Regional profile: Champagne’s Côte des Bar

Côte des Bar
Hillside vineyards in the Côte des Bar, leading down to the village of Les Riceys.

Meeting in the Bar

Back when my Champagne love affair first began, I blind-tasted Cedric Bouchard’s Inflorescence, a bottling he still makes but has since renamed. I wasn’t sure it was Champagne. Its ripe concentration, the kind of dense vinosity we love in fine white wine, was an impressive shock, along with a fine mousse which made me write ‘silk’.

Bouchard is now a cult producer, under the estate name Roses de Jeanne, and is required tasting experience of any serious student of Champagne.

These days, within seconds of arriving off the autoroute into the Côte des Bar, I’m hit with a multi-sensory landscape, one that’s completely different from the rolling panoramas of the Côte des Blancs or Montagne de Reims. The Aube’s sunflower yellow, russet and fern-green colours pop, punctuated by timber-framed and coffee-limestone-coloured villages.

Time-frozen vistas and sparse traffic make everything painterly. Sensual wreathes of wood smoke and forest floor cling to your clothes. And the hazy lemon light explains why impressionist Renoir spent his summers in the Aube village of Essoyes.

Aube is the name for the departement (the French word for county), and Côte des Bar is the Champagne wine district within it. Being 130km south and a touch east from Reims and Épernay, or the Marne departement, the Aube is a Champagne satellite, like Chablis is to Burgundy.

Côte des Bar

Vineyards and soils near Landreville. Credit: Andia / Alamy Stock Photo.

Scroll down for 12 of the best Côte des Bar Champagnes to try

Côte des Bar at a glance


Location: Some 130km south and slightly east of central Champagne, roughly two hours drive.

Soils: Mostly Jurassic, or Kimmeridgian, soils – a clay-chalk marl like in Chablis and Sancerre, making vinous and fruitier (mainly Pinot Noir) Champagnes than the north but with plenty of potential for elegance. Some areas have the debris of younger and harder Portlandian rocks, ideal for giving Chardonnay linear elegance.

Vineyard area: Some 7,900ha of vines, 23% of the Champagne vineyard.

Grape varieties: 83.9% Pinot Noir, 11.64% Chardonnay and 3.17% Meunier. Small proportions of minority varieties: Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc (Blanc Vrai), Pinot Gris (Fromonteau).

Notable still wine made here: Rosé des Riceys.

Wine villages: 64 of Champagne’s total 319.

The lay of the land

The name Côte des Bar derives from the Gallic for summits.

Credit: Maggie Nelson

As the map above shows, the main valleys are the rivers Seine (flowing north to Paris) and the Aube which is a tributary of the Seine. These river systems split the Aube into the Bar-Sequannais in the west, and the smaller Bar-sur-Aubois in the east. The A5 autoroute neatly splices the two wings of the area.

The best way to imagine the Aube is as a shallow stretched dome, a slightly deflated oval rugby ball, with its axis north-east south-west. But the gentle parabola of this convex ovoid is scalpelled with sharply indented, steep-sided valleys. Its vineyard slopes are often narrower and steeper than the gentler chalky escarpments of the Marne to the north.

There are important mini valley vineyard enclaves formed by several tributaries of the two main Seine and Aube rivers.

Le Val Cornet vineyard at Champagne Nathalie Falmet, planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Credit: Tim Hall.

The kingdom of Pinot

The vineyards hug the slopes of the rivers and their tributaries. It creates different exposures to the sun or shade. But these steep valleys can also threaten new buds with late spring frost, even more so with climate change.

This is one reason the Aube is planted 85% to Pinot Noir, which is later budding than Chardonnay (13%), with Meunier at just 3%.

There is room for cooler plantings of Chardonnay and Champagne’s other ‘forgotten’ grapes, increasingly resurreted: Pinot Blanc (called Blanc Vrai here), Pinot Gris (called Fromenteau…

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Regional profile: Champagne’s Côte des Bar  
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