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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, Côtes de Bar. But there’s serious terroir in those hills and valleys if you look. It’s no secret that some of the most compelling developments in Champagne are coming from the Aube. Yet 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 elevage. 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 decided to make only Rosé des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois initially 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
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
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). A pale light garnet robe, with hints of copper on the edges; the 2012 En Valingrain displays high-toned red fruit aromas, wild strawberry, cranberry, and rose hips, with a hint of brambles in the background. With air, the nose becomes more perfumed with pretty notes of wild roses, tangerine peel, and sandalwood. The palate is a bit reserved, in comparison to En Barmont, but has a fine mineral core and nervosity with wild strawberry and red cherry flavors giving way to a pungent earthiness. The finish is long and linear with an admirable persistence. Decant now or cellar for a few years to allow the elements to integrate. This is a lovely wine in the making and a fine expression of Rosé des Riceys! 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. A pale green gold robe, lemon oil, tangerine rind, rain water and sea spray on the nose. The mid-weight palate has a tangy, nearly briny, sense of minerality, with citrus flavors taking a back seat to the stony detail on the long, persistent, pungent finish. I love the energy and drive on this wine and would love to pair it with raw tuna and citrus or grilled swordfish with capers. John McIlwain
Though famed for their reds and the eponymous rosé, Riceys produces far more Champagne than still wines from its vineyards bordering Burgundy. And though the Kimmeridgian soils mean Pinot Noir in the Aube, they also make a convincing case for the underappreciated Pinot Blanc grape. Sourced from all eight of his terroirs, Olivier Horiot's Métisse, a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Blanc, is based on the 2013 vintage with the balance made up of reserve wine from a perpetual cuvée stored in foudre. The nose is delicate and spritely upon opening with generous notes of white peach, lemon curd, and cool herb tones, opening to reveal aromas of brioche and ginger. On the palate, there is a sense of volume with generous stone fruit flavors underlain with a broad, stony character which lends drive to the long, lingering finish. This would be lovely with pan-roasted scallops, though there's certainly enough texture to accompany risotto with wild mushrooms, or roasted chicken. (Disgorged 3/15/2016, Dosage 2g/L) John McIlwain