As taxi firm launches lavish day trip to the French winelands, QUENTIN LETTS escapes the election with a glass (or three) of the finest fizz: My heavenly day on Uber’s new tour of a Champagne paradise

Paradise has, over the years, had many depictions. Renaissance painters such as Tintoretto and Botticini imagined angels and bearded hunks perching on clouds. Flemish master Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) envisaged a forest glade with tame animals.

The Plains Of Heaven, by 19th-century English painter John Martin, shows an unspoilt plateau whose mountain lake is fed by a blue waterfall.

Four centuries earlier, Dutch oddball Hieronymus Bosch saw heaven as a tunnel rising to a source of light, like some vast concrete culvert in the sky.

In France the other day, I stumbled on another vision of Eden. After breakfast we had escaped the grime of Paris — a sorry place these days — and driven east for more than an hour.

The undulating countryside with its industrially farmed fields was pleasant enough on an overcast morning, yet it hardly made the soul sing.

Quentin Letts (pictured) enjoys a glass of champagne with lunch in France

A glass of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut

A glass of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut

Quentin's main course for lunch - roasted chicken fillet with champagne supreme sauce, asparagus and tarragon

Quentin’s main course for lunch – roasted chicken fillet with champagne supreme sauce, asparagus and tarragon

We left the A4 autoroute and followed a ‘route touristique du champagne’.

This made sense because I was trying Uber Bubbles, a new day trip in which an Uber car collects you from the French capital and whirrs you off to the Champagne-growing region for degustations and an excellent lunch.

At the late 18th-century Maison Belle Epoque, Epernay, we were greeted by a glass of Perrier-Jouet Blason Rosé and the lightest, scrummiest cheese biscuits before a five-course lunch with further sluicings of brut and blanc de blancs.

In Reims we were given a tour of the astonishing G. H. Mumm cellars and then, in case we were still thirsty, a squirt of Mumm’s Cordon Rouge fizz.

But first let me describe my vision of paradise. At this point in the day, by the way, I was completely sober. Scout’s honour. After leaving the autoroute, our chauffeur Pascal swung the Tesla towards the village of Oeuilly.

It took us past a village church that had seen better days, its roof patched with corrugated iron.

Given the earlier, sad state of Paris, whose streets were full of camping refugees and whose tabacs reeked of skunk cannabis, I thought, ‘Poor France is really struggling’.

At that point we crested a rise and everything changed. Before us, as if laid on a tablecloth, sat the Marne Valley, broad, fertile and shafted by sunlight.

Quentin with a glass of Mumm Champagne in his Uber Bubbles taxi

Quentin with a glass of Mumm Champagne in his Uber Bubbles taxi 

He stands in front of GH Mumm & Co in Reims, France

He stands in front of GH Mumm & Co in Reims, France

The spectacle could have been from a Disney film. The bucolic order, the sheer, fecund perfection of that wide and gentle landscape made one gasp.

The Marne Valley has the soft contours, almost, of the classic Champagne coupe or saucer glass, being broad enough to nestle in the palm of a hand. Welcome to the magic kingdom of bubbles.

What one noticed, standing there on the horizon, like Cortez gawping at the Pacific, was that the entire hillside seemed to be covered with vineyards.

Thousands upon thousands of rows of vines dotted every inch of that majestic valley.

They were as neat as the stitches left by an electric sewing machine. Patches showed where new vines had been planted to replace older stock, but the uniformity of drill and furrow was remarkable.

If this was paradise, it was one made by man at his most attentive. And yet, during World War I, the Marne Valley was a terrible killing ground, a place where man-made chaos ravaged the hillsides.

West of Epernay we passed a Great War cemetery; those regimented graves somehow echoed the precision of the fields of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier vines — those being the three main varieties of grape that go into Champagne.

Janisson-Baradon, Patrick Boivin, Leclerc Briant, Locret Lachaud: as we entered pretty Epernay, every street offered a new Champagne house. They were testament to the perfect climate and soil conditions for grape-growing in this part of the world.

GH Mumm headquarters in Reims, France

GH Mumm headquarters in Reims, France

The late 18th-century Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay

The late 18th-century Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay

Quentin is greeted by a glass of Perrier-Jouet Blason Rosé

Quentin is greeted by a glass of Perrier-Jouet Blason Rosé

The fields sit on sedimentary rock composed of chalk, marl and limestone, fast-draining yet able to retain enough water to sustain vines through dry spells.

The place in the world with the nearest conditions to Champagne is the south-east of England where, sure enough, sparkling wine is becoming a big industry, particularly since climate change made the Sussex and Kent weather more like that of the Champagne region.

But Uber Bubbles is not a geography field trip. It is about drink and food and pleasure in a world too often soured by political gripes.

‘Bienvenue à Perrier-Jouet,’ said Yannick Bouvet, manager of the Maison Belle Epoque, as he led us to a courtyard table dappled by June sunshine.

Monsieur Bouvet, 27, removed the cork from a bottle of Champagne with the effortless ease of a man who must open hundreds a week.

This 2015 Belle Epoque Champagne was decorated with Perrier-Jouet’s historic Japanese anemone motif, and he proceeded to talk us through the characters of some of his wines: the ‘light, refreshing brut, becoming spicier as it opens’, the ‘fruity and full rosé, whose 15 per cent of red grapes gives it a strong finish’, and the ‘peachy, flowery, white fruits’ of the blanc de blancs.

Could I tell the difference? Hic, of coursh!

Lunch was served: crab tartelette, marinated salmon with cucumber and almond cream, chicken fillet with Champagne sauce, then spring pavlova.

Oh, and a mignardise of financier pastry, so named because it was said to resemble a tiny bar of gold, though being markedly lighter.

Must have cost a fortune, you say. The Uber Bubbles day costs 200 euros (about £170) per car. You can fit four into the Tesla, so that would work out at just over £40 a head.

With Paris facing a bumper summer of tourism during the Olympic Games, Uber could be rushed off its wheels.

The 2015 Belle Epoque Champagne decorated with Perrier-Jouet's historic Japanese anemone motif

The 2015 Belle Epoque Champagne decorated with Perrier-Jouet’s historic Japanese anemone motif

Letts: 'Could I tell the difference? Hic, of coursh!'

Letts: ‘Could I tell the difference? Hic, of coursh!’

Taking our leave of the charming Yannick — or maybe two of him, given the amount of Perrier-Jouet I had by now hosed back — we made the short journey to Reims and the headquarters of Mumm, which Pascal told me I must not pronounce ‘Mum’ but ‘Moom’ to rhyme with ‘room’.

The enormity of the factory attested to what an important industry Champagne is.

In 2022, France exported more than 325 million bottles of Champagne — almost a tenth of them to Britain.

Mumm’s cellars, built mainly in the 19th century, run to more than 15 miles of cool, low-lit tunnels.

Without a guide you could become horribly lost and possibly disappear for ever, but it might be a light- headed demise: at every turn there are magnums and jeroboams of Mumm champagne standing upside down in wooden pupitres, or riddling racks.

Riddling is the term used to describe the loosening of yeast sediment.

With the bottles not quite vertical, and being regularly turned, the yeast sinks towards the cork, where it can be removed.

Most normal Champagne bottles are now riddled by machine but the bigger, more valuable bottles are still turned by hand.

Before we returned to the surface, we were shown a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge Stellar, designed to be drunk by astronauts. Without gravity, the usual bubbles reportedly acquire a mind of their own and have to be chased through the air.

I already felt I had been doing some of that at Perrier-Jouet.

In Reims we were given a tour of the astonishing G. H. Mumm cellars

In Reims we were given a tour of the astonishing G. H. Mumm cellars

Mumm's cellars, built mainly in the 19th century, run to more than 15 miles of cool, low-lit tunnels

Mumm’s cellars, built mainly in the 19th century, run to more than 15 miles of cool, low-lit tunnels

Most normal Champagne bottles are now riddled by machine

Most normal Champagne bottles are now riddled by machine

Before we returned to the surface, we were shown a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge Stellar, designed to be drunk by astronauts

Before we returned to the surface, we were shown a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge Stellar, designed to be drunk by astronauts

The bubbles in this bottle are larger and more stable, however, so can be enjoyed in space. One hesitates to think what the galactic constabulary would make of an astronaut drinking at the wheel of his or her rocket, but knocking back a glass of Champagne while looking down at the distant Earth sounds a wonderful experience.

Fizz on the final frontier. It’s another concept, perhaps, of paradise.

Uber Bubbles will run on Fridays and Saturdays until August 17. For more information go to uber.com/newsroom/bubbles

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