Everyone has heard of champagne, but fewer people realise that in order to be physically labelled as such, it must be produced in the Champagne region of France – so true champagne can be easily differentiated from the many other varieties of sparkling wine popular today. The primary grapes used in the production of champagne are black Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but also white Chardonnay. Sample champagne to your heart’s content at the Route de Champagne en Fête, held every August in Aube (5 & 6 August 2017). Festival-goers can purchase a ‘flute passport’ which grants them entrance to tastings at all the participating vineyards.
Of course, champagne is famous the world over – but it’s not the only beverage produced in the region.
Still red and white wine
It’s not all about champagne in Champagne! The department of Haute-Marne is also responsible for two principal groups of still wines. Those from thevillage of Coiffy-le-Haut near Bourbonne-les-Bains were replanted with Lyre trellises in 1983 following their decimation by the phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century. Today the vineyards cover 26 hectares spread between Coiffy itself and neighbouring Coiffy-le-Bas and Laneuvelle, and the wines are gaining recognition and popularity; reds are predominantly Gamays and Pinot Noirs, while whites are Chardonnays or Auxerrois. Also hailing from Haute-Marne are the Montsaugeon wines, whose 9th-century origins were similarly devastated by phylloxera before the vines were replanted in 1989. Thanks to the Order of the Knights of Montsaugeonnais, this vineyard continues to be recognised and produces award-winning wines.
The Champagne region’s rare rosé, Rosé des Riceys, is produced from 100% Pinot Noir grapes in the department of Aube. Several shades darker than a typical salmon-pink rosé, it’s bursting with red fruit flavours but without the harshly acidic freshness of cheap supermarket versions – its unusual delicacy is nicknamed the ‘goût des Riceys’ (the ‘taste of Riceys’) by producers. Contrasting with champagne, Rosé des Riceys is only produced in small quantities by a select number of producers when the conditions are right, which is not every year.
There is a long tradition of beer-making in Haute-Marne and today there are two artisan breweries with a creative flair. La Brasserie de Vauclaire produces five classic brews (white, blond, red, dark and triple) with special limited beers being brought out for Christmas and other occasions. Guided tours and tastings are available at the brewery. La Brasserie Artisanale du Der at Montier-en-Der produces ‘La Dervoise’. Noël Lepoix launched his beer production a few years ago, for him not just a job, but a passion. He often turns his hand at producing new types of beer, resulting in a wide range of styles such as La Dervoise Blonde, La Dervoise Ambrée, La Chantecoq (white beer), special beers for specific events and organic beer. Guided tours on beer making and the brewery are also available here.
The sparkling apple nectar from the Pays d’Othe area of Champagne is quite unlike the other ciders found in western France. Well-balanced between sweet and acid, it’s produced from the wealth of local apple varieties – Avrolles, Cul d’Oison and Pomme de Boulanger to name just a few – which are crushed and pressed, the juice passing into drums and drawn off into wooden barrels where it’s left to ferment for several months .Production has increased from 33 million bottles per year at the end of the 19th century to 200,000 litres today. Visit the cider museum and the ‘Potron Minet’ tearoom in Troyes, which serves cider-themed dishes – above all, enjoy sipping it chilled as an aperitif or with dessert.
A 40% liqueur made from ground sloe stones (the fruit of the blackthorn), Prunelle de Troyes is still made using its original recipe in the same building, behind the Cellier Saint-Pierre opposite Troyes cathedral. The building was occupied by wine merchants in the 1800s and has been owned by the Formont family since 1933. Prunelle de Troyes has been distilled since 1840 and won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. To make it, the sloe stones are ground to release their almond flavour and macerated in alcohol before undergoing a double distillation. Try Prunelle chilled as a digestif, as a cocktail with champagne or on a sorbet or frozen nougat (“le trou Champenois”).