“Come quickly! I am drinking the stars,” exclaimed the 17th century monk Dom Pérignon when he invented champagne. Both the invention story and expression are apocryphal at best, but it’s a lovely way of thinking about that elusive and often expensive sparkling beverage. And now, it turns out, he may have started a health fad as well as a famous sparkling wine. Research has shown feeding rats small quantities of champagne can improve their spatial memory, a discovery that has some scientists suggesting a few glasses of champagne a week to combat the onset of dementia. It’s the perfect excuse to try champagne straight from the source, and we’ve compiled the world’s best destinations for drink sparkling wine at its finest.
Let’s start in Champagne, home of the sparkling wine. The Treaty of Madrid, signed in 1891, established a rule that only sparkling wine harvested in the Champagne region of France would earn the name “champagne.” Reims and Épernay are the heart of champagne country, and both are a short two hour drive from Paris. Stop in Épernay first for a day of touring cellars and sipping champagne. It’s the smaller town of the two, and sits very close to Hautvillers, the site of Dom Pérignon’s abbey. Stroll down the Avenue de Champagne before heading down to the cellars of the famous Möet & Chandon for a tasting and a tour.
Reims is famous not only for its champagne, but for its gorgeous cathedral, which was built over 800 years ago and has hosted the coronation of 33 French kings. Stay nearby at the Mercure Reims Cathédrale to explore the home of Tattingerand Veuve Cliquot. While you lengthen your life by sipping sparkling gold from a glass, read the story of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the veuve, or “widow,” who gave her name to the now-famous champagne brand. At 27 years old, she took over her late husband’s wine business and created a global empire by revolutionizing production methods and improving the quality of the wine. You may need to order another glass to toast this brilliant woman.
Italy’s delightful sparkling wine, Prosecco, is made slightly differently than its French counterpart. It is fermented in tanks using the Charmat method, rather than in individual bottles. The taste is more mineral and savory than champagne, thanks to the local Glera grapes. Prosecco outsold champagne for the first time in 2014 and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, partially due to its lower price point. It’s unclear whether prosecco offers the same health benefits aschampagne, but it’s equally refreshing for mind and spirit. And thankfully for travelers, its home province of Treviso is stunningly beautiful.
To see the cradle of prosecco, drive 45 minutes north of Venice to the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where Antonio Carpené developed the modern method of producing prosecco in 1868. Hundreds of vineyards dot the steep hills on either side of the road, taking advantage of the perfect growing climate. Visit the cellar tasting room of Bisol to sample some of the best from this lovely region, which is now the exclusive producer of Prosecco Superiore.
For a more urban take on prosecco culture, head to Venice, where the sparkling wine is used as an aperitivo. Reap the health benefits of prosecco by trying aspritz, a combination of prosecco, Aperol, soda, and a slice of orange or an olive. The famous bellini is also Venetian, and was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani atHarry’s Bar by adding fresh white peach juice to the local prosecco. For the best of the bacari, or prosecco bars, visit Cantina do Mori, open since 1462, for a glass of wine and some excellent tapas.
Cava, the sparkling wine of Spain, is made using the champagne technique with native Spanish grapes, including Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Nearly 95% of Cava comes from the Penedès region of Catalonia near Barcelona. Cava, which means “cellar” in Catalan, is fresher and fruitier than champagne, and less acidicdue to the sunny climate where the grapes are grown.
Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in the green hills of the Penedès is the home of the famousFreixenet winery. The Freixenet cava was born from the union of Dolores Sala and Pedro Ferrar, whose marriage joined two prominent wine families together. It’s still the world standard for cava, and can be tasted on site as part of on-sitecellar tours. They make a perfect day trip from Barcelona, which is only a 45 minute train ride away.
Barcelona itself is home to an enthusiastic cava culture. Recaredo and Gramona, two excellent and inexpensive local cavas, are on offer around the city at xampanyerias, or cava bars. One of the best is Can Paixano, which is beloved among locals, and offers its own Berenguer Ramon cava for under two euro a glass. For a spin on the classic, head to Cachitos for its fantastic sangria de cava, and stay nearby at the lovely Cram Hotel. Now that we know each sip may boost mental health, there should be no guilt in toasting health and happiness with a glass of the king of wines.
This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 8, 2015.