A few glasses later, we’re driving down Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, one of the most expensive streets in the world according to Jean-Yves, our guide. Why? Because beneath it are the cellars of houses including Moët et Chandon and Mercier, storing millions of bottles of champagne.
While enjoying a four-course lunch, Jean-Yves explains what glasses to drink champagne in.
“Tulip-shaped or flute with a long stem, which enhances the flow of aromas and bubbles and your hands don’t warm the drink,” he says. “It’s best not to have your glasses too clean, as the bubbles need a rough surface to form.”
So why is champagne so expensive? Apart from the hard work and skill – choosing grapes, blending wines, fermenting, disgorging, and corking – there’s also the branding. At Mumm in Reims we’re led underground into its chalk cellar and told how many celebrities have drunk “only the best” made here.
The slick visit to Mumm is different from our previous stop at William Saintot in Avenay Val D’or, where the family are in the courtyard, tucking into baguettes.
Daughter Nathalie leads us into what looks like a garage but is, in fact, the cellar. Everything here is done by hand by the family, and there is great pride in their product.
“When do you drink champagne?” Julien asks us at the start of our day. Glitzy functions, celebrations, and if you’re feeling flush, we answer. But perhaps we should take a lesson from the French attitude to bubbly, where appreciation for the drink makes mid-morning as good a time as any.
Notre-Dame Cathedral: One of four Unesco World Heritage Sites in the city, this Gothic masterpiece was the site of 25 coronations.
Museum of Fine Arts: A former abbey, the museum houses an extensive collection of 17th century art.
Drouet d’Erlon: A pedestrianised street of cafés and bars – enjoy a home-made pastry at Waïda at the top end of the street.
» Janine Jorgensen travelled with Grape Escapes (08456 430 860), which offers guided Champagne weekends from £299 and tailor-made tours for all budgets