The biggest bubbly day of the year is here again! But with the festivities comes the familiar dilemma: What to pop as the clock strikes 12? Large Champagne houses are passé, grower Champagnes are expected, and you probably drank all the pet-nat over the summer. So what bottle will secure the spot as the star of the celebration?
The answer lies in the Aube, what might be considered — dare we say it? — the hipster Brooklyn of the Champagne region. In this region, producers rebel against the norm, considering themselves farmers and artisans, making tiny quantities of exciting, individualistic sparkling wines. For those who plan to break away from the norm in 2017, Aube Champagne is the drink you need to ring in the New Year.
The Aube is located over an hour southwest of the heart of Champagne, where the trio of Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, and Vallée de la Marne are all located. The department of the Aube, and its primary vine-growing region, the Côte des Bars, are centered around the medieval city of Troyes, once considered the provincial capital of Champagne. In fact, prior to the phylloxera outbreak in the late 1800s, the Aube had more vines than the Marne.
But the Aube region has a complicated relationship with its region of association. In 1911, when the legal limits of the Champagne region were being outlined, the big houses in the Marne called for the exclusion of the Aube altogether, classifying these vineyards as “Champagne deuxième zone,” or “second-class Champagne.” It wasn’t until 1927 that the Aube was considered a full part of the Champagne region, and to this day, there are no grand or premier cru vineyards located in the Aube. Until recent years, the Aube was simply a source for fruit to be purchased by large houses in the north.
While this may not be the most uplifting of histories, it was important in defining the emerging Aube identity today. Because of the Aube’s history as a farming culture, the majority of the region’s wineries today are grower-producers, ever since former grape growers and new producers alike chose to start bottling their own Champagnes 15 to 20 years ago. Today these small, terroir-driven producers abound, many with a sense of place only recently having become popular in the Marne.
Whereas Champagne has placed its historical significance on blending, producers in the Aube have a tendency to focus more on individuality; single-variety, single-vintage, and single-vineyard Champagnes are quite common.
This focus on singularity may be partially thanks to the influence of another major French winemaking region: Burgundy. In fact, the Côte des Bars is closer to the village of Chablis than it is to Reims or Épernay, and it shares Chablis’ characteristic clay and limestone-rich Kimmeridgian soils. Pinot Noir is king in the Aube, both because of historical demand for these grapes by big houses, and because the warm climate and dense soil suit Pinot Noir well.
Perhaps the two best things about Champagne from the Aube are the diversity of the wines and the experimentation of the winemakers; as with many great things, these two concepts are interwoven. While many of the wines are made from Pinot Noir, styles can differ markedly from producer to producer, bottling to bottling, and vintage to vintage. Aube Champagnes are fueled by new, young winemakers who have often traveled and trained in other winemaking regions. Combine this with land prices that are inexpensive enough to encourage experimentation, and you get Aube Champagnes ranging from rich and opulent to soft and elegant, to rustic and textured, to laser-sharp and lasting. Some are more refined than others, but boring they are not.
Five Aube Champagnes to Try This Year:
Very much the embodiment of the Aube resurgence, Cédric Bouchard was raised in the region by a grape-growing father. He then discovered the natural wine movement and moved back to the Aube to make Champagne after studying in Burgundy. His philosophies are often the complete opposite of his father’s, focusing on hands-off winemaking and only bottling single-vintage, single-vineyard, single-variety Champagnes at a lower pressure than the standard bubbly.
Started just 10 years ago and named after the winemaker’s grandmother, Dominique Moreau’s Marie-Courtin Champagnes are elegant, soft, and highly sought after.
Located on the hill of Montgueux, on the opposite side of Troyes from the majority of the Côte des Bar, Champagne Jacques Lassaigne is one of the few Aube producers that specializes in Chardonnay. Winemaker Emmanuel Lassaigne has no problem getting the grape to ripen, and his wines have opulence yet focus.
One of the longest-standing producers in the Aube, Fleury has been bottling its own wines since 1929 and is the first producer in the region to be completely biodynamic. It specializes in a richer style of Pinot Noir-dominant Champagne.
Vouette et Sorbée
Named after the producer’s two biodynamically-farmed vineyards, winemaker Bertrand Gautherot sold all of his grapes to larger houses until his two friends, Anselme Selosse and Jerome Prevost, encouraged him to begin bottling his own wine. Now Vouette et Sorbée produces textured, rustic, and often lean Champagnes that can vary quite a bit from vintage to vintage.