The southernmost part of the Champagne region is called Côte des Bar and is located in the Aube department, close to the border of the Burgundy wine region. The vineyards of Côte des Bar are spread out around various villages southeast of Troyes, the historical capital of the geographical region of Champagne. In a way, Côte des Bar is more difficult to get a feeling for, since it doesn’t consist of continous hillsides and vineyard surfaces in the same way as the three most famous subregions Montagne de Reims, Vallé de la Marne, and Côte des Blancs, which are all located around Reims and Epernay in the Marne department. When the Champagne region was first delimited in the early 20th century, Aube was initially excluded. In the classical French manner, this led to riots among the farmers in 1908. Later, they were to be allowed into the region after all, which instead led to rioting in Marne in 1911. In the end, Côte des Bar/Aube was included as a deuxième zone of lower status, and until this day there are no grand cru or premier cru villages in this area. This is because just about all of Aube (the exception being one village, Villenauxe-la-Grande, which is a continuation of Côte de Sézanne) is rated 80 on the percentage scale where 100 is grand cru and 90-99 is premier cru. Considering the broken-up vineyard landscape in Aube, which includes some rather steep slopes in viticulturally suitable directions, it’s very difficult to believe that this “one size fits all” classification comes particularly close to capturing the truth at the vineyard level. This existing classification has probably contributed to Côte des Bar being slightly forgotten, despite the fact that it makes up around 20% of the entire vineyard surface of Champagne. These vineyards are dominated by Pinot Noir, by the way. Another contributing factor is the lack of truly large and well-known Champagne houses in Aube/Côte des Bar, although many of the behemoths of the Champagne region will source grapes from the entire region and thus get a fair proportion of grapes from this part.
A trend in the last couple of years is the emergence of some high quality small growers also in the Côte des Bar. Small producers “with a name” is an older phenomenon in Montagne de Reims, Vallé de la Marne, and Côte des Blancs. The same thing has also started to happen in Côte de Sézanne. Among these Côte des Bar producers, I could mention Cédric Bouchard, Marie-Courtin, Vouette et Sorbée, and Jacques Lassaigne.
Hower, the subject of this post is a producer somewhere in the middle between a small grower and a gigantic Champagne house: Drappier. This is a Champagne house, i.e., a négociant-manipulant (NM), located in the small village of Urville in the Côte des Bar. With an annual production of some 900 000 bottles, they are considerably larger than a small grower, but not quite of the size of the big players in and around Reims and Epernay. It is probably fair to consider Drappier to be the only producer located in Côte des Bar that actually has been somewhat known for some time. They own 55 ha/135 acres of vineyards and gave another 50 ha/125 acres under contract, with 70% Pinot Noir. An historical curiosity is that Charles de Gaulle liked their Champagner and that they still have a cuvée named after him. They also experiment, which has resulted in a range including a wine produced both without sulfur and without dosage, and a blanc de blancs that contains three very unusual (but allowed) Champagne grape varieties.
When I lived in Belgium, where Drappier was available from several dealers, their Brut Nature with 100% Pinot Noir filled the role as my reasonably priced Pinot-dominated house Champagne. In general, I’ve found the Drapper range to be reasonably priced in relation to the quality in the bottle.
When I was nearby in early July, I paid a visit to Drappier in Urville and tasted through some of their range.
Nose: Noticeably apply with winter apples, bread, some spice. Pinot-style nose.
Palate: Fruity, some dosage that gives a somewhat sweetish impression, spice, red and yellow apple with winter apples, a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste.
Summary: Pleasant aromas, approachable now, 86 p.
Drappier’s “standard Champagne” Carte d’Or can, with its combination of a high proportion of Pinot and a regular Brut dosage (sugar addition), feel a little too much on the sweet side by those Champagne drinkers that don’t like very much of dosage. Those that do tolerate some dosage, on the other hand, will instead think that it is produced in a fruity style. Their fact sheet indicates that it should only contain 7 g/l dosage compared to the maximum allowed 12 g/l, so some of the impression of sweetness must definitely come from the grapes, where perhaps the more southern location within Champagne contributes. I appreciated this bottle of Carte d’Or since it showed pleasant and classical Champagne aromas in the Pinot style.
A peculiarity is that Drappier also bottles Carte d’Or in unusually large bottles. The two largest formats used are called Primat, 27 liters, and Melchisédech, 30 liters. It is worth noting that at Drappier, everyting from half bottles to Melchisédech undergoes the second fermentation (the one creating the bubbles) in the same bottle in which it is shipped. At other houses, it may happen that the largest bottles and smaller bottles are filled using transvasage (“pouring over”) from more regular-sized bottles, where the second fermentation has taken place. The maximum size of the non-transvasage can vary between Champagne houses, and possibly between different wines in their range, and the use of transvasage is generally nothing that they inform about. Regular bottles and magnums are probably the only formats where you can be 100% sure that they are fermented in their own bottle at all Champagne houses, and for jéroboam (3 liters) this will probably be true almost all of the time. But for other formats, the practice varies. I did see some of the largest bottles resting in Drappier’s cellers and realised that so big bottles is a rare sight in many other cellars.
Brut Nature Zéro Dosage (NV)
100% Pinot Noir, no dosage.
Nose: Red apples, some perfume, a certain elegance.
Palate: Apply with some citrus, rather good concentration, dry, good acidity, some spice, mineral.
Summary: Rather young, but approachable now, 87 p.
Brut Nature is produced completely without dosage (“no sugar added”, at least not at the end), but isn’t as “painfully dry” or acid-dominated as some other Champagnes without dosage can be, since it is produced from 100% Pinot Noir. This wine tends to be reliable in quality and is always a notch better than Carte d’Or, and most of the time the difference is larger than the single point that separates their scores this time. I have always had the feeling that the grape material is noticeably better in this Champagne and it is a wine that I warmly recommend to anyone who likes Pinot Noir.
There wine is also produced in a sans soufre (“without sulfur”) version, so Drappier also has some “cred” among the fans of so-called natural wines. The regular Brut Nature only receives a “minimum” of sulfur, but they don’t specify any figure.
Millésime Exception 2006
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Nose: Ripe yellow and red apples, some spice, a hint of cocoa powder.
Palate: Fruit, good concentration, yellow and red apple, good acidity, spice.
Summary: Pinot Noir-dominated style. Rather young, but approachable now, 89 p.
This is their “regular” vintage Champagne, despite the “exception” name. In former days, it was called Carte d’Or, just as their non-vintage standard Champagne.
Grande Sendrée 2005
55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay
Nose: Ripe yellow and red apples, cocoa powder, some spice, slightly flowery.
Palate: Mineral, yellow apple, citrus, rather high acidity, fresh impression, slightly spicy, good aftertaste, foody style.
Summary: Some hot vintage character. Rather young, 91(+) p
More mineral than the 2006 Exception, but slightly similar in the nose. Grande Sendrée is their “prestige Champagne”, but in terms of price it falls closer to the regular vintage Champagnes of the larger houses.
100% Pinot Noir, saignée method
Nose: Strawberries including wild strawberries, some citrus, slightly sweetish impression, slightly flowery.
Palate: Fruity, gives an impression of some dosage sweetness, red apples, wild strawberries, good acidity, hints of spice, fresh aftertaste.
Summary: 86 p
Just as with Carte d’Or, the impression is a bit on the sweetish side, but the fresh aftertaste is a bonus.
Grande Sendrée Rosé 2005
55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay, saignée method
Nose: Wild strawberries, slightly developed Pinot Noir notes, baked apples, discrete flowery notes.
Palate: Strawberries including wild strawberries, apple, some sweetness of fruit in the attack, mineral on the mid-palate, fresh aftertaste.
Summary: Rather young, but approachable now, 90 p.
This rosé felt a bit more developed than the white 2005 Grande Sendrée.
Quattuor IV (NV)
25% Arbane, 25% Petit Meslier, 25% Blanc Vrai (=Pinot Blanc), 25% Chardonnay.
Nose: Yellow apples, some waxed apple, slightly spicy, a tiny hint of honey, and discretely aromatic.
Palate: Good concentration, yellow apples, some baked apples and honey, a quite good mineral note, rather high acidity.
Summary: Rather approachable now, but can probably be kept, 89 p.
An unusually good Quattuor, with more mineral than usual. This Champagne has come across a bit differently at the occasions I’ve tried it, which has been recently purchased bottles and at some occasion a bottle with 1-2 years in the cellar. I appreciate when Champagne producers use one or more of the odd grape varietes, and I enjoy tasting such Champagnes, but usually the comparisons clearly indicate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to be the winners. This is probably the first time when a Champagne produced from “odd grapes” came across as better than the Champagne(s) at the same level at the same producer using the “regular” grapes.
Carte d’Or 1992
Pinot Noir och Chardonnay, disgorged January 2013.
Appearance: Dark golden colour, with some amber hue.
Nose: Noticeable oxidative notes with winter apples, spice, typical old Champagne aromas.
Palate: Sweetness of fruit in the attack, winter apples and baked apples, spice, balancing acidity, fresh tasting.
Summary: Wonderfully developed, fresher on the palate than in the nose. Fully developed, should probably not be kept for any longer period of time, 89 p.
It is unusual to find so mature Champagne directly from the producer, so it was interesting to note that Drappier is selling some recently disgorged older vintages. The disgorgement month is indicated on the label. This wine was not something for those who are afraid of old aromas, but definitely something for those that do appreciate them, and I enjoyed this wine. 1992 wasn’t a top vintage, so it has probably aged quicker than vintages such as 1990 or 1988, and it wasn’t a truly great mature Champagne in the way that prestige Champagnes from older top vintage can be. Vintage Carte d’Or corresponds to the current-day Millésime Exception.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.