France is among the world's most popular wine destinations. Champagne is among the famous wine regions in France that feature some of the best French wines, made exclusively in several designated regions across the country.
In this blog post, we'll explore these viticultural spots to find out what makes them so special. So whether you're a sparkling wine lover or a tourist looking for some insights into French culture, read on!
Champagne Wine Region
First up, let's have an overview of the Champagne region as a whole. Some wines are generally named after the region where they are from, such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne.
The Champagne region is in close proximity to Paris, which is less than 100 miles east, meaning that the wines from this region are often enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
Being close to Paris is also a contributory factor why French wines are known around the world and have major economic success. It covers an area that begins in the administrative departments of Marne, Aisne, Seine-et-Marne, and Aube. Moreover, it is split up into two smaller regions - the North and South.
The Northern region is made up of the area between Reims, Épernay, and Châlons-sur-Champagne. On the other hand, the Southern region includes the vast area between Bar-sur-Aube and Bar-sur-Seine en Mussy-sur-Seine.
The name Champagne is protected, courtesy of the law, and can only be used for wines made in this specific area. It is delimited by many regulations, like French wine classifications and the Appellation d'origine Contrôlée (AOC) rules.
The region boasts a rich history, beautiful landscapes, and many charming villages. You can visit the Champagne region during summer and spring if you're on vacation, but if you're embarking on a wine journey, the best time would be autumn, when most vineyards are being harvested.
The vines in the Champagne region grow grapes in great layerings under chalk soil and can only be planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier varieties.
Champagne Major Cities
The epicenter of the French Department Marne is Reims. It's a bustling metropolis with an array of historical sites to explore, including the famous Reims Cathedral, otherwise known as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Reims also happens to be the largest city in Champagne which explains why it's commonly the first place tourists visit. This commune spans 4,202 hectares and you can find it about 80 miles from Northeast of Paris on the Vesle River.
It also contains the largest concentration of the biggest Champagne houses. This city is considered the capital of the region and the Champagne capital of the world, albeit unofficial. Other notable sites to visit in Reims are the Saint-Remi Basilica and Roman Mars Gate.
You'll also get to taste Champagne during wine cellar tours. Some of the most famous Champagne houses located in Reims that offer tastings are Piper-Heidsieck, Taittinger, Mumm, Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Lanson, and more.
The productive town of Épernay is located near the Marne River, about 18 miles from Reims, and has an area size of 2,269 hectares. The vineyards in Épernay are nestled among the rolling hills that flank this picturesque town on both sides, with Chardonnay being a prominent plant.
Épernay is known to be the third most populated commune in the whole department of Marne with Reims and Châlons-en-Champagne taking the lead. Furthermore, it takes sixth place in the entire Champagne-Ardennes region.
Épernay takes the honor of being home to some famous and prestigious Champagne production facilities. In fact, it contains the second largest assembly of Champagne houses along the Avenue de Champagne or nearby.
The international Champagne trade organization, Union des Maisons de Champagnes (UCDA), has many member houses in Épernay, like Besserat de Bellefon, De Castellane, Dom Pérignon, Gosset, Jacquinot & Fils, Leclerc-Briant, Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, and more.
Because the houses are located near each other, it is easy to visit many of them within walking distance.
Champagne Sub-Regions / Districts
The Champagne wine region is mainly composed of the two major cities discussed above, Reims and Épernay.
It encompasses more or less 34,000 hectares which branch off into five different wine-producing districts or production areas with their own unique characteristics and particular grapes grown in their vineyards.
Côte des Bar, Aube
- Notable Champagne Houses/Growers: Fleury, Cédric Bouchard, Marie-Courtin, Jacques Lassaigne
- Soil: Marl, clay, limestone
The Aube is located near Troyes and also in the south corner of Champagne just about 30 minutes away from Chablis on wheel. Some say that Côte des Bar and Aube are the same while others say that the former is the major region in Aube. Either way, both are connected to each other.
It used to be the provincial capital for Champagne, with many vineyards sprawled across the rolling hillsides near villages such as Auxerre or Autun.
It might be a lesser-known region, but the Champagne wines produced here are just as special and delicious. This region presents classic flavors and a fantastic terroir that allows for incredible sparkling wines.
Furthermore, it maintains an extreme geographical variety, with landscapes that extend to different types of topography, which is good for winemaking. There are about 8,000 hectares dedicated for viticulture with the dominant grape being Pinot Noir, which is about 87% of the plantings.
The soil in this site consists mostly of marl and limestone with some clay added to it which helps create ideal growing conditions for grapes like Chablis and Burgundy's famous white grape: Chardonnay.
Champagnes from the Aube department are diverse and innovative, with many different styles to choose from. While some producers make their wines using only Pinot Noir grapes, some experiment more than others in order to create something truly one-of-a-kind.
Côte des Bar is made up of 63 communes. It does not have any classified communes such as Premier Cru or Grand Cru status, yet it still manages to produce some great wines!
Montagne de Reims (Mountain of Reims)
- Famous Champagne Houses/Growers: Veuve Clicquot, Drappier, Lanson, G.H. Mumm, G.H.Martel & Co., Taittinger, Ruinart, Jacquart
- Soil: Chalk, bedrock, sand, clay
The Montagne de Reims is a curved region that lies Southwest of Reims then East of Épernay. It’s the home to a vast array of soil types and conditions, so it's no wonder this city grows the three major Champagne grapes.
It mostly grows the dark grape varieties, with Pinot Noir accounting for about 40% of the plantings and Pinot Meunier at 36%. So, you can expect quite a number of Blanc de Noirs from this area. Furthermore, the soil is mostly chalky bedrocks and limestones, but it can vary.
This region measures about 9,000 hectares of vineyards situated in different terroirs, which contributes to the specific tastes of their wines. It is further divided into two: the Southern and Northern Montagne.
On top of that, the Reims is a pinnacle of French viticulture, with many villages boasting Grand Cru status. It consists of more than 90 villages, 9 of which are classified as "Grand Cru" such as Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly, etc.
These villages produce some of the most famous sparkling wines in the world, thanks to their unique microclimate and soil composition. In addition to the Grand Cru villages, there are also 25 Premier Cru villages.
Here, you'll find dozens of world-renowned Champagne houses that offer tours and Champagne tasting activities.
Vallée de la Marne (Marne Valley)
- Famous Champagne Houses/Growers: Billecart-Salmon, Philiponnat, Deutz, Bollinger, Jacquesson
- Soil: Sand, marl, clay, chalk, limestone
Vallée de la Marne is located between Tours-sur-Marne and Château-Thierry. It is also by the Marne River and Northwest of Montagne de Reims. This sub-region covers about 8,000 hectares of vineyards, where roughly 62% of the plantings are Pinot Meunier grapes.
Furthermore, this sub-region is divided into six sub-zones, each with its own unique character: Grande Vallée de la Marne, Rive Gauche, Rive Droite, Château Thierry Est, Condé en Brie, and Château Thierry Ouest.
Despite the vineyards being prone to frost in this area, Pinot Meunier grapes thrive because they flower late but fruit early. The perfect balance of clay and sand makes this region a great spot for Pinot Meunier too.
However, you may still find Chardonnay and Pinot Noir planted in smaller vineyards. The Marne Valley is still a developing sub-region, unlike others that have already established a name. The whole area strives to be known as a versatile wine region, not just as the land of Meunier.
The history of Champagne is closely connected to the Marne Valley as the legend goes that Dom Pérignon invented Champagne in the abbey of the village Hautvillers during the 17th century.
Côte des Blancs
- Famous Champagne Houses/Growers: Boizel, Proy-Goulard, Vazart-Coquart, Duval-Leroy
- Soil: Chalk, limestone
The Côte des Blancs is a beautiful, serene region in the department of Marne. You can find this 3,000-hectare stretch in the Southern part of Montagne de Reims, nearby Épernay.
As the name suggests, this region is famous for producing white grapes, specifically Chardonnay; in fact, it thrives in about 82% in Côte des Blancs. The large white grape yield has something to do with Côte des Blancs' soil which is limestone chalk.
This is actually the region in the entire Champare area with the highest amount of limestone chalk. It is ideal for acidic grapes, which explains the abundance of Chardonnay.
Because it is surrounded by hillsides, this area gets plenty of wind that protects the vineyards. The oceanic and continental climate also plays a key role in providing the appropriate environment for growing Chardonnay grapes to create Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
This region has 13 villages, 6 of which are classified as Grand Cru, while 7 are Premier Crus.
While only four villages are located on the actual Côte des Blancs slope (Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Oger), there is a large cluster of vineyards around these communes.
Côte de Sézanne
- Famous Champagne Houses/Growers: Champagne Yveline Prat, Champagne Breton Fils, Domaine Collet-Champagne
- Soil: Chalk, clay
The Côte de Sézanne is located South of Côte des Blancs and is considered an extension. Nonetheless, it is recognized as a separate sub-region. It is home to 12 villages that have 1,417 hectares of vineyards under cultivation by 715 operators.
The soil of Côte de Sezanne is different from other regions located in the North because the majority are chalky, clay-rich soils rather than just chalk. Meanwhile, their climate is mostly humid mixed with sufficient sun exposure.
This specific terroir gives producers an advantage as their grapes tend to ripen earlier and produce rounder and milder wines. They use these grapes to blend multiple vintages by big Champagne houses.
The Chardonnay grape variety accounts for 75% of vines in this region. Pinot Meunier and Noir are also grown here, adding their own fruity flavors to the region's wines that are well known for having plenty of characterful taste.
The average vineyard size in the Côte de Sezanne is 1,479 hectares, with 733 vineyards owning a share of it. This translates into 1,135.6 hectares for Chardonnay grapes and 266.2 hectares for Pinot Noir, and 69.6 hectares for Pinot Meunier. There are also 7.6 hectares dedicated exclusively to other grape varieties.
We hope you found our exploration of the best wine regions in France helpful. If you intend to be a serious wine enthusiast or aficionado, it is crucial that you also learn things about wine, such as reading labels, wine drinking, and knowing where they come from.
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