Each fall in the Champagne region of France, the harvest begins as big name winemakers start culling grapes for some of the best-loved sparkling wine in the world. True Champagne only comes from this region in northeast France — cava and prosecco don’t count — making it something of an exclusive treat.
Visiting the region where the grapes are grown and tasting the wines with experts from the vineyards will enrich any experience of the Champagne itself. Those who can travel to France absolutely should. But those of us who are stuck at home can still celebrate the harvest. From overseas workshops to home-made cocktails, there are plenty of ways to toast this year’s bounty.
Take a train to Reims
To find yourself wandering through the vines of a Champagne winemaker, fly first to Paris. From there, visitors can take a short TGV train (less than an hour) to the city of Reims, where the bulk of the vineyards are located. Reims can easily be seen in a day-trip, and with all of the wine you’ll want to sample, taking the train is probably the best (and safest) option.
Experience the vineyards
Some of the biggest names in luxury are located in Champagne, with winemakers such as Moet & Chandon, Taittinger, and Dom Pérignon all calling the region home. Most vineyards offer tastings or special workshops — Dom Pérignon, for example, offers four different experiences, including a variety of tastings and a tour of their abbey.
Champagne Armand de Brignac, a well-known vineyard known as “the Ace of Spades” for its logo, teamed up with Chef Arnaud Lallement (of the Michelin-starred L’Assiette Champenoise) to debut a luxury tasting menu of five Champagnes alongside French delicacies. The 500 euro per person tasting is available at the eponymous hotel.
Visit the city and surrounding attractions
Most restaurants around town offer Champagnes by the glass, so you can sample the fruits of nearby vineyards while enjoying classic brasserie food at restaurants like Le Boulingrin.
The nearby Reims Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece, akin to Notre Dame, open to visitors from around the world. The 800-year-old church is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Learn to open and store your bottles
Whether you’re taking home bottles after a jaunt in Reims or buying them at your local liquor shop, opening and storing them properly can greatly affect the taste.
Moët & Chandon winemaker Marie-Christine Osselin warns against storing champagne in the refrigerator for long periods of time, telling the Huffington Post that it’s better to chill Champagne in an ice bucket for 15 to 20 minutes before drinking it. Leaving Champagne in the refrigerator for too long can cause the wine to oxidize faster and change its flavors, she said.
After chilling — and to avoid injuring either yourself or loved ones — always open a bottle of Champagne by twisting the bottle, not the cork itself.
Make your own Champagne cocktails
While Champagne can be savored on its own, try an even more festive take on the celebratory drink by enjoying it in a cocktail. Gin-lovers will go wild for the French 75, while fans of vintage cocktails are sure to love the Ingrid Bergman, found at Manhattan’s Slowly Shirley bar.
Visit your local Champagne bar
Sipping Champagne is not an activity exclusively reserved for the French, or even Manhattanites. Wine-lovers can find excellent Champagne bars in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Atlanta (grab a table at Buckhead’s Vine & Tap for a trio of bubblies and $1 oysters).