Tasha Brandstatter on March 20, 2017 0 Comments Champagne is synonymous with sparkling, effervescent wines, and it’s no wonder. Over the course of more than a century, the big Champagne houses have spent billions of dollars in advertising to make sure that when people think of celebration, luxury, and bubbles, they immediately think of Champagne. But the wines of Champagne were not born sparkling, and there are several non-effervescent wines that are traditional to the region. From sophisticated vin clairs to vin de liquors, these wines are harder to find than Champagne’s eponymous export. But if you get the opportunity to open a bottle — particularly in Champagne! — they’re well worth trying. Coteaux Champenois Coteaux Champenois is an AOC designation for all the still wine made in Champagne. It covers the same geographic area and grape varieties as the Champagne AOC designation; but in practice the vast majority of Coteaux Champenois wines are reds made from pinot noir grapes. The few white and even fewer rosé Coteaux Champenois are generally made with chardonnay grapes. And since it’s difficult to get grapes ripe enough for still wines in the chilly climes of Champagne, only the southernmost villages in the region ever produce it. The Coteaux Champenois from Bouzy and Aÿ are particularly prized, but you can also find bottles from Sillery, Cumieres, and Vertus for reds; and Chouilly and Mesnil for whites. One might wonder why these wines are made at all, considering that the profit and demand in Champagne for sparkling wine is so much greater than for still. The main reason lies in tradition: sparkling wines are actually a relatively recent development to the region of Champagne, and for most of its history the region made still wine. When Louis XIV or Clovis, the first ruler of united France, toasted their coronations with champagne, they were drinking still wine, not sparkling. Today, winemakers who produce Coteaux Champenois do so to keep the millennia-old wine traditions of the region alive. Even Louis Roederer is getting in on the act, producing a 2015 red Coteaux Champenois from a specific, biodynamic vineyard. Whether or not this vintage will be commercially released or not has not yet been decided, but you can find other producers of Coteaux Champenois in some specialty wine shops. Some of the highest recommended bottles are: 2004 René Geoffroy Coteaux Champenois Cumières Rouge, which has concentrated flavors of fresh fruit and a rich and spicy nose. Benoît Lahaye Coteaux Champenois Bouzy Rouge, with a delicate fruit aroma balanced by a nice minerality. Bollinger Coteaux Champenois La Côte Aux Enfants, one of the highest-rated Coteaux Champenois by critics. And Egly-Ouriet Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge ‘Cuvée des Grands Côtes’ Vieilles Vignes, a pricy but enormously popular wine that’s also critically acclaimed. Rosé de Riceys Even rarer than Coteaux Champenois is Rosé de Riceys, an AOC wine made around the village of Riceys, which lies in the Aube, the southernmost point of Champagne. The wine is always made with pinot noir grapes and, even though it’s a rosé, it’s unlike any rosé you’ve ever tried before, thanks to its unique vinification process. Whole bunches of pinot noir grapes are vinified “semi-carbonically,” a practice usually only applied to Beaujolais Nouveau. Essentially, the grape juice is allowed to begin fermenting inside the grapes before they’re gently pressed. The result is a rosé that’s a very deep rose color, almost as dark as red wine. The flavors and aromas of Rosé de Riceys also diverge from the typical rosé. In fact, the aroma and taste of Rosé des Riceys is so unique that the French have a specific term for it: les goût des Riceys. It’s fruit-forward and soft, yet balanced with complex notes of almond and earth, like rotting leaves. Also unlike other rosés, Rosé des Riceys ages remarkably well, as well as its red wine Burgundian neighbors to the east. Pascal Morel, of Morel Père & Fils, described the style as, “…flirt[ing] with making a red wine, without actually making a red wine.” According to legend, Rosé de Riceys was the favorite wine of Louis XIV, who discovered it via workers imported from Riceys to help build Versailles. These workers brought their native wine with them, and after they left Versailles, Louis XIV continued to order regular shipments of barrels from the Riceys. Since the grapes have to be naturally ripened to a specific degree to make Rosé de Riceys, it’s not produced every year, and even when it is, the number of bottles is small. But, like Coteaux Champenois, it’s a wine made out of passion rather than for profit. Marc de Champagne Marc refers to the skins, stems, seeds, and other detritus leftover after wine grapes are pressed. Never ones to waste anything, the Champenoise collect the marc, allow it to ferment, and then distill the results into an eau-de-vie or brandy that’s aged for a short period of time in oak, lending it a light golden color. Since Marc de Champagne is fermented without any grape juice at all, it lacks the fruity characteristics of other eau-de-vie-de-marcs, and has a distinctive mouthfeel similar to that of grappa. You can most often find it in chocolate candies. Fine de la Marne Fine de la Marne is to Champagne what Armagnac is to Gascony. Distilled from vin clair and wine lees (the sediment that collects in the bottle during champagne’s second fermentation), then aged in oak, the resulting brandy is of a much higher quality than Marc de Champagne, with a delicate, fruity bouquet and a smooth, well-rounded mouthfeel. Ratafia de Champagne Champagne’s newest AOC, only just established in 2015, Ratafia de Champagne dates back to the 13th century. It’s a fortified wine made from the fourth and final pressings of Champagne grapes, called the rebeche (the Champenoise disdain the juices of the rebeche for sparkling wines, since the clarity and quality of the juice goes down with every pressing). This juice is then mixed with eau-de-vie and aged in oak barrels. The oak aging lends the ratafia a golden, coppery color, while the wine itself maintains notes of fresh grape, cherries, apricots, and spices. Previously, Ratafia de Champagne was difficult to find outside of France. Now that the AOC designation is officially in place, however, the Champenoise plan to increase production of their ratafia and aim for at least 15 million bottles set aside for worldwide distribution. If successful, Ratafia de Champagne might become the easiest-to-find non-sparkling wine of Champagne.