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Our little black book of enchanting places

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Add some sparkle to 2017

Posted in FOOD + DRINK By Maggie O' Sullivan

Wine-tasting, Arblaster & ClarkeImage: Arblasterandclarke.com

UK is now the world's second biggest consumer of Champagne (after France), importing 31,189,753 bottles last year. But how much do most of us actually know about our favourite tipple? So in 2017 we will be signing up for a couple of organised Champagne tastings. We know we’ll be in safe hands with Arblaster & Clarke, which has been organising wine tours for 30 years. Its three-day May Bank Holiday package includes a tasting in Reims followed by tastings at Brice, Vilmart, Cattier and André Jacquart Champagne houses. 27-29 May, £595 per person, including return Eurotunnel, two nights' accommodation, all meals and tips.Wine cellar tour, Grape EscapesEqually reliable is a company called Grape Escapes, founded by Mark and Claire Hallett in 2004. It offers a wide variety of tours but says its most popular are to the Champagne region, in part because it’s just so easy to get to from the UK. Packages include group and exclusive visits to estates such as Veuve Clicquot, Möet and Chandon, Pommery, Taittinger and Billecart-Salmon, but if you can’t see exactly what you’re looking for, Grape Escapes will tailor make a package just for you. Essential Champagne Day Tour, including visits to three Champagne houses and lunch, from £296 per person, excluding travel.Pivoine, Afloat in France by BelmondFor tastings in out-and-out luxury, Belmond is adding two new barges to its Afloat in France fleet this summer, one of which – Pivoine – will cruise between Meaux and Châlons-en-Champagne along the River Marne and Canal Lateral de Marne. On the itinerary are exclusive Champagne tastings, visits to great estates and to wine cellars and wineries, as well as tours of the region’s most important historical sites. Needless to say, the Champagne will also be flowing back on board. From €5,200 per person for a six-night cruise on an all-inclusive basis based on eight guests travelling. We’ve had a few successful forays into English sparkling wine this year and are keen to continue our research in 2017. Nyetimber, in West Sussex, is the vineyard that regularly beats Champagne's biggest names in blind tastings. It doesn't do regular tours though it does have occasional open days – see website for details – and look out for the refitted 1968 Routemaster Bus called The Nyetimber, which sells wine by the glass and by the bottle at various events throughout the year.Chapel Down, KentIf we miss the Nyetimber bus, we’ll head for Chapel Down in Kent which produces a few award-winning sparklers of its own. From April onwards, you can take a tour of the vineyards and winery to see how the Traditional Method is used to transform the grapes into sparkling wine, followed by a tutored tasting of sparkling and still wines. Tours cost £10 per person.

BY MAGGIE O'SULLIVAN

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