The Aube - An area within Champagne
To the majority the term ‘AOC Champagne’ means the Montagne de Rheims, Epernay, l’Avenue de Champagne’, the river Marne, the Cote des Blancs with its string of quiet ‘Villages Fleuries’. Consequently it comes as a surprise to learn that there is an area called the Cotes des Bar some 100 km to the south of Rheims which is just as much as a part of the champagne region as its renowned northern colleagues.
Currently Moore Champagne has three suppliers all from the traditional champagne region: one in Bouzy, one in Le Mesnil sur-Oger and one in Oger. Following a major tasting event in London in the winter I decided to include The Aube within the itinerary for a visit to our suppliers with a view to finding a hidden gem. Traditionally if Les Grandes Maisons and Les Grandes Marques looked down their nezs at the growing band of small growers in main stream Champagne then L’Aube was simply beyond the Pale. One Negociant was recorded as saying ‘Oh do they make champagne down there?’ Indeed for many years the Cote des Bar simply grew and sold grapes almost as a commodity for use by the Negociants. The proposed exclusion of the Cote des Bar from the champagne appellation in 1910 was one of the flash points for riots and civil disorder in 1911. Even when the Echelle des Crus (the ladder of quality was established in 1927, by which villages were denominated as Grand Cru, Premier Cru or just plain Cru, none of the villages in the Aube region were included as Premier or Grand Cru.
In recent years artisanal entrepreneurial vignerons in the Cote des Bars have kicked against the traces and are making outstanding champagnes under their own names. On the basis of a positive review in the Times my wife and stayed at a small hotel in Essoyes. This is a sleepy village which would have remained well off the tourist path were it not for the fact that Renoir lived, loved and languished there. Now the refurbishment of his house is complete and the village square is dominated by a very attractive museum, it is on its way to becoming a Mecca for Renoir groupies. A brand new tasting room has opened opposite the museum it will not be long before more open once the Renoiristas arrive.
It is an utterly charming area. At 100 km south of Rheims it is warmer. The countryside consists of small rounded hills with rivers and streams at the bottom. The soil is rich and less calcareous than its northern counterpart and the vineyards are on the southern facing slopes leaving the bottom of the valley to arable cultivation. It is worth noting that this area is less than 80 km from Chablis. During a pair of days in this area we enjoyed several delightful champagnes. Viticulturally the Pinot Noir grape is predominant with occasional flurries of Chardonnay and the same can be said to describe the elaboration of the wines. Regrettably having hoisted our colours as an importer of Grand Cru Grower champagnes however attractive it might be to champion the cause of the Vignerons of the Cote des Bar and despite the evident attraction of their wines, it would be contradictory to introduce one as a supplier. Nevertheless if you are contemplating a trip it really is a delight to explore the area and its wines away from the hoopla of the main more traditional well-trod paths.