The city of Epernay, France is a champagne enthusiast’s dream – an august small town south of Reims overflowing with opportunities to taste the country’s most famous export. Several well known large Champagne houses are found in Epernay as are smaller ones and many are open for tours and tastings.
Champagne Tasting in Epernay
Lined with stately champagne houses, the Avenue de Champagne is Epernay’s main attraction. Here you will find famous names such as Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger, Mercier and Perrier Jouet, as well as a number of lesser known houses including Vranken and de Castellane.
Beneath the avenue and adjoining streets, over a sixty miles of caves have been carved out of the chalk. The most impressive of all, running over 17 miles, are the cellars at Moet et Chandon (20 Avenue de Champagne), which are shared with Dom Perignon. A tour of the cellars, some of which are 100 feet under the ground, is a good introduction to the art of champagne making. You will be led past endless rows of champagne beneath the avenue before being deposited in the gift shop where you can sample a glass of bubbly. Moet et Chandon also own two stately buildings across the street, including the historic Trianon and Hotel Chandon.
Opened in the summer of 2010, the A. Bergere tasting room (40 Avenue de Champagne) gives visitors an opportunity to taste a relatively new boutique champagne – Bergere was only founded in 1949 and the champagnes have not yet reached the U.S. as only 120,000 bottles are produced annually. No tours here – the grapes are grown in Fèrebrianges and Etoges Congy – only a tasting in a small but stylish space. For €3 per person, you can taste a range of well made champagnes – including a Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature without dosage (added sugar) and the Cuvee Tentation, an excellent champagne with more body (70% chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir). Bottles are well priced from €13.90 – €18.90 – make a purchase and the tasting fee is waived.
Near the foot of the Avenue, at the Place de la Republique, the stately Hotel de Ville is surrounded by a leafy park. Next door, the Tourist Information Center (7 Avenue de Champagne, website) often holds free tastings for visitors on weekends. Just pick up a ticket at the front desk to take part.
Across the Marne River, the neighboring town of Ay is home to an intriguing Champagne House run by Roger Brun, a gregarious man with a wide portfolio of champagnes to taste. Brun is multilingual and welcoming – if the door is open, he is accepting visitors. No appointment is necessary and he can stay open as late as 8pm on weekends. Don’t miss the excellent Cuvee des Sires Ay – La Pelle and the Reserve Grand Cru. Bottles run from €14 – €35. Upstairs, he runs a B&B called Le Logis des Pressureurs looking out on the imposing Fifteenth Century Gothic church.
The town of Brugny, to the southwest of Epernay, is home to Champagne Henry & Bourdelat, another small house founded in 1955 that recently converted to organic practices. Henry & Bourdelat make six different champagnes including a very dry but rich and elegant Brut Selection, as well as the full bodied Brut Prestige and the very dry, citrusy Brut Millesimé 2002. Prices range from €13.10 – €17.60.
Moet et Chandon (20 Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, website)
Tours: Reservations recommended through: visites(at)moet.fr or on the website.
Tour Hours: January 31 – March 25 and November 14 – December 31 open Monday – Friday 9:30 – 11am & 2pm – 4:30; March 26 – November 13 open daily. Closed every January.
Boutique Hours: March 26 – November 13 9:30am – 5:30pm daily, January 31 – March 26 9:30am – 1pm & 2pm – 5:30 daily. November 14 – December 31 open Monday to Friday. Closed January.
Fees: 1 hour tour plus glass Moet Imperial €15, Visit with glass of Moet Imperial and Rose Imperial €22, Grand Vintage Tour (glass of 2002 Grand Vintage and 2002 Rose €28), Under 18 €9 (no tasting), kids under 10 free
A. Bergere (38 – 40 Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, website)
Hours: Daily 10:30am – 12pm & 2pm – 6pm
Fees: Tasting €3 per person, waived with purchase, no tour
De Castellane (37 Rue de Verdun, Epernay, website)
Hours: April – December 23 10am – 12pm, 2pm – 6pm (other times by appointment)
Fees: €10 for tour and glass of champagne
Roger Brun (1 Rue Henri IV, Ay, website)
Hours: If the door is open, tasting is available – avoid harvest time
Champagne Henry & Bourdelat (10 Rue des Limons, Brugny, website)
Hours: Call +33 3 26 59 9892
Most large houses are open to the public without appointment, though Veuve Clicquot is an exception.
When tastings are free, it is expected that you make a purchase.
Guided tours at larger houses will include at least one glass of champagne and many have options to add additional tastes.
Eat & Drink
La Table Kobus (3 Rue Dr. Rousseau, +33 3 26 51 5353, website), a favorite of local winemakers, takes its inspiration from 19thcentury Parisian brasseries. The restaurant serves regional specialties in a quaint dining room and has an extensive champagne list, including half-bottles.
Open Tuesday – Sunday lunch; closed Thursday night, all Monday and Sunday evening
La Banque (40 rue du General Leclerc, +33 3 26 59 5050, website) is a new brasserie and champagne bar in a stately former bank building. The busy space has a long bar on one side, perfect for sipping any of the dozen champagnes available by the glass, and a dining room on the opposite side.
Open daily, set menus from €14.50
C Comme Champagne (8 Rue Gambetta & 7 Rue Jean Moet, website) is a hybrid champagne shop and tasting room, with a rotating selection of champagnes available every week at the bar in the rear. The champagnes are all from small, independent production houses and available for sale in the shop. Descend the stairs to the champagne cave, where 350 champagnes from 45 different growers are stocked.
The tasting room always has six champagnes available by the glass, showcasing a variety of styles. Tastings are €5.50 for 10cl of one or €27.50 for all 6; €6.50 for 14cl or €32.50 for all 6. The shop does not have a kitchen but pates and charcuterie are available.
Open daily from 3pm – 8pm (later on Friday and Saturday).
Le Vieux Puits (7 Rue Jules Lobet, Ay, +33 3 26 56 9653, website) is a charming rustic gem run by husband and wife team Chef Eric and Sylvie Aubert. A bastion of traditional French cooking, this is a place to indulge in foie gras in various forms (seared, terrine, smoky crème brulee with lentils) and beautifully sauced meats such as lamb or veal. Don’t miss Langres, Champagne’s delicious, unctuous cheese, served flambéed with a local brandy Marc de Champagne.
Open Friday – Tuesday for lunch and dinner
Where to Stay
Hotel Jean Moet (7 Rue Jean Moet, +33 3 26 32 1922, website) is in an 18th century building that has been recently renovated. This small hotel is conveniently upstairs from C Comme Champagne and in easy walking distance to all the city’s sights. Doubles start at €140 and have free wi-fi. Book well in advance for peak times.
Au Coeur des Vignes (2 Chemin des Crépons, +33 6 85 61 6404, website) means “in the heart of the vineyards” and this lovely B&B more than lives up to the name. The five rooms, each with a view of vineyards, are large and comfortable with private baths. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the center but the prices are well worth it – from €63 for a double including breakfast and free wi-fi (€0.75 tax per person additional).
Hotel Campanile Epernay – Dizy (+33 3 26 55 3366, website) is located 2km north of town on the route to Reims and is a very inexpensive option for visitors with a car. The two story building has a motel feel but the rooms have been recently renovated and wi-fi is free. Ask for a second floor room with a view of the vineyards, otherwise you might be stuck looking at a wall or a row of cars. With advance purchase rooms are as low as €58 or €73 without advance purchase.
Getting There: High-speed TGV rains run from Paris and Charles de Gaulle Airport direct to Epernay. Reims is approximately 30 minutes to the north of the city and easily reached by train or car.
Weather: Champagne has a very wet climate, with over 200 days of rain a year. Make sure to have an umbrella since the weather can be quite changeable.
When to Visit: Summer and early Fall is very busy in Champagne. Mid-December is a perfect time to visit – the champagne houses are lit up with Christmas lights and feature champagne bars, live music, an antique car parade and more.
Tipping: 15% service is included in France by law (service compris). In restaurants, diners often round-up or leave around 5% for good service.