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Champagne’s Nearly Forgotten Still Wines Are on the Rise

Champagne’s Nearly Forgotten Still Wines Are on the Rise

While the world associates Champagne with celebratory effervescence, less well-known is that the region is also home to still wines. Officially Coteaux Champenois since 1974, these wines and their takes on terroir are nothing new yet were all but forgotten—until the past couple of decades.

Starting with the Roman Empire, Champagne’s wine-producing story began with still red. For centuries, these wines were among France’s most prized. A favorite of the former kings of France, they were served at coronations since Clovis, the first French king, in 481. Their popularity proliferated in the royal courts of Europe during the 17th century. 

It wasn’t until the accidental discovery and subsequent popularity of bubbly as we know it today that Coteaux Champenois fell out of favor. Once the méthode champenoise used to create effervescence was industrialized, still wines from the region almost disappeared, until an unexpected renaissance following the particularly warm year of 2018 changed that. Wines once considered harsh and tart in comparison to Burgundy were drinking beautifully. 

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“Climate change is a big factor,” explains Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, renowned winemaker and vineyard pioneer of Champagne Geoffroy. “Phenolic maturity has increased, improving the quality of the [still] wines.” And with an increase in volume of wines, the prices have come down with most bottles generally running between $70 and $120. As a result, a growing slew of sommeliers have begun taking note of the slowly expanding category. 

Red, white or rosé, today’s Coteaux Champenois can be made from any of the grape varieties permitted in Champagne, but are generally made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or (more rarely) Pinot Meunier. Unlike other still wines in France, they can be non-vintage like the region’s sparklers. Ambonnay, Aÿ, Cumières, Mailly and Verzy are villages that are particularly famous for their Pinot Noir-based reds, which are hailed for their naturally high acidity owing to the region’s chalk and limestone soil. Some of these, such as the elegant cherry-inflected still reds of Bouzy, have become known for their aging potential—up to a decade in some circumstances. Also intended for cellaring are the still Pinot Noir-based rosés of Rosé des Riceys AOC, made in Les Riceys. 

“Coteaux Champenois is the most faithful expression of the grapes and terroir,” says Benoît Marguet, head of the trailblazing biodynamic Champagne Marguet in Ambonnay. “These still wines are not an afterthought—they are intentional.” 

This resurgence of Champagne’s still wines is winning over sommeliers around the world. “It is already making its way to the top tables,” thanks to food-friendly ripeness and classic acidity, notes Geoffroy. 

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The French Laundry, in Napa Valley, now offers the highly coveted Egly-Ouriet Coteaux Champenois Rouge on its menu. In Paris, Michelin-starred Sergeant Recruteur boasts a wide selection of these bottles including Champagne Coessens’ extremely limited Rouge Egrappée, which is only made in years the grapes can reach the right level of phenolic maturity. Three-Michelin star L’Assiette Champenoise, just outside Reims, even gets its own special assemblages, such as the Chardonnay-based Bouzy Blanc by Champagne Brice, for its highly wine list. 

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Wine stores have been increasing their selections, too. New York City’s Flatiron Wines & Spirits stocks Louis Roederer’s pricey, single-vineyard 100% Pinot Noir still red and 100% Chardonnay still white Hommage a Camille Coteaux Champenois on its shelves (and website).  Henry’s Wine & Spirit offers two Rosés des Riceys from cult-favorite Olivier Horiot, who is a leader of this new crop of winemakers who proudly experiment with single-vintage, single-varietal and single-parcel selections.

“We have a whole new generation of winegrowers … who have a much broader vision than what has been produced in Champagne for decades,” says Franck Ramage, master sommelier and co-founder of Kira Consultants. “The quality of Champagne’s still wines has increased so much that, today, these wines made from Pinot Noir can be enjoyed in the same way as those enjoyed from Burgundy or other regions.”

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