Located in the sub-region: Côte des Blancs
Vineyards and grape varieties: 3362.7 hectares (8309.4 acres), of which 97.2% Chardonnay, 2.0% Pinot Noir, and 0.8% Pinot Meunier.
Villages and classification: 13 villages, of which 6 grand cru and 7 premier cru.
Noted for: Chardonnay from grand cru and premier cru vineyards, the most prestigious source in the Champagne region for blanc de blancs Champagnes and Chardonnay grapes.
Villages in the Côte des Blancs
- Avize: 267.9 ha (100% Ch / 0% PM / 0% PN), grand cru (100%)
- Bergères-lès-Vertus: 220.5 ha (97% Ch / 0% PM / 2% PN), premier cru (95%)
- Chouilly: 522.5 ha (99% Ch / 0% PM / 1% PN), grand cru (100%)
- Cramant: 350.9 ha (100% Ch / 0% PM / 0% PN), grand cru (100%)
- Cuis: 176 ha (96% Ch / 4% PM / 0% PN), premier cru (95%)
- Grauves: 190.8 ha (91% Ch / 8% PM / 2% PN), premier cru (95%)
- Le Mesnil-sur-Oger: 433.8 ha (100% Ch / 0% PM / 0% PN), grand cru (100%)
- Oger: 403 ha (100% Ch / 0% PM / 0% PN), grand cru (100%)
- Oiry: 88.4 ha (99% Ch / 1% PM / 0% PN), grand cru (100%)
- Val-des-Marais: 29.7 ha (100% Ch / 0% PM / 0% PN), premier cru (90%)
- Vertus: 541.2 ha (91% Ch / 0% PM / 9% PN), premier cru (95%)
- Villeneuve-Renneville-Chevigny: 96.6 ha (99% Ch / 0% PM / 1% PN), premier cru (95%)
- Voipreux: 41.4 ha (99% Ch / 0% PM / 1% PN), premier cru (95%)
Google Maps view with the villages in the Côte des Blancs highlighted. The grand cru villages are in green, and the premier cru villages in yellow.
Clicking on a village opens a field to the left with a link to the village profile, if there is one.
The name Côte des Blancs refers to the slope/hillside (côte) where most of the villages are located and to both the white colour (blanc) of the chalky soils and the long history of the area as an origin of white grapes, i.e., Chardonnay.
Côte des Blancs is one of the 17 areas (“terroirs”) that the Champagne wine region is divided into, at least in the scheme used by the Union de Maisons de Champagne (UMC). These 17 areas are then grouped into four subregions, one of which is also called Côte des Blancs. The subregion Côte des Blancs used to be called “Côte des Blancs et environs” (“…with surroundings”) before UMC updated their profiles in mid-2015. It consist of the area Côte des Blancs as well as four other areas further to the south: Val du Petit Morin, Sézannais, Vitryat, and Montgueux. This means that the subregion is much bigger than area of the same name. This profile is on the Côte des Blancs area.
Most of the Côte des Blancs is located on the eastern side of a forest-clad ridge stretching from Cuis in the north to Bergères-lès-Vertus. A village on the “back side” of the same ridge, Grauves, is also counted as part of the Côte des Blancs, as well as areas around three small hills: the Chouilly side of the Mont Bernon (located in the eastern side of Épernay), the Saran hill in the southern part of Chouilly (close to the border with Cramant) and the Mont Aimé on the border between Bergères-lès-Vertus and Val-du-Marais. Because of this ridge, much of the vineyards in the Côte des Blancs consist of approximately east-facing slopes. Flatter vineyards below the slopes are also part of the area.
The grand cru and premier cru classification
6 of the 17 grand cru villages in all of Champagne is located in the Côte des Blancs. These are the four villages in the centre of the area, Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, as well as the two in the northern part of the area, Chouilly and Oiry. The other seven villages are premier cru. On the now-defunct échelle des crus scale, six of these were at 95%, and the southernmost village Val-des-Marais at 90%.
Before 1985, only Avize and Cramant were classified grand cru, despite the excellent reputation enjoyed by in particular Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. In 1985, Chouilly, Oiry, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger were promoted from premier cru to grand cru status. At this time, the total number of grand cru villages increased from 12 till 17, since Verzy in the Grande Montagne de Reims was promoted at this occasion.
The focus on Chardonnay is an old tradition in the Côte des Blancs. This grape variety dominated in this area already when the Champagne industry was established “for real” in the 19th century. There are some natural explanations why this came to be the case.
An east-facing slope with some forest on top provide some amount of protection against wind and rain, and simultaneously good drainage, which is needed in cold and moist wine regions. In the Côte des Blancs, there is therefore no need to use the more easily cultivated Pinot Meunier variety, which dominates in many of the more moist areas in the Marne valley and on top of the Montagne de Reims. On the other hand, the area mostly lacks the south-facing slopes needed for powerful Pinot Noir, unlike the Grande Vallée de la Marne and the southern side of the Grande Montagne de Reims. The chalky soils are also perfect for truly mineral-driven wines, and the high acid grape variety Chardonnay often contributes most to the minerality in a blend.
As it happens, the situation of the Côte des Blancs is somewhat reminiscent of that of Côte d’Or in Burgundy, but since Champagne is further to the north, the east-facing slopes here are planted to Chardonnay only rather than a mixture of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
All villages in the Côte des Blancs are completely dominated by Chardonna, and only two of them have less than 96% of the grape variety. The dominance of a single grape variety is unusually large in the Côte des Blancs, and is only matched by the smaller area Vitryat to the southeast, where Chardonnay is also dominating at over 97%.
The Champagne style of the Côte des Blancs
Of the different parts of the Champagne region, Chardonnay generally finds its best expression in the Côte des Blancs. This means a combination of good concentration without overripeness or too much of an impression of “sweetness of fruit”, a high acidity that contributes freshness and firmness, and a prominent mineral character. In principle all the major Champagne houses with access to grapes from the entire region source the Chardonnay for their prestige Champagnes from the Côte des Blancs. That said, quite good Chardonnay is also produced in other parts, such as the Perle Blanche part of the Grand Montagne de Reims (i.e., some villages on the eastern side of the hill) and in Montgueux. Vitryat is also an area that seems to be on the move. However, Chardonnay from other parts of Champagne tend to be a bit softer or more fruity in style, or “heavier” if the origin is south-facing slopes in “Pinot villages”, or they don’t show the same prominent minerality as those from Côte des Blancs, or may be a bit lighter if they do have a good minerality.
There is also a certain difference in style between the villages in the Côte des Blancs, i.e., the grand cru villages and the premier cru villages don’t make up one homogenous group each. Of the grand cru villages, Cramant is usually considered to provide a bit “creamier” Champagnes, while Avize provides a “harder” style, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger a “complete and elegant” style, while Chouilly provides “rich” wines with buttery notes or tropical fruit, but less intense mineral character. The premier cru villages often provide a somewhat lighter style, and Cuis usually gives the most acid- and mineral-dominated among these. However, one should not forget the substantial influence of the winemaking, i.e., of the producer style, and of the vintage.
The current vineyard surface in the Côte des Blancs (as of 2013 according to CIVC) is 3362.7 hectares (8309.4 acres), distributed over 2421 vineyard owners (exploitants) in the 13 villages. There are 3268.2 ha (8075.9 acres) Chardonnay, or 97.2%, 66.1 ha (163.3 ha) Pinot Noir, or 2.0%, 27.1 ha (67.0 acres) Pinot Meunier, or 0.8%, and 1.3 ha (3.2 acres) others, or 0.04%.
- UMC’s area profile of Côte des Blancs.
- The Larmat 1944 map of Côte des Blancs, including single vineyard sites (note: a big file!), more about this map in a blog post at K&L Uncorked.
© Tomas Eriksson 2015, last update 2016-01-06