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The center of gravity in Champagne skews decidedly northward. Montagne de Reims, La Valée de Marne and Côte des Blancs are spoken of more frequently and likely more glowingly, than Sézanne, Montgueux, and Côtes de Bar/Aube. But there’s serious terroir in those hills and valleys of southern Champagne if you look. It’s no secret that some of the most compelling developments in Champagne are coming from the Aube. The area has a long history with a fame derived from its still red wines and even a game-changing rosé grown in the marls and Kimmeridgian limestone soils, which have more in common with Chablis than the Marne or Montagne de Reims.
This Rosé des Riceys—from the village of the same name straddling the border of Champagne and Burgundy—is made in tiny quantities by a handful of growers only in warm vintages. Famously a favorite of the Sun King Louis XIV, this has more in common with a red wine than most rosés. First, the wine is intended for cellaring; typically it is released after a long élevage. A master of the genre is vigneron Olivier Horiot, who not only produces two single-vineyard Rosé des Riceys, but luminous Champagnes and a startlingly mineral Coteaux Champenois white.
With family roots in vine growing dating to the 1600s and a father and grandfather who sold their grapes to the cave cooperative, Olivier Horiot decided to vinify independently as well as work organically with some biodynamic methods. Blessed with established vines in distinctive terroir, Olivier initially decided to make only Rosé des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois before complementing the still wines with sparkling wines in 2004. With 8 parcels of different terroirs, Olivier decided to bottle some separately: south-facing En Valingrain’s lighter marl lends more precision and finesse, while the heavier clays and eastern and south-eastern exposure of En Barmont contribute more richness and generosity. And though Rosé des Riceys is already a somewhat esoteric wine, bottling two different cuvées shows Horiot’s commitment to terroir. John McIlwain
From the En Valingrain lieu-dit, this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc makes a compelling case for the gôut de terroir of Riceys. The soils are a combination of marls and Kimmeridgian limestone, akin to the soils in nearby Chablis. The 2014 Coteaux Blanc is a profoundly mineral expression of the En Valingrain's limestone rich solis. The nose is bright, brisk, and redolent of white flowers, fresh cut stone fruit, and beeswax. The mid-weight palate is racy and energetic with orchard fruit flavors and a nearly saline stoniness vying for attention. There's a mouthwatering succulence to the ripe fruit and great persistence the finely detailed finish, that reminds one that Riceys is closer to Chablis (geographically as well as vinously) than the Marne. 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 2014 En Barmont has a darke garnet robe and is effusive and floral on the nose with wild strawberry, cherry blossom, and Morello cherry aromas. On the palate the wine displays vivid, racy acidity, bright red fruits with hints of crushed herbs, Darjeeling tea, blood orange zest, and a fine dusty minerality on a broad, expansive, mouthwatering finish. And while this isn't as plush as in some vintages, this is unabashedly pretty with a generous ripeness and exuberance. John McIlwain
If the Rosé des Riceys from En Barmont is generous, verging on sensuous in nature, En Valingrain offers more linear, bordering on cerebral, pleasures (both are fantastic, I hasten to add). The 2014 En Valingrain offers aromas of wild strawberry, rose petals, wild roses, cherry blossoms on the nose. The palate displays achingly pure wild strawberry and sour cherry flavors, wet stone and a surprising, albeit pleasant, electric jolt of minerality negotiating all the supple curves of red fruit. Lightning rod or nothing but flowers. This has the crystalline structure to support the suppleness. A great young bottle of Rosé des Riceys and one of the most convincing arguments that there’s a world of terroir in Riceys. And please recall that Rosé des Riceys ages beautifully. John McIlwain