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The natural association with Champagne is "bubbles." Though that is only partially correct, as the region produces a small quantity of Coteaux Champenois, or still wine. In fact, stably bottling with bubbles is a recent development, apocryphal stories about certain monks aside. The wines once rivaled those of Burgundy and were held in high esteem in the French court. Today we are delighted to present a selection of our favorite Coteaux Champenois (and a Rosé des Riceys from a quintet of our favorite bio growers highlighting the charm and terroir expression of great still Champagne. All the wines share a delicacy of weight, articulate minerality, and a bright energetic expression of cool climate fruit. Salut! John McIlwain
A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier offering aromas of wild strawberry, wild cherries, a supple red-fruited palate, and delicate, fine-grained minerality. A lovely wine for cheeses or a fine apéritif with a light chill. Pretty and graceful, rather than powerful. John McIlwain
A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from the Montagne de Reims, partially destemmed, fermented in barrel, and bottled without fining or filtration. The 2014 Bérêche Coteaux Champenois offers aromas of wild cherry, black raspberry, brambles and roasted nuts. The palate shows good density with dark fruits, crushed herbs, an underlying iodine-like soil note, and a fairly packed and somewhat dense lingering finish. This is a bit inscrutable at the moment and will benefit with a couple of hours of air or some time in the cellar. All the elements are here for further development: a serious Coteaux worthy of mid-term cellaring. John McIlwain
100% Pinot Meunier from the single parcel La Ruedes Noyers, farmed biodynamically, fermented in barrel. The 2013 Coteaux Blanc from Benoît Déhu has a lovely nose combining aromas of fresh stone fruit, sea spray, salted plum, and spice. The palate is racy and ripe with good richness (for a Coteaux Champenois). Flavors of fresh apricot, Rainier cherry and citrus peel vie with mineral notes for attention on a long sapid finish. This is a lovely Coteaux with just the right tension between the bright fruit notes and savory character. Delicious! John McIlwain
100% Pinot Meunier, fermented in barrel with native yeasts bottled with low sulfur. From the Rue des Noyers parcel. Violets and hedge fruits on the nose. Brambles and black raspberry on the palate with spice notes and a distinctly stony energetic finish. This has great lift and drive and is fascinating to taste alongside the Coteaux Blanc and Champagne from the same parcel. Le terroir parle! John McIlwain
Though there are fewer than 20 growers of Rosé des Riceys, we tend to think of the wines as a coming from a single terroir. By separately vinifying two different lieux dits, Olivier Horiot shows the possibilities of expression within the appellation. En Barmont is a warm site, whose southerly exposure and marls interspersed with Kimmeridgian limestone produce a ripe Pinot Noir with a broader character than nearby En Valigrain. The 2012 En Barmont has a darker garnet/copper robe, effusive and floral on the nose with wild cherry, cherry blossom, and Red Delicious apple aromas. On the palate, vivid, racy acidity, bright red fruits with hints of crushed herbs, and a fine dusty minerality on a broad expansive finish. This is quite pretty with a generous ripeness and exuberance. John McIlwain
The inaugural release of biodynamic vigneron Benoît Marguet's Coteaux Champenois Blanc, the 2015 was aged for 19 months in barrel. Bosc pear, lemon blossom, honeycomb on the nose. The palate is textured and waxy with good acidity lending freshness and brightness to a rich, layered finish redolent of nectarine, lemon curd, and acacia honey. With time in the glass, a deep minerality is revealed. This is magnificent Coteaux Champenois and a great expression of Ambonnay terroir. Bravo Benoît! John McIlwain
Benoît Marguet has long been one of our favorite vignerons. Not only is he passionate about biodynamics and terroir, but one can't overlook the fact that his wines are positively delicious. Imagine our delight when he opened a bottle of his Coteaux Champenois for us in Ambonnay last year! Dark ruby robe. Effusively aromatic displaying aromas of violets, Morello cherry, and Pinot spice. The palate offers waves of bright cherry and red plum fruit, with notes of black tea and spice, deftly framed by ripe tannins and fresh acidity. This shows great poise and balance between gorgeous ripe fruit and a pungent, nearly saline sense of minerality. Wonderful now, but this should really blossom with 5-7 years in the cellar. John McIlwain