When you looks at a map of the Champagne and especially of the Côte de Blancs, you would probably need a microscope to dicover the Côteaux Vytryats. Like the Côte de Sezanne this is an area which is placed in the Côte de Blancs but not really taken seriously. Also like the Côte de Sezanne and the Côte de Bar, the big producers are pleased to blend the wines into their Cuvées and have done this for a long time but do not really consider the area to be truly a Champagne region. Obviously with the Côte de Sezanne through Ulysses Collin and the Côtes de Bar through Cedric Bouchard and other producers, these regions have recently gained recognition, perhaps more so internationally than in France itself.
The Coteaux Vytryat which is a about 40 miles east of Vertus, consists of solely two small hills with two south-south-east facing slopes. In my mind there are three factors which makes this area interesting.
The same chalk soils are to be found here as in the Côte de Blanc, a small difference is that there is up to 10% clay in the soil composition, which gives the chardonnay grown here a certian richness in contrast often to the sharpness found in the Chardonnay of the Côte de Blanc.
Secondly, the grapes are only grown on the slopes, no plants are to be found on the plâteau, unlike in the Côte de Blanc.
Thirdly, this area is probably one of the last to wake up to the possibilities of Champagne de Vigneron. Their are about ten producers, who are not all really convincing, however, most ot the producers only have holdings in the Côteaux, and thus it is possible to get Champagnes exclusive to one area and get an idea of the terroir. For the equivalent pleasure of buying single plot Champagnes in the Côte de Bar the price of entry can be prohibitive.
There is a scenic route starting at Vitry-le-France which goes though the 15 village surrounding the two slopes. I personally cannot imagine this gaining much traction with tourists, you have endless grain fields, which can get a bit monotonous and the two Coteauxs sticking up in the middle of them. The main village, Bassuet like all the other villages have little infrastructure; you have more chance of getting a glass of Champagne than a bottle of water or a coffee.
Although in general the quality of Chamapagnes from lesser known producers is mostly mediocre, sometimes one can discover with patience a producer who stands out. At the Passion Chardonnay this year at the Printemps this was my feeling about Bolieu from Bassuet. The big problem with these big tastings is how one's taste can deceive and often producers, who one gets excited about at these tastings, in a more relaxed tasting setting don't live up to the preconceived notions from the original tasting.
I visited the producer Champagne Bolieu (who caught my attention at the Passion chardonnay) about two weeks ago and had the chance to retaste the whole selection. Monsieur Baffard, the owner, speaks good english and one senses he is very passionate about the Côteauxs. Due to the reputation of the region through the lacklustre workings of the cooperative, the local market is rather sceptical about this area and producers like Bolieu see their future in export rather than in the french market. The italian market, which has a very good feeling for up and coming producers in the Champagne, are the biggest exporters of wines from this region.
The disadvantage of such an approach is that prices tend to be higher for a similiar quality, if their is no local demand.
His first Champagne „Pipin de Vigne“ contains 25% Meunier. What is intersting with this Champagne he does it with two doasges. One with 9g/l and one with zero dosage. The 9g/l is what the french would call an aperitif Champagne. The base year here is 2014. At first the Meunier dominates, more red fruited, with time the chardonnay comes through, a mellow champagne, medium acicidty, nice freshness not aggressive. The perlage is quite explosive, nice mousse.
The zero dosage which is produced solely for the italian gastronomy illustrates perfectly how big a role dosage plays. The Chardonnay dominates, very zesty, pickled lemons, lime, the meunier is degraded to a supporting role, aromatically barely perceptive. The acidic grip is much stronger.
The second Champagne Fleur de Craie is where it starts to get interesting. 100% Chardonnay, dosage 4g/l, base year 2012 with about 20% solera which was started in 2000. He uses the word Solera, for what is actually a vin perpetuum. This wine is a big step up, you sense immediately that they are working with a good quality of grapes. The perlage is very strong, nice small bubbles, strong mousse, a well rounded chardonnay complex aromas, lemony, floral, truffles,spices, here I suppose the clay in the soil comes into play, no sharp finish, acidic but very well rounded. The Solera defines this champagne, lots of depth and as it evovles in the glass gains in complexity A definite Champagne gastronomique. Monsieur Baffart is definitely a gourmet, the more we taste, the more he starts listing dishes which he believes would work with this champagne. This is not helpful as it is midday and I have started from Germany at 6.00 am and have not eaten in between.
The third champagne Carnet de Lione has the base year 2010, 30% Solera 2g/l and 25% of the wine has contact with wood. More a burgundian type champagne than what I would call a pure Blanc de Blancs. The wood although not perceptible, gives a layer of richness not tasted in the Fleur de Craie. The Solera is also much more dominant, I prefer this when the perlage has disappated.
I would compare this Champagne to a 1er cru from the Côte de Beaune, in fact I would prefer this to a 1er cru from the Côte de Beaune, the barely percetible bubbles give this an edge. Lots of muscle, nice acidic grip, needs time. And off we go Monsieur baffard starts with his food pairing, Ceps, Truffles, Ris de Veau, poulet de bresse, I would not contradict him in any of these combinations.
The last Champagne L'instant B 2008 Extra Brut Vintage. Monsieur Baffart told me, to start off with the 2008s were impossible to taste, the acidity was too penetrant. It took about two years for the first glimpses of fruit to come through. The first tranche which he sold was in 2016, after much trial and error, they felt 4g/l was needed for the Champagne to be palatable. The second tranche which they released in 2017, 2g/l was required. The latest tranche, 2018 to their surprise needed no dosage.
An the first sip what you get is the sheer exuberance of the vintage. This does not feel like a zero dosage vintage, the champagne is still very embryonic, I think this will need at least ten years to come together. Massive fruit and massive acidity, fantastic length, without question Grand cru quality.