A wave of new releases from some of Champagne’s most famous houses – and growers – is shifting attention away from the region’s fizz and on to its still wines. Essi Avellan MW explores the world of Coteaux Champenois
Charles Heidsieck cellar master Cyril Brun is giving a masterclass to a room full of Champagne enthusiasts. But there’s a problem – he can’t open the bottles. It’s not a problem you would imagine would befall an experienced chef de cave, but Brun has forgotten to bring with him a tool that is increasingly integral in his metier – a corkscrew.
In line with a quickly growing trend, Charles Heidsieck recently released its first Coteaux Champenois wines – still wines from Champagne vineyards. For the house’s debut, Brun chose four oak-vinified 2017 white wines from Oger, Vertus, Montgueux and Villers-Marmery terroirs.
“We judge and forecast the future of our Champagne blends based on this experience without bubbles,” says Brun of the traditional tasting of the individual vins clairs that go into the final blend. “It is such a paradox. Every year I am heartbroken by a couple of wines that I consider to be close to perfection in their untouched, raw state.” So much so that the house finally decided to bottle them and release them as still wines.
This spring, the trend has gathered pace, with Louis Roederer releasing its inaugural Hommage à Camille Coteaux Champenois duo from the 2018 vintage. Rumours circulated that Veuve Clicquot was about to commercialise a red wine that it has long harnessed for transforming its prestigious La Grande Dame blanc into a rosé – although the house has since denied this. What is certain is that a growing number of houses are working on still-wine projects.
Essentially, the Coteaux Champenois boom is the result of an ever-growing pool of new-wave, terroir-focused and sustainably minded growers developing a passion for crafting still wines, encouraged by the warming climate.