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THE REDISCOVERY OF CHAMPAGNE'S ROOTS AND DIVERSITY OF TERROIRS

Champagne has been synonym of luxury for centuries, and victories are all celebrated with a glass of this precious wine. Champagne is today experiencing a return to its terroir with the help of talented and passionate winegrowers.

Champagne, the effusion of minerality


It is from the ancient, mineral chalk of northern France that the liquid gold was born; people often forget that Champagne’s true identity doesn’t come from its creamy bubbles but rather its roots in the very particular terroir of Champagne. The region's uniqueness comes from its high chalk content, which not only infuses the fruit with its distinctive minerality, but the region’s houses also influence its taste in their legendary white-walled cellars.


Champagne as we know it today was an accidental discovery. Until the 17th century, the region’s wines weren’t sparkling at all and it was thanks to the experiments of the famous Dom Pérignon that the wines’ second fermentation in bottle was mastered and that the Champagne style we know exists.


Champagne began its ascension as an icon of luxury and glamour in the 18th century and now its image tends to be far removed from its natural origins as a product of the earth, although there is a growing movement pushing the region’s wines back in this direction.


The Hierarchy of Champagne’s Appellations


Champagne’s classification possesses similarities with Burgundy's, with a system of Grand Cru and Premier Crus as well as lieu-dits denominations. The classification was originally designed to regulate the market for grapes, is not the only key factor in assessing the quality of Champagne. The concept of vintage is crucial here as it is the time the wine spends on its lees. The classification, “Echelle des Crus”, doesn’t rank parcels of vineyards as in Burgundy, but rather as whole villages.

Grand Crus villages


Grands Cru Villages are the top of the hierarchy and there are 17 Grands Crus in total:


Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Oiry, Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Sillery, Verzenay, Verzy, Puisieulx, Louvois, Mailly, Aÿ and Tours-sur-Marne


Premiers Crus villages


There are 44 premiers crus villages in Champagne:


Avenay, Bergères-les-Vertus, Bezannes, Billy le Grand, Bisseuil, Chamery, Champillon, Chigny les Roses, Chouilly, Coligny, Cormontreuil, Coulommes la Montagne, Cuis, Cumières, Dizy, Ecueil, Etrechy, Grauves, Hautvillers, Jouy les Reims, Les Mesneus, Ludes, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Montbré, Mutigny, Pargny les Reims, Pierry, Rilly la Montagne, Sacy, Sermiers, Taissy, Tauxières, Tours-sur-Marne, Trépail, Trois Puits, Vaudemanges, Vertus, Villedommange, Villeneuve Renneville, Villers Allerand, Villers aux Noeuds, Villers Marmery, Voipreux, Vrigny

CHAMPAGNE'S CRUS & TERROIRS

MONTAGNE DE REIMS

The Montagne de Reims refers to the hill that runs north to south between the city of Reims and Epernay, and is known to be the best place to grow Pinot Noir in Champagne. It counts nine Grands Crus villages (Ambonnay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Bouzy, Sillery, Verzenay, Verzy, Puisieulx, Louvois and Mailly). Here is where you will find the best Grand Crus villages for Blanc de Noirs with Ambonnay, Bouzy and Verzenay. They lie on the finest chalky cliffs of Champagne. These terroirs give way to very subtle and precise expressions of Pinot. Ambonnay and Bouzy are south-east facing terroirs, thus it makes more opulent wines than those of Verzenay.

VALLéE DE LA MARNE

The Vallée de la Marne starts with the town of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ just below the Montagne de Reims, following the Marne River west towards Paris. It is considered the best area to grow Pinot Meunier, although Pinot Noir is increasingly planted there. The Vallée de la Marne counts only two Grands Crus villages, Aÿ and Tours sur Marne. The vineyards in the valley borders the river, and face south mostly. The soil in the valley is different from the other regions, here you are more likely to find clay and sand rather than chalk, which explains why Pinot Meunier is the dominant grape. The cool influence of the river also makes Pinot Meunier better suited to the area as it is less sensitive to frost than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Wines from the valley have a generous fruit character and are more on the opulent side rather than mineral.

CôTE DES BLANCS

Running south-east from Epernay, the Côte des Blancs forms an axis perpendicular to the Marne Valley. As the name suggests, the Côte des Blancs is home to the finest Chardonnays in Champagne, the grape variety representing 96% of the total crop. The Côte des Blancs has five Grands Crus villages: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, and Oiry. The most highly though of Grands Crus are Avize and Cramant, whose two terroirs benefit from an ideal sun exposure (south/south-east), balancing the natural austerity of the local climate. The slopes in the Côte are noticeably steep; the topsoil is very shallow which means in some areas the vines are directly growing on the chalky bedrock. These conditions are optimal for growing pure, mineral infused Chardonnays that age splendidly.

CôTE DES BARS

The Côte des Bars is an atypical Champagne region that has been rather unfairly disregarded as it lies more than 100km southeast from the Côte des Blancs. It has indeed more in common with Burgundy than with Champagne. Pinot Noir is the main grape here, covering four-fifths of the region’s vineyards. The Côte des Bars is renowned for its still reds, also known as “Côteaux Champenois” that bear a certain resemblance to Burgundian reds, and its Rosé des Riceys. The Climate in the Côte is different from the rest of Champagne; the soils have more of the typical Burgundian composition (clay dominant with limestone). The Champagnes of the Côte des Bars are intense with expressive pinot fruits, there is a richness and breadth that cannot be found anywhere else in Champagne.

CôTE DE SéZANNE

The Côte de Sézanne is a fast developing Champagne region under the impulse of rising stars producers such as Olivier Collin (Ulysse Collin). The area is mostly planted with Chardonnay as the region has the same chalk seam as the Côte des Blancs but Pinots Noirs are becoming increasingly popular. The soil is composed of chalk with large amounts of marl and sand, the south-eastern exposition is particularly favourable to riper expressions of Chardonnay compared to the tense energy you will find in the Côte des Blancs. The Côte de Sézanne therefore produces bolder but maybe less refined blancs de blancs than the traditional style encountered further north.

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