The pop of a Champagne cork signals celebration and promises pleasure. The world’s most joyous drink was born around 350 years ago on the wind-swept chalk plains of eastern France. Just 45 minutes east of Paris by high-speed train, the Champagne region has long been popular with travelers fascinated by the history and taste of this elegant wine with its signature effervescence. Endowed with a constellation of great restaurants and several of the country’s best hotels — including a superb new one — Champagne today is a more alluring destination for oenophiles, gourmets and history buffs than ever before.
The region first acquired its winemaking vocation when the Romans planted vineyards on the rolling slopes between Durocortorum — the city now known as Reims — and Épernay. Their pale-pink wine was highly acidic, so they softened it by adding honey. It wasn’t until the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon began working with the wines of Champagne in 1668 that the drink so prized today was invented. He was the first winemaker to understand that grapes grown on different plots of land could have very different characters, a seminal idea that led to the cuvée, or the carefully studied blending of grapes. He also perfected the best technique for the méthode champenoise, the second fermentation that occurs inside the bottle on the addition of yeast.
Château de Sacy
We were in the mood for a flute of bubbly by the time we arrived at the 12-room Château de Sacy in the charming village of Sacy, which is a five-minute drive from the Champagne-Ardenne train station. This handsome four-story limestone villa with a steep slate roof and fretted wooden eaves is set on a hillside and surrounded by vineyards. It was built in 1850 for the wealthy Monnesson family, textile merchants in Reims, and after extensive renovations, it opened as a hotel in June 2017.