Apparently the five-dollar bottles of Andre we’ve been drinking every game day and Sunday Funday for the past four years is actually NOT champagne. Shocking, I know. A little fun fact: a bottle of bubbly can technically only be called champagne if it is produced in the Champagne region of France and meets some strict standards. Consider everything else “sparkling wine” or “prosecco”. But in all honesty, I never cared where it came from as long as it filled my mimosa glass. Sorry, bank account, but gone are the days of champagne ignorant bliss. Thanks to a recent trip to Epernay, France, we got a little taste of life in the French countryside and lots of tastes of true champagne!
As I’ve said before, I’ve never been a fan of road trips, but five-hour car rides to France aint so bad. Our mom, grandma, Kels, and I took the scenic drive to a town about 10 minutes from Epernay, where we had rented a petite-chateau on Airbnb. This picturesque home tucked in the side streets of the small French town was basically out of a storybook. No joke, I was seriously living my childhood (ahem, adult) dream of being in Beauty and the Beast. The house dates back to 1698 and maintains old-world charm with the comfort of updated appliances. Our lovely hosts welcomed us with a bottle of local champagne and sweets from the area, and after settling in we drove up to Epernay in search of more champs and FOOD.
We turned to TripAdvisor for suggestions and tried out C.Comme, a champagne bar near the center of the town. The place was welcoming and adorable- a perfect introduction to the region. The four of us shared a tasting of six different champagnes and a cheese plate. Although it was delicious, C.Comme is certainly more of a wine bar than a restaurant. If you’re in the mood for a light dinner or lunch paired perfectly with bubbly, it’s the place to be. Us Aziz’s were still hungry though so we wandered down the side streets and ate on the patio of a yummy little french restaurant. Before we drove back to the house for the night, we tried to stop for gelato only to learn that most stores and shops close around 7 pm. So yeah, you’ll need to have dessert before dinner, darn.
The next morning my grandma and I used the labeled map our hosts provided to walk to a patisserie around the corner. Few things in life are better than fresh french croissants and quiche for breakfast. That afternoon we had reservations to tour the Moët & Chandon cellars so we went to town a little earlier to have lunch at Le Sardaigne, a buzzing pizzeria. Our obvious meal choice? Pizza and champagne! The pizza was to die for, and mom’s escargot was buttery and delicious.
If you visit the Champagne region, its an unwritten rule that you have to tour a champagne house. In Epernay, the Avenue de Champagne is lined with cellars open for tours, but we went with a classic (maybe just because we recognized the name)-Moët & Chandon. Be sure to reserve your tour online in advance where you’ll indicate how many people are in your party and which language you’d prefer for the tour. The tour ranges in price from 21 euro/person to 35 euro/person depending on which type of tasting you choose. Also, the cellars are a bit chilly so I’d suggest bringing a little jacket. The tour takes you through the history of the house and it’s founders, describes the grapes and vineyards in the region, and explains the unique process of creating each of the seven different types of Moët bubbly. Talk about a labor of love. These people take their champagne seriously, and I’m oh so thankful they do. After tasting the the 2006 Grand Vintage champagnes at the end of the tour, my taste buds will never be the same. The sommelier described each glass offered in the tasting and which food it would pair with. Honestly though, I was too busy downing my liquid gold to remember his suggestions.
After the tour, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and popping into shops and stores picking up sweets and bottles of champagne and wine as we went. We decided to act as locals and grabbed some fresh food at an Italian market to take home for dinner. One thing we love about renting apartments while traveling is the opportunity to use the kitchen and take a break from pricey restaurants. The four of us dined on some to-die-for homemade pasta and pesto, meats and cheeses, fresh tomato salad, and plenty of chocolate for dessert for under 40 euro! Not to mention it was all accompanied by some pretty awesome French wines that were about 4 euro a bottle. That’s the great thing about embracing the local fare. You don’t have to shell out 200 euro for a bottle of Dom Perignon to have great champagne. Check out some of the smaller cellars and you can enjoy the Champagne lifestyle on a dime!
Needless to say, we found our time in Epernay to be complete heaven, and hope to return one day soon. Until then, I would promise to never buy a five-dollar bottle of faux champs again…but I can’t make a commitment like that.