A subscriber of Wine Travel Guides (occasional wine tour guide, Lits Philippou) tipped me off about this really interesting Champagne bar/shop in Epernay and I was able to stop by on my way back from Haute Savoie to London (via the Jura!) before it had even been checked out by our Champagne expert Tom Stevenson.
I’ve never found Epernay a very exciting place apart from the obvious Champagne Houses to visit and a few pleasant restaurants – the larger city of Reims is much more interesting. On the other hand, you are bound to go to Epernay at some time if you are a lover of Champagne as it is really in the heart of the vineyard area, with arguably the largest number of important Houses based nearby. It follows that whilst in the town you might just want a glass of Champagne, or better still, the chance to sample a few different wines, perhaps as tasters, something American wine lovers will be very familiar with in a country where ‘flights’ of wines are regularly offered in wine bars and even restaurants.
‘C-comme Champagne’ is centrally located in Rue Gambetta off the Place de la République. It’s a seemingly simple concept – a modern-style bar with a shop, stocking and serving around 250 Champagnes from 45 growers – and they are not the sort of names that are easy to find or visit on your own. Good ones amongst the list include Moutardier, Colin and Roger Brun. All are listed with full details on their website, which is only in French.
The wine bar has comfortable modern seats and a bar, and there is a video screen showing the Champagne process (with no sound), plus a selection of informative books to browse through. Each week, five Champagnes are selected of different styles (e.g. Ultra Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Rosé etc) from five different growers and these are offered by the glass with three different sizes (7cl – €3; 10cl – €4.50; 14cl – €5.50), and also by the bottle at a special price of €29. There’s also Kir Royale, still Coteaux Champenois, Rosé de Riceys and a few other Champagne specialities available by the glass.
A much bigger selection of Champagnes is offered by the half bottle – and if you are a small group of friends a few halves would provide an ideal opportunity to try and compare a few Champagnes before buying. Finally, there is the bottle selection. The half bottles and bottles can be purchased to drink on the premises at a very reasonable mark-up of about 100% on the shop purchase price. When you consider that the shop price here is just €1 more than buying direct from the producer it’s a good deal.
What I like is that you can sample a range of small grower Champagnes without the pressure of the vigneron standing over you waiting to see if you will buy. The only food served is a choice of three decent farm pâtés served with toast at €6.50 – enough to keep hunger at bay whilst the bubbles rush the alcohol into your bloodstream.
The shop in the cellar area is clearly arranged with good detail about each grower. Here you can purchase anything from a bottle upwards, and if you buy six bottles of the same Champagne, the price comes down to that which the grower charges.
I hope this place does well – it’s open every day, all day and into the late evening at weekends. Everyone wins – the bar owner, the customer and most of all the grower, who has here a showcase for his wines, and perhaps fewer time-wasting visitors (who might only buy 6 bottles, not so great if he’s spent an hour of his time when he could have been working in the vineyards). I don’t know if similar places exist in other French wine towns, but I can visualise this idea working in Dijon or Beaune in Burgundy; Bordeaux or St-Emilion; Avignon in the Rhône; Tours or Angers in the Loire; Colmar in Alsace and even Chambéry in Savoie.
If you have any bars like this to recommend, please do comment here and we can consider including them in Wine Travel Guides – remember the guides on the site are regularly updated, much more frequently and quickly than any guide book. If you prefer, just send me an email via the website here.