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Champagne for the Holidays: Côte des Bar

Try something new that will be new to your guests and possibly new for you too!

The Côte des Bar is in the most southern part of Champagne, actually closer to Chablis (about 70 km) that the rest of Champagne ( about 150 km to Épernay), and one of the hottest up and coming regions to look out for.

And by hottest, I do mean it is warmer. The Côte des Bar is a warmer continental climate compared to the rest of the region. Frost is rare and vines have more vigor. It is influenced by two major climatic zones: Atlantic influences coming from the west, bringing rain, and continental influences with more extreme temperatures. So that even though it does have a consistent warmer temperature, we still get that Champagne chill we need for high acid grapes. The soils are Kimmerdgian marl topped with limestone (similar to Chablis) and the bedrock is much older than the chalk that’s underneath Épernay, provoking beautiful old vines.

The roots of the region dig deep in history as well. The Côte des Bar is centered around Troyes, which was an important epicenter of the area in the medieval area and is regarded as the original capital of the Champagne region. In the 12th century, the Cistercian Abbot, Saint Barnard of Clairvaux, founded the Clairvaux monastery in the region and established Pinot Noir vines before heading the second crusade. This set the historical foundation for Pinot Noir being the more dominant varietal for centuries to come. The aim was to create wines that could compare to those great already known in Burgundy due to its closer proximity to that region than the rest of Champagne. This distance also allowed oppertunity to grow other varietals than the standard three seen by vineyards in the north. In addition to the Champagne varietals of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Petit Meunier, there are great plantings of Pinot Blanc, locally called Blanc Vrai, as well as Arbanne. These varietals can be seen in blends as well as monovarietal wines.

Even though the region claimed a capital to the region, it was a fight to have regional status as a Champagne region. The Côte des Bar was finally granted status into the Champagne in 1927, after what is known as the Champagne Riots in 1911. This occurred with the first delimitations of the AOC were drawn in 1908 and Côte des Bar was not included with much fight from the Marne area up north who believed that it was a separate region with different soils and climate. Throughout the mid and late 20th century the region was often ignored even though its grapes would be bought for non vintage blends up north.

There are 3 main regions that separate the Côte des Bar:

The Barséquanias: Highlighted in blue, this region carries the majority of producers with some of the best sites. This region also includes the famous subregion of Les Riceys. Les Riceys include three neighboring villages Ricey-Haut, Ricey Haut Rive, Ricey-Bas, which together create a small appellation for still rose wine called Rosé des Riceys.

Bar sure Aubois: Highlighted in purple, this area surrounds the town of Bar sur Aube with fewer producers

Montgueux: Not included in the larger map but can be seen in the smaller wider view, this area is six miles west of Troyes and is on top of a 900ft outcrop of chalk with completely south facing slopes and plantings tht date to the 1950's. The chardonnay from Montgueux is broad, almost tropical character, was popular with négociants, particularly Piper-Heidsieck, who purchase fruit from this area for their famous blends. .

When you are looking for the best producers to showcase the Côte des Bar, check out my favorite three:

Vouette & Sorbée

  • Completely biodynamic with fragrant soil with live bugs and microbes to help deliver the best vines

  • 1993, Bertarnd Gauherot took over his family vineyard in Buxieres sur Arce in the Barséquanais and turned in biodynamic.

  • In 2001, Anselme Selosse, convinced him to make his own wine rather than selling the grapes and specifically single vintage Pinot Noir barrel fermented with native yeasts.

  • His firm’s name is after the two parcels he works with: Vouette which is one acre of clay and limestone from the Jurassic age, and Sorbée which is larger and at a higher elevation with Kimmeridgian soil from Portlandian age.

NV Fidele Blanc de Noir, Brut Nature

  • Sourced from all three plots

  • Always has a primary vintage where 90% of the wine comes from, and the rest is from reserves

  • All barrel fermented with native yeasts with full Malolactic Fermentation, which softens the wine so there doesn’t have to be any dosage added.

What I found most compelling about this bottle, was the savory tone that was achieved with a blanc de noir from a warmer region. All the dried roses and black cherries was supported by bring acidity.

Oliver Horiot

Salima and Alain Cordeuil

Cédric Bouchard

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