Whether it illuminates an aperitif, sublimates a dish or forever anchors the memory of a dessert, your choice of champagne never fails to leave a mark on your best moments, especially when it comes to celebrate anything memorable. As an unmissable guest able to fulfill some conviviality and gastronomic delights in the same time, we offer you this time the occasion to discover some new sparkling enchantment. After our article about Grands Crus (read here), we escape here in the meridional part of Champagne (cover drawing: Arnaud Faugas).
Located in the south part of the Champagne appellation, the Côte des Bar forms a relief line carved out by the Seine and the Aube rivers, and all other kinds of waterways. In another hand, this is also where the Pinot Noir variety is King! A land where each municipality decides on its harvest date and proposes it to the Champagne Committee. By Alex Plato
Ideally located in the meridional part of the Champagne production region, and also in the south of Troyes (read our previous article here) and the Lakes of Champagne (also read our article here), the Côte des Bar is extended through countless small green valleys, joining those of the Seine and the Aube rivers. Thus, an authentic patchwork of colors and savors opens its doors of this extraordinary terroir.
At the origin, this terroir has just been attached from 1927 to the Champagne manufacture. Indeed, before that date, the Côte des Bar was just considered as a subsidiary grape production area, to provide the required juice, in case of shortage or sometimes when the grapes were too expensive in the official appellations. This close experience and contact with vineyards surely contributed to the emergence of the first independent winegrowers there.
As seen earlier, among them, the majority of the juices are made of the unmissable and predominating Pinot Noir variety, eventually completed by Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Furthermore, these Pinot Noir grapes are identifiable to generally embody light wines, for able to reinforce the freshness of some cuvées. If you wanna get further in mobility, why don’t you also follow the steps of the Champagne tourist route? This is undoubtedly the best way to cross numerous breathtaking landscapes and may lead you from one cellar to another, in order to meet the winegrowers and obviously their tasting production. For example, you could have a stop in Les Riceys, a legendary village benefiting of more than 866 hectares of official appellation, divided into 3 designations of controlled origin appellations (AOC), whose are Champagne, along the Côteaux Champenois and the famous Rosé des Riceys. Nonetheless, this Rosé is royal, since it was muchly appreciated by the King Louis XIV.
Proud of an existence of more than 50 years, the Chassenay d’Arce is an original Champagne House born around a cooperative gathering 130 families of winegrowers, spread in and around over 12 villages disseminated through this Côte des Bars valley! From 2020, this giant family decided to converge into a new brand identity, allowing innovative projects in tune with the actual times and demand.
This entity was created in 1956, between the walls of the former property of the Langres‘ bishopric, before adopting the definitive name of Chassenay d’Arce, in 1964. From this time, it gradually became the most important cooperative of the entire Aube, thanks to their approximately 1.6 million bottles produced per year nowadays, after an annual harvest on more than 315 hectares of vineyards (photo credits: Chassenay d’Arce).
Furthermore, thanks to these mutual efforts paid by this company of winegrowers, they complete each other in a way that there can even be several personalities for their grapes. Thus, this phenomenon starts at least by their harvest planning, that may even differ from week between two neighboring villages.
In order to prevent this, prior the harvest, nearly 300 analyzes on the vines are carried out by their own Champagne Maturity Network, and help the winegrowers to anticipate their future, up to 3 weeks before the start of the forecast. Added to this, they can share their common constraints, inherent to the entire Champagne appellation, such as not using water on certain dry periods… For instance, this cause can create in some years, for example in 2020, some scalding on the grapes, unfortunately excluding them from the final juice.
As far as you can see, this union makes the strength. That’s why a wider range of references was deployed, including the most recent in terms of an organic cuvée, coming from only 3 plots. Issued at the end of 2019, this vintage 2013 is naturally part of an active process of the house focused on a certain environmental commitment, along many other investments operated over the last years in winery and aging cellars. The last wish is to get converted in order to obtain the Vignerons Engagés label, through a series of sustainable actions. In addition to this jewel, this sparkling family of winegrowers has joined forces to initiate a few other marvels, including a rare champagne, fully composed of Pinot Blanc. Indeed, despite this grape variety only occupies 2% of their territory, its fruits may offer a long list of tasting benefits. In short, this terroir offers a selection of fine and light wines, in contrast to other kinds of champagnes that could appear as a bit rounder.
Although, in a motivation of permanent innovation, the Chassenay d’Arce house has built a cutting-edge tool, lately including several a brand new packaging. Therefore, you would be surely happy to discover these cuvées, proud of their finesse and elegance to explore over time, and the explicit accessibility of these juices, have naturally already seduced the consumers in 18 export countries and at renowned wine merchants in France (such as Le Printemps du Goût and Le Repaire de Bacchus).
By the way, if you get the opportunity the 19th century underground cellars of Chassenay d’Arce, ask to your guide to taste the bourru (a juice which just started its fermentation process, enlightened with a bunch of selected and non-native yeasts).
Their first range, Les Essentielles range announces the color, thanks to its prominent Pinot Noir blends, as we have just seen, one of the main ambassadors of this Côte des Bar. Developed in the purest Champagne tradition, this selection of 4 bottles benefits from an aging on lees during an honorable period, covering between 3 to 7 years.
Among them, we get through the Cuvée Sélection, as a good introduction to understand the spirit of this category. This blend includes the fruits from several harvests, offering a large role to the Pinot noir a large role to play, along the minority Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Thereafter, we have a look on the Cuvée Première, shared between 62% Pinot Noir and 38% Chardonnay, based on different harvest years, extending from 2005 until 2015. Happily bottled in 2016 (therefore 4 years under glass), for a dosage of 9 grams of sugar and in the end a beautiful aromatic richness to be appreciated especially with sea food!
Furthermore, let’s get surprised by semi-dry Cuvée Apolline, a charming blend of half Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties, plus a glance of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier. A round and smooth ensemble, moderately sweet but enough to enhance its gourmet notes, presenting aromas of candied fruit, brioche and sweet spices, obviously dedicated to get married with pastries!
On top that, you couldn’t miss their Cuvée Rosé, where 13% of red wine has been completing, before bottling, this blend of several harvests, composed of 60% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier and only 2% Pinot Blanc. Although it has been 27% malo-blocked, this friendly but frank cuvée is proud of its subtle fruity notes, to accompany an aperitif or a dessert.
In the Caractères category, as its name suggests, you may explore different vintages full of character, underlined by a majority of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This time, these champagnes in this range are still aged on lees but between 5 to 10 years. In this range, you could notably taste the first organic Millesime 2013, issued in 2019. This innovative newcomer is regarded as quite different from conventional wines, since it has been vinificated in wooden barrels, without dosage and enhanced with a 100% rate of Pinot Noir.
Otherwise, in the same category, discover the unique Pinot Blanc vintage of 2012, another Extra Brut juice since it’s just dosed at a low level of 3g of sugar. This nectar is only and surprisingly composed of this rare grape variety is a real house speciality and may appear as very aromatic, either in contact with your olfactory and gustative sense or at the end, all around your spirit. What a chain reaction!
Then, again with a fewer portion of Pinot Blanc, bringing some structure and personality, we find the Blanc de Blancs 2009, starring a generous dosage of 7g, and thus mostly based on harvest of the powerful and not very acidic grapes of Chardonnay, collected in 2009. A gracious juice adorned with some main notes of white fruits and yellow fruits.
On top of that, why don’t you try the Vintage Brut 2008? This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay evolve in a harmonious and collective expression of the original harvest dating of 2008, displaying a fresh and elegant style of this fine production, for a dosage of 8g. A real premium dimension, with a great aging potential, and also able to amplify its smoky and liquorice notes.
Last but not least, the Confidentielles is the typical premium range, able to reveal the capacity of Chassenay d’Arce to deal with two exceptional cuvées as authentic reflects of the know-how of this grouping of winegrowers. For instance, there are two propositions, the Confidences 2009 and the Confidences Rosé 2012, both predominantly composed of Pinot Noir and from the oldest vines in their vineyards.
This time, we focus on an old Champagne tribe, settled in Spoy… The Champagne Binon-Coquard has succeeded since the honorable year of 1669, to transmit a certain vision of wine, from generation to generation and in the same family. Born from the union of the names Binon and Coquard, decided in the heart of the 1970s, their vineyards extend on nearly 6.5 ha, through several villages of this gastronomic Côte des Bar.
Starting from traditional winegrowers, this association became genuine winemakers in 2000. Based on a combination between technology and traditional values, their philosophy never stopped to evolve through years, notably in terms of ecology (photo credits: Binon-Coquard).
Indeed, the team decided to adapt their way of cultivation, following the principles of a sustainable viticulture, notably through the grassing around their different plots, where their finest grapes are used for the conception of their cuvées. Therefore, their environmental approach awarded this house to be certified by the Terra Vitis label, since 2012.
By the way, among their cultivated varieties, you find of course the Pinot Noir, as the majority juice component of the region (70%), along some Pinot Meunier (20%) and Chardonnay (10%), as two other Champagne grape outsiders, spread through their lands over several municipalities around Spoy, such as Meurville and Champignol-lez-Mondeville.
Adding to this, most of these properties lay on clay-limestone soils, offering the perfect conditions for the Pinot Noir to express its best assets; especially in the majority of their champagnes, along as well a full Chardonnay!
This unique personality of their fruits is also perceptible in the Solera method, also called “perpetual reserve” in Champagne, operated since a couple of years by the Champagne Binon-Coquard. As an invitation to go back in time, to browse the countless vintages that compose them. A Spanish technique which finds its origins in Andalusia, rarely employed in Champagne, and whose goal is to add each year the juices collected in the harvest, in order to compensate any withdrawn maturation. Indeed, this wine maturing technique aims to stack the barrels on top of each other, with the oldest wine is located at the bottom of that pile, while the youngest wines are positioned at the summit. Therefore, the first row on the ground is thus called Solera, while the upper levels are successively named first Criadera, second Criadera, third Criadera and so on… As a matter of fact, this compilation may be rejuvenated each year.
At each racking, each wine is mixed with the floor down under, and eventually melt into the previous residual wine. Thus, this cellar philosophy is supposed to help maintaining a certain consistency among their different juices and somehow allows the old wines to educate the youngest ones, while a building a specific identifiable style. That’s why, champagnes under this Solera form are generally deep and greedy wines.
Located in the charming village of Channes, adorned with its pretty alleys starring stoned houses and its many impressive porches, where stand most of their 8 hectares of vines, but also some others situated in Les Riceys and Buxeuil, we can say that the Champagne Pierre Brigandat is a recent Champagne house. Furthermore, it’s based on one of the southernmost geographies of this Champagne part of Aube, on the borders of the departments of Yonne and Côte-d’Or. This other family affair, as we often meet in these Champagne exploitations, was initiated in the 60s with a certain Pierre Brigandat who replanted a well-exposed hillside and relaunched his abandoned grandfather’s small farm with his wife Élyette. Joined in 1993 by their son Bertrand to pursue this artisanal adventure which eventually turned into a biodynamic approach (without certification) since 2000.
Indeed, their vines have always been cultivated with a large respect for environment, particularly with soils worked with a plow, since 2002. That’s why, the estate will soon be certified High Environmental Value (Photo credits: Brigandat).