Côte des Bar, sub-region of the Champagne AOC, formerly called the Aube (after the eponymous département in which it is found). The main Champagne villages of the Côte des Bar lie 75-90 miles (120-145km) southeast of Epernay and less than an hour’s drive from Troyes, the provincial capital. The vines are in scattered patches and in two main districts called the Barséquenais, centred on Bar-sur-Seine, and the Barsuraubois, centred on Bar-sur-Aube.
Vineyard area, wine grapes: 1992 5,374ha (one fifth of the total Champagne vineyard). | 2010 7,000ha (17,300 acres) according to Michael Edwards, ‘Côtes des Bar Champagne’, World of Fine Wine 32 2011 p.156-163). Pinot Noir (‘Pinot Fin’) dominates – having replaced Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc in the 1950s – with around 85% of all plantings. Chardonnay (10%) is less dominant in the Aube than in the Marne but in time this may change as the soil here would suit Chardonnay. Also planted: Pinot Meunier (<5%), plus Pinot Blanc (‘Vrai Blanc’), Petit Meslier, and Arbanne. There may still also be traces of Bachet and Beaunoir.
Barséquenais: The western Barséquenais is the larger and more important of the two, ‘limestone villages, wooded hills…above the river valleys of the Seine, the Ource, the Laignes, and the Arce,’ (Michael Edwards: 32 2011). Les Riceys in the extreme south of the Barséquenais is the largest commune in Champagne. ‘The soils here are some of the most richly Kimmeridgian in the Aube, producing Champagnes of Burgundian opulence and texture,’ says Michael Edwards. Krug began buying Riceys Pinot for its Grande Cuvée (for the 2014 release). Les Riceys is also known for Rosé de Riceys (see separate file). A few miles out toward Chaource (30km south of Troyes) there are two tiny twin hamlets called Avirey-Lingey, on more exposed ground, with hard stony limestone surfaces making for leaner wines. The main grower here is Davy Dosnon. To the southeast, within two miles of the Côte d’Or border, lies Courteron. The main grower here is Fleury. Celles sur Ource has very warm summer days, 200 hours annual sunshine in a good year and a warm microclimate due to river Ource (which reduces the risk of frost and heat-stress). There are around 40 récoltant-manipulants here including Richard Cheurlin and Cédric Bouchard. Good south-east orientation. Moët and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot buy grapes from here for their Brut Impérial and Yellow Label blends. Buxières sur Arce is home the Bétrand Gautherot of Vouette et Sorbée.
Barsuraubois: The Barsuraubois is more open country than the Barséquenais, and is also much colder. Villages like Bligny and Meurville are a little more chalky and well suited to Chardonnay. In the 1960s the Reims house of Taittinger planted sizeable Chardonnay vineyards here. There is some Pinot Meunier in the Barsuraubois but the main grape is Pinot Noir, especially on the southern slopes of Bergère and Urville, about 8 miles (12km) east of Bar-sur-Aube. Urville’s biggest producer is the family merchant and grower Drappier.
Soil: The limestone here is of Kimmeridgian origin (whereas Marne limestone is belemnita). According to Stevenson the Aube’s topsoil is ‘gravelly limestone, either weathered or oolitic, and granular limestone, Portlandian in origin’ while the subsoil is ‘Kimmeridgian, mostly Upper Kimmeridgian, except for the Upper Oxfordian slopes of Trannes, Mussy-sur-Seine and on the Valenginien [lower cretaceous],’(Tom Stevenson, 1986, p.60). ‘The whole of the Côte des Bar, some twenty per cent of Champagne, is on Kimmeridgean [sic] marl and not on chalk at all…which links it with Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, via Chablis [which have similar marl],’ says Andrew Jefford (2002, p.29-30), although these other Kimmeridgian areas are not dominated by Pinot Noir.
Climate & wine style: Michael Edwards (32 2011 p.157) says ‘the Aube’s semi-continental climate, the close proximity of water, and…its soils of Kimmeridgean marl (calcareous clay) and Portlandian limestone all combine to shape wines that have more in common with Chablis (40 miles [64km] to the west of Celles] than with any from around Reims or Epernay. The main wine grape may be Pinot rather than Chardonnay, but it’s really the terroir, rather than the grape variety, that speaks most originally to the taster.’ Michael Edwards (32 2011 p.157) also points out that the extra summer warmth here endows Pinot Noir with a round, overt fruit character rarely found further north and gives Aube champagnes their colour, mid-straw as opposed to pale green. Traditionally, Aube wine was used by the Marne houses as a softener or bolsterer of a blend, but this was kept quiet from Marne growers. Even today rivalry is fierce, with the Marne houses viewing wine from the “inferior” Aube as ‘Champagne du Sud’.’
Aspect, Elevation: ‘Generally low-lying and frost-prone valleys…good Champagnes [are] produced from a handful of vineyards well situated on the steeper slopes of hillsides ranging between 200 and 300 metres in height. The best sites face south-east [but] most seem to have no general trend of aspect,’ says Tom Stevenson (1986, p.54).
Climate: The climate is more extreme and continental than in the Champagne vineyards of the Marne to the north. Frost poses the greatest threat, both in late spring and early autumn, but the summers are warm. As a result, picking is earlier here than in the Marne.
Michael Edwards, ‘Côtes des Bar Champagne’, World of Fine Wine 32 2011 p.156-163