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We are going to take a break from grape varieties, and for the next few issues I will give you an account of my buying trip to France this year. Every year in January I visit the growers with whom I do business.

Last year I was robbed. We had been out to supper in a village in Provence called Mallemort, and when we came out of the restaurant we discovered that the van had been broken into, and I had lost around 200 bottles of wine. So this year I was extremely careful, only booking hotels with lockable parking, for example.

We arrived on Sunday night in the Champagne region, ready to start tasting first thing Monday morning. We left the hotel early before breakfast, because the hotel is fine, but their breakfasts are expensive (14 euro), the food is not good and the coffee is undrinkable.

Our first appointment is at Jackie Simonet, based in the village of Villers-Marmery on the Montagne de Reims. Although the Montagne de Reims is famous for growing Pinot Noir, Villers-Marmery is an exception: Chardonnay is grown here, with top Chardonnay producers such as Taittinger owning vines here. The Simonet family own about a dozen hectares, and produce a delicious, floral, biscuity champagne (100% Chardonnay) with a persistent, soft mousse (bubbles).

Then we are off to Les Riceys, about two hours’ drive to the south. This is in the Aube, where the large champagne houses buy huge amounts of grapes, but keep quiet about it because it’s the unfashionable part of the region. Les Riceys specialises in growing Pinot Noir. We have an appointment with M. Wenner, owner of Guy de Forez. He makes a very different, but equally delicious, style of champagne from Jackie Simonet - it is fuller–flavoured, with a faint tinge of pink (very faint – it is emphatically not a rosé) owing to the fact that it is made entirely from Pinot Noir (a red grape). He also makes a very impressive, ageworthy vintage champagne, which has more elegance than his non-vintage.

After Les Riceys, we motored over to Chablis to stay in the Hostellerie des Clos, one of the best hotels in the world, with the best breakfasts in France (and costing only 12 euro).

This places us advantageously for our tastings the next day around Chablis.