Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, once said, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars.” Sparkling wine never tasted better than in the vineyards of France’s renowned Champagne’s wine country. While there are many variations to the history behind the creation of champagne, some say that Dom Pérignon, in the 17th century, founded the champagne we know and drink today.
Birthplace of Champagne: Epernay and Reims
With rolling green hills and roughly 34,000 hectares of fragrant vineyards, the Champagne wine region invites wine connoisseurs a taste into its world of wine and magical winemaking history. Northeast of Paris, the hillsides and vineyards on Avenue de Champagne lead to what some may call the “capital of champagne” – the small town of Epernay. Right in the heart of Epernay, you will discover extravagant mansions and middle-class homes lined along the Avenue de Champagne, inviting visitors to explore the work of passionate winemakers.
You may even spot the Hautvillers where Dom Pérignon supposedly perfected his unique champagne method. Nearly fifteen miles north of Epernay, the vibrant city of Reims is also known as the unofficial capital of champagne with impressive underground wine cellars and rich history behind the Champagne wine industry. It’s known to be the largest city in the Champagne region with many historical sites to admire. Both Reims and Epernay pave way to well-known Champagne houses such as Veuve-Cliquot, Ruinart and Möet & Chandon.
A Toast to Treasures in Reims
Reims boasts two of its treasured UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are key to retelling the city’s winemaking history. Its first UNESCO-designated site encompasses the Cathedral, the Palace of Tau and the Saint-Remi Basilica. The 13th-century Gothic cathedral of Reims, or Notre-Dame de Reims, showcases approximately 2,303 statues, bringing a grand presence to the city. The Palace of Tau holds a great significance for the town as this was the residence of the French monarchs during their coronation ceremonies. Following these coronations, the monarchs often would continue their royal celebration with banquets in the palace’s Great Hall and with plenty of sparkling wine to go around. This began the growing popularity of sparkling wine – a drink enjoyed by royals for celebrations. Adorned with stained glass windows from the 12th century, the old Saint-Remi Basilica gives a radiating charm to the town with its Romanesque and Gothic style.
The city’s second UNESCO-designated site honors Champagne’s landscape, including the hillsides, houses and cellars. Right beneath the city of Reims, historic wine cellar caves, or crayères, store endless amounts of champagne bottles where they are aged to perfection. From its vaulted ceilings to its cool, dark atmosphere, these underground limestone caves provide the absolute best conditions for exquisite sparkling wines with distinct tastes from the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meurier and Chardonnay grapes.