The Hottest Champagne Region Right Now (C么te des Bar)

This in-depth guide will explore the intricacies of Champagne’s C么te des Bar region in the Aube, which has exploded in growth over the past decade. If you’re just dipping your toes into Champagne, check out A Guide to Finding Great Champagne.

Everyone and their mother is drinking Champagne these days, whether it’s paired with pizza or out of plastic cups at a picnic. The C么te des Bar is very much the underdog of Champagne with a tendency to rebel against the system.

C么te des Bar has become a hot spot of untapped potential, particularly for Pinot Noir. Let’s explore the landscape, grapes, quirky specificity, and producers that make this Champagne region so darn awesome.

C么te des Bar Champagne Region black sheep illustration by Wine Folly

C么te des Bar Champagne Guide

Most Champagne regions are within in the Marne d茅partement (by Reims and 脡pernay). The C么te des Bar is the only major region in the Aube, southeast of the city of Troyes. It takes less than two hours to drive here (from Reims), but the landscape is nothing like central Champagne. Vineyards are leisurely interspersed with forests, farms, and streams. It’s unlike the densely-planted Montagne de Reims, C么te des Blancs, and Vall茅e de la Marne. In fact, most vineyard owners are not full-time wine growers.

While a few C么te des Bar producers were founded in the 19th century, most growers sold their grapes to big Champagne houses. The 21st century saw a few risk takers starting to make their own wines and push towards a culture of artisanal, experimental, terroir-driven Champagne in the C么te des Bar. The vineyard area has grown by nearly 20% since 2000 and now makes up almost a quarter of the entire Champagne region.

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Aube or C么te des Bar? If you want to get specific, the C么te des Bar is a region within the Aube.

 

Pinot Noir FTW

Since the C么te des Bar is part of Champagne, the grapes are easy to remember. The standard trio of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier can be planted, along with the more obscure, supplementary Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbanne, and Petit Meslier varieties. But Pinot Noir dominates the landscape, comprising around 86 percent of vines in the C么te des Bar.

Chardonnay plantings are growing, but still sit around 10 percent, and Pinot Meunier makes up a tiny 4 percent of vineyards. Interestingly, Pinot Blanc has a long history in the C么te des Bar, and some producers are making single varietal Pinot Blanc Champagne wines!


Climate and Soils

Champagne is known for its distinctive, chalk-limestone soils that spring from the region’s location just outside the center of the Paris Basin. But the C么te des Bar is located just on the edge of this strip of soil, where chalk meets clay. This is called Kimmeridgian soil, and it may sound familiar 鈥 it’s the same dirt of Chablis! In fact, the C么te des Bar is about a half-hour’s drive closer to Chablis than to Reims. Some younger Portlandian soil – also found in Chablis – is found in Aube as well.

“So we’re wondering… why aren’t they planting more Chardonnay?”

Cote des Bar Champagne soils

Since Kimmeridgian soil is a marly blend of limestone and clay, it does two things to the grapes. The chalky soils maintain acidity and the clay-marl encourages round, rich structure, and boisterous fruit flavors. This soil, combined with the slightly warmer temperatures (though make no mistake – this is still a marginal climate), makes C么te des Bar Champagne wines broader and softer than the stuff from the north.

If it’s like Chablis, why isn’t there more Chardonnay? Most producers attribute the prominence of Pinot Noir to the region’s relatively warmer climate. In fact, Cistercian monks planted red grapes (including Pinot Noir ancestor Morillon Noir) in the C么te des Bar in the 1100s.

 

A Little History

The C么te des Bar has a long history of growing and supplying grapes for Champagne houses up north to purchase, but this region was treated as second class for decades – literally. The large producers in the Marne d茅partement pushed to exclude the Aube from the official classification of the Champagne region in 1908, leading C么te des Bar growers to riot!

Though the “powers that be” relented in 1911, regions in the Aube were classified as Champagne deuxi猫me zone, or “second Champagne zone,” until 1927. Perhaps this century-old chip on the shoulder is a reason why C么te des Bar producers are so willing to buck tradition?


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The Regions of C么te des Bar

There are 19,870 acres and 63 villages of the C么te des Bar. They aren鈥檛 young, exactly, but they are for producing wine, rather than just growing grapes. Thus, the differences between the area鈥檚 sub-regions is still up for interpretation. That said, the C么te des Bar has a few distinct regions to know.

Bars茅quanais

Top Producers: C茅dric Bouchard (Roses de Jeanne), Vouette et Sorb茅e, Marie-Courtin, Fleury, Pierre Gerbais

In the southwest portion of the C么te des Bar, the 33 villages of the Bars茅quanais center around the town of Bar-sur-Seine. This is where the area鈥檚 most significant producers are located. Vineyards are primarily Pinot Noir.


Bar-sur-Aubois

Top Producers: Drappier, Nathalie Falmet, Christian Etienne

This northeast area of the C么te des Bar has fewer growers but is home to the region鈥檚 long-standing Champagne house, Drappier. Thirty one villages cluster near the central town of Bar-sur-Aube. Pinot Noir dominates here, though a tiny bit of white Arbanne is here too.


Ros茅 des Riceys

Top Producers: Olivier Horiot

While this area surrounding Bars茅quanais鈥 Les Riceys village is small, it has its own AOP 鈥 one of only three in the entirety of Champagne. Ros茅 des Riceys AOP is a rare, still red wine (surprise!) that’s comprised of 100% Pinot Noir. Most are pale, tart, and light-colored. This is not your typical Pinot Noir!


Montgueux

Top Producers: Jacques Lassaigne, Jean Velut

Okay, okay. So, it’s not technically in C么te des Bar, but it shares the energy and innovation of the region and is the only other significant wine region of the Aube. Montgueux is an oddity. It’s a hill of chalk surrounded by flat lands unsuitable for grape growing. Unlike the rest of the Aube, Montgueux specializes in ripe, rich, high-quality Chardonnay grown on south-facing slopes. (Aha! There’s the Chardonnay!)


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Winemaking Techniques

Beyond the soil and climate differences of the C么te des Bar, there tends to be a different overall mindset when it comes to the creation of these wines. That mindset boils down to specificity. C么te des Bar winemakers often focus on the singular attributes of their Champagnes, rather than blending them into a whole.

Single Vigneron

While a few Champagne houses set up shop in the C么te des Bar over a century ago, the region’s recent boom has been driven by grower-producers. A single vigneron will produce wine from estate-owned grapes, rather than purchased ones, enacting greater control over fruit quality.


Single Vintage

Many C么te des Bar houses choose to craft their entry-level Champagnes as single vintage cuv茅es. This is rare in Champagne. Most blend vintages to create consistency. But here, producers embrace the differences from vintage to vintage. Just so you know, wines can’t label by vintage if not aged in bottle for 3 years. So, C么te des Bar producers put the vintage on the back label after the letter 鈥淩.鈥

 

Producing a Champagne from a single vigneron with a single vintage may not seem like innovation in the rest of the world, but in Champagne it is! Champagne is all about blending vintages, grape varieties, and even wines from different producers.

 

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Why We’re Drinking C么te des Bar Right Now

There’s a reason why Champagne lovers clamor for wines from the C么te des Bar. Once cast aside as second class, only fit for purchased grapes, the producers of the C么te des Bar have cultivated a winemaking culture of experimentation and innovation. While this is happening across Champagne, it is especially concentrated in the C么te des Bar because young, forward-thinking producers can actually afford to purchase land and grapes.

Like all good things, it probably won’t last; it’s only a matter of time before demand and, therefore, land prices rise. For now, there are certainly some pricy C么te des Bar Champagnes, driven by small production and low profit margins, but some excellent, interesting bottles can be found for under $50. Jump into this lesser-known Champagne producing region now and join the excitement.

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About Courtney Schiessl

Courtney is a Brooklyn-based sommelier, wine writer, and consultant. She is most likely to be seen dreaming of her next international adventure over a glass of bubbly. @takeittocourt