Deep in the valleys of the French frontier, Siddharth Dasgupta begins to suspect that the soul of the country might well lie far away from its celebrated cities.


Champagne vineyards in Mailly-Champagne near Reims, FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
Champagne vineyards in Mailly-Champagne near Reims, FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images

I’m in France to savour its sparkling white wines or champagnes in the Champagne-Ardenne region, a cluster of prosperous unparalleled champagne-producing provinces.

Troyes (pronounced ‘Twa’) is one of those dreamy little French country sides that captures you instantly with an immersive aura that is compelling. From amongst Troyes’ wealth of churches, the Church of Sainte-Madeleine consumes me with its grandeur. The specially-curated three-course dinner at L’Essentiel, is served with a roving selection of crystal-clear champagnes both vivacious in flavour and rare in texture.

From a large town square flanked by a vibrant restaurant culture, and an even more bristling array of high fashion labels, this town is a perfect entrée for a foray into champagne land.

A special-edition bottle in an old cellar in Burgundy.
A special-edition bottle in an old cellar in Burgundy.

GETTING TO THE HEART OF CHAMPAGNE

The Drappier Champagne House in the village of Urville, regularly produces a million bottles of champagne a year, many of which are exported. In their processing plant, the usage of sulfur is kept to a minimum, resulting in champagnes that glisten with gold and copper. The spirits are aged in oat vats for close to twenty years.

In his remarkable cellar, every new batch is treated with as much care and precision as vintages dating back to the 1940s. Drappier’s array of cuvées—delicate rosés, confident bruts and sparkling blancs—are like drops of manna and their fragrance lingers long after I have bid Au Revoir.

KISS FROM A ROSÉ

A drive through vast green canvasses brings us to the town of Les Riceys. Monsieur Pascal Morel—heir to five generations of wine stories is restoring the prestige of the fabled ‘Rosé des Riceys’ appellation.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A MASTER

After discovering Les Riceys through its vast collection of vineyards and its vistas scented with the remnants of Champagne, Coteaux and Rosé des Riceys, we reach the village of Essoyes.Now we’re in Renoir country, and as I imbue the significance of this place, the cumulative effect is nothing short of surreal – a fitting tribute to the near spiritual profundity of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Champagne vineyards adorned with autumn colors, after the harvest, in Mailly-Champagne near Reims, FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images
Champagne vineyards adorned with autumn colors, after the harvest, in Mailly-Champagne near Reims. FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images

A HEADY BONSOIR TO REIMS

The headquarters of the champagne collective—La Cojevi—and its flagship brand—Champagne Collet—make for interesting pitstops. This is the significant birthplace of champagne. The Maison Cojevi is a beautifully conceived champagne museum that pairs the sparkle with haute couture, gem artisanship, and gastronomy across four exquisitely designed parlours. After sampling some of their heady Brut Art Deco, I’m now in the city of Reims.

To celebrate the end of this journey, my hosts have invited me to a Gala Evening at the Palais du Tau—the enormous palace residence of the bishops and then the archbishops of Reims, and now a museum.

It’s all very heady and very luxurious. It’s all quite unforgettable. I’ve chosen to bid adieu to this particular journey, appropriately enough, with champagne. I’ve come to understand that for the French, champagne isn’t a drink reserved for celebrations or occasions alone, but an everyday drink meant to complement life.