon. According to French law, only bubbly from the region – grown in designated areas, then aged and bottled according to the strictest standards – can be labelled as champagne. Nothing will drive the locals into fits of righteous indignation faster – or will elicit more searing expressions of contempt mixed with pity – than a mention of that absurd liquid marketed as ‘California champagne’!

The production of the prestigious wine takes place mainly in two départements: Marne, whose metropolis is the ‘Coronation City’ of Reims; and the less prestigious (though increasingly respected) Aube, whose préfecture is the ancient and picturesque city of Troyes, home to several exceptional museums and whole streets lined with half-timbered houses.

The town of Épernay, a bit south of Reims, is the de facto capital of champagne (the drink) and is the best place to head for dégustation (tasting). The Champagne Route wends its way through the region’s diverse vineyards, taking visitors from one picturesque – and prosperous – wine-growing village to the next. A number of name-brand maisons (champagne houses) have achieved international renown, but much of the region’s liquid gold is made by almost 5000 small-scale vignerons (wine producers), many of whose family-run facilities welcome visitors.