The Côte des Blancs Champagne wine region is a sub-region of the Champagne vineyard area, in northeast France. The region is located in the department of Marne and extends south of Epernay, bringing it to the center of the Champagne region. 3,190 ha (7,882 acres) of vineyards are planted here. White varieties are so dominant, they gave the region its name (Blanc = White), although others say that the name is based on the presence of white chalky soils. Either way, this makes the specialty of this region easy to remember! The pure chalk of the soil results in precise wines, with great elegance. These base wines are fermented again in the bottle, to create sparkling Champagne. The region includes six Grand Crus villages (out of 17 total Grand Crus across all of Champagne), as well as multiple premier cru vineyards.
In the Côte des Blancs, the white Chardonnay grape accounts for more than 97% of the plantings. Chardonnay is one of the three main grapes of the Champagne region. It gives the best results in the chalky soils of the Côte des Blancs. Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs gives an intense mouthwatering acidity and a playful body to the wines, making them perfect for long aging. Chardonnay grapes from this region are found in most of the top-end Champagnes on the market.
The vineyards of the Côte des Blancs are located on an east-facing slope. The region is located at 48º latitude, so the east-facing slopes allow the very first sun rays to hit the vines and warm them up from the cold nights the region experiences throughout the year. Furthermore, this orientation shelters the vineyards from the harsh western winds, creating the perfect microclimate for grape growing. The slope also allows fast drainage after the rain, a sought-after character in viticulture.
Côte des Blancs is blessed with some of the purest chalky soils of Champagne. Chalk is great at retaining the necessary water after the rains to properly sustain the vines, while at the same time shows incredible drainage abilities! This results in vines that are not overly vigorous despite the frequent rains in the region, allowing the grapes to ripen perfectly.
Grand Cru Villages
Côte des Blancs is home to six of the seventeen Champagne Grand Cru villages. Grand Cru is the highest classification for the Champagne vineyards. This is a big feat, considering that Côte des Bars has none! The Grand Vry villages of the Côte des Blancs from north to south are: Chouilly, Oiry, Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Mesnil-sur-Oger. Few Champagnes showcase the individual name of the vineyard, if the fruit used came from a single village, however, most Grand Cru Champagnes are blends of grapes coming from two or more of these villages.
Blanc de Blancs
Chardonnay is increasing in popularity, so is the fruit from the Côte des Blancs. Production of the Blanc de Blancs style – Champagne made exclusively from white grapes – is becoming more and more fashionable, as it is thought to be the wine with the highest aging potential. Blanc de Blancs is also a style that works well with drier styles of Champagne.
There is an increasing trend of producers using only fruit from the Côte des Blancs, rather than blending from different parts of the Champagne region. This trend is in contrast to the traditional Champagne ideology of delivering consistent style and quality year after year, which is not possible without the help of blending. However, climate change has made it possible for the Champagne region to experience a sequence of high-quality harvests, so producers, inspired by the single-vineyard focus of Burgundy or Barolo, are using this opportunity to showcase their best plots.
Champagne houses typically choose to blend wines from different vintages to achieve increased complexity and consistency in their wines. Sometimes, however, the growing season is so perfect that the wine doesn’t need the multi-vintage boost and can be made using only grapes from a single harvest! Only the best vintages are declared vintage, so producers choose to use their best plots, like those found in the Côte des Blancs for these wines. Some recent vintage releases have been of 2008, 2012, and the much-anticipated release of 2018.
Pierre Péters Champagne
From the heart of the Côte des Blancs, located in the Grand Cru vineyard of Mesnil-sur-Oger, the Pierre Péters Champagne is a prime example of a Grower Champagne house. Already from 1919 the Péters family have been producing and selling Champagne under their brand name – one of the first growers to take this big step. This know-how of Champagne making has brought the family to the forefront of quality Champagne.
Champagne Pierre Péters has also been one of the first to believe in the single vineyard focus, many other Champagne houses are now following. Cuvée Spéciale LES CHETILLONS is a vintage wine coming from an extraordinary single vineyard within the Grand Cru village of Mesnil sur Oger. Naturally, it commands a premium price, but it is worth it, as it also gains consistently high marks from established wine judges.
Champagne Le Mesnil
Located in one of the best villages of Côte de Blancs, Mesnil-sur-Oger, le Mesnil is the local cooperative, founded already in 1937. It’s worth noting that all of the vineyards in Le Mesnil Sur Oger are classified as Grand Crus. For le Mesnil, local growers deliver their grapes to the cooperative winery, where they go through the wine making process and are turned into Champagne. The profits from the Champagnes sold are then redistributed to the growers. Cooperatives usually handle larger volumes than the individual growers can, and this allows them to have easier access to many markets and cuts down on marketing costs, making them a value for money option. Le Mesnil Champagnes are made exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards and prices start from $35, making them one of the most affordable, high-quality Champagnes.
Red Star Côte des Blancs Yeast
Red Star produces a winemaking yeast called Cote des Blancs (also known as Epernay II). It is a yeast selected from French cultivars, and can be used in making various types of wine, but it is especially recommended for Chardonnay (as you might guess from its name). Many feel that it imparts a fruity aroma in wines, and describe it as leaving residual sugar resulting in a sweeter wine if the temperature is low during fermentation. If you are looking for more information on Red Star Côte des Blancs Yeast see this separate article.