A taste of the great Champagne houses: France’s lovely bubbly

A taste of the great Champagne houses: France�s lovely bubbly

THERE are, Michel Drappier tells us, around 60 million bubbles in every bottle of Champagne.

By
Tina Ediss

A taste of the great Champagne houses: France’s lovely bubbly  ALAMY

Troyes is a region with many attractions, including excellent bubbly

He has a twinkle in his eye so I canâ??t decide if he is serious.

I mean, surely it would be impossible to count all those tiny bubbles as they burst from the bottle and dance their fizzy fandango around a Champagne flute.

But Michel assures me itâ??s been scientifically proven, a technique developed using a camera capable of measuring the size of a bubble and dividing volume by quantity.

And if anyone would know, it would be him.

Heâ??s seventh generation of the family-run Drappier Champagne House in Urville.

I am in the Côte des Bar district in the Champagne Ardenne area of France, where Iâ??ve come to sample different Champagnes and discover what else the area has to offer.

Well, someone has to do it!

Weâ??re led down a twisting staircase into the cellars.

We learn about the process, from how the grapes are carefully snipped from the vines with scissors, then gently squeezed.

We see the wooden vats where the wine matures before the second fermentation when the special sparkle is added which turns it into Champagne.

There are endless corridors where thousands of bottles gather dust in the darkness and lie there, effortlessly becoming more delectable and expensive with each passing year.

A taste of the great Champagne houses: France’s lovely bubbly  ALAMY

Drappier Champagne House offers a unique insight

They are lined up row after row, layer upon layer and I love the way the effect is accidentally artistic.

Back out into the daylight our next stop is Champagne Bauser, a more contemporary Champagne house in Les Riceys.

As we stand in front of one of the huge vats our guide tells us how, if you time it right, you can actually hear a soft plip, plop, plip as the Champagne bubbles form, a fact that somehow makes me smile.

As I taste the delectable product, I hear myself using adjectives like honey and strawberry and hope I donâ??t sound pretentious.

In this part of France the views are superb.

From Plateau de Blu, midway between the villages of Fontette and Noë-les-Mallets, we overlook a tapestry of vineyards that strangely resembles a green candlewick bedspread.

As I taste the delectable product, I hear myself using adjectives like honey and strawberry and hope I don�t sound pretentious

The region is as pretty as a picture, which might explain why Impressionist painter Renoir loved it so much.

It may also be due to the fact that it was here, in the nearby village of Essoyes, that he met Aline Charigot in 1880.

She became his model and then his wife and they would spend their summers in the village.

At the visitor centre, Lâ??Espace Renoir, I admire the rosy faces of his family portraits as his life story unfolds on canvas and then watch a much romanticised film about his work.

From the visitor centre a signposted walk leads to Renoirâ??s Studio.

On the way I stop to look at copies of landscapes, propped on easels standing at the exact places Renoir painted.

From an easel on the riverbank I can pick out features in the landscape that have hardly changed: the bend in the river, the overhanging trees and the tower in the background.

In Renoirâ??s Studio I learn that rheumatoid arthritis in his later life left him unable to walk.

His wheelchair is suspended from the ceiling.

A taste of the great Champagne houses: France’s lovely bubbly  ALAMY

The idyllic scenery in Champagne�s Montagne de Reims district

Underneath are his words, â??Eh bien, jâ??aime mieux peindre que marcherâ?.

â??Oh well, I prefer painting to walking.â?

He would be carried upstairs to the light-drenched studio to paint.

Thereâ??s an easel in the corner and canvases on the walls.

The floor is splattered with paint, some made by Renoir himself.

In the centre of the room is a square couch draped in red and black where his models reclined.

Next we head to Troyes the historical capital of the Champagne region.

Itâ??s dark when we arrive and light rain gives the ancient cobbles an almost patent sheen.

The old-fashioned streetlamps emit a lazy amber glow, hazy at the edges, so the half-timbered houses with their gothic gabled roofs, mullioned windows and curious round towers look almost unreal.

Troyes was destroyed by a huge fi re in 1524 but then rebuilt in the same style.

It has more half-timbered houses than any other town in Europe.

The atmospheric Ruelle des Chats draws me into its shadows.

I look upwards to see the leaning houses almost kiss across the narrow alley and then I come across one of the townâ??s many tucked away courtyards.

At 111 Rue Ã?mile-Zola I step through a modern doorway and find myself in an alley that opens into another cobbled courtyard.

Here the timbers are rose-pink, as is the spiral staircase that twists up to the open balconies.

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The town is so gorgeous that I canâ??t stop taking pictures.

The buildings bow, some of them concave, some of them convex, and thereâ??s barely a straight line in the oak timbers which seem to lean and stagger along the streets.

The houses are vibrantly painted in every colour of the rainbow and the roofs make me think of the bows of ancient ships.

We dine in the picturesque Le Valentino restaurant with its charming courtyard, where the dishes, from exquisite starters to extraordinary puddings, are a work of art.

I have the lamb which and, without question, we have a fi nal bottle of Champagne.

I watch as it is being poured and I wonder if there really are 60 million bubbles…
THE KNOWLEDGE

Kirker Holidays (020 7593 2283/ kirkerholidays.com) offers three nights at the Hotel de la Poste in Troyes from £559 (two sharing), B&B.

Price includes return Eurostar from London to Paris, connecting train to Troyes, four daysâ?? car hire and the services of the Kirker Concierge to arrange Champagne tastings and vineyard visits.

Reims tourism: reims-tourism.com

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