By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 18 September 2021
Champagne’s most southerly outpost, Cote des Bar, has more in common with its nearer neighbour Burgundy with its warmer climate and riper fruits. For years this area of the Aube, as it is also known, was overlooked by serious Champagne lovers - even though much of the Champagne’s Pinot Noir was grown here 170km southeast of Reims.
Now the pendulum has swung the other way as drinkers have been seeking out interesting grower Champagnes. The Aube has become a hub of experimentation and innovation – particularly for riper Pinot Noir-based fizz.
It is enchantingly beautiful here with quaint mediaeval villages in a bucolic landscape, which escaped World War battles and bombs, interspersed with 8,000 hectares of vineyards. Sizewise Aube’s vineyards are about twice that of its neighbour Chablis – and soils are similar to the kimmeridgian limestone soil found in Chablis’ top Grand Cru vineyards.
“The climate is more continental, drier with less Atlantic influence than in Reims and Epernay”, explained Michel Drappier of Champagne Drappier, one of the leading Aube producers who makes authentic and natural Champagne. “Our wines tend to have riper flavours – remember we are only 40km from Burgundy – and we are always the last to harvest in the village”.
Champagne Drappier is one of my favourite Aube producers with a wide range of rich lush full flavoured cuvees. This dynamic independent house, run by the charmingly hospitable 7th and 8th generation of the family with father Michel assisted by daughter Charline and sons Hugo and Antoine, is based in an exquisite C17 cellar near Urville - and unusually they also make both sparkling and still wines.
Drappier are perhaps better known to the French, than the British. It was the statesman Charles de Gaulle’s favourite Champagne – as Madame de Gaulle was a great friend of the Drappier family.
Recently I caught up with Michel (pictured right), Charline and Hugo Drappier on Zoom to hear about three ‘new wave’ Champagnes recently introduced – one of which is a very unusual Champagne made entirely from Pinot Gris.
Drappier are unusual in many ways. They are neither a Grands Marques house or a grower - they do own 60 hectares, so are technically both a domaine and negociant house. They are also one of the most experimental in the Aube. They often use no dosage, they are pioneering ‘sans soufre’ no sulphur fizz (due to sulphur sensitivity which runs in the family), they focus on organic viticulture - and promote lesser known grapes.
“Not many people realise that seven grapes are allowed in Champagne”, says Drappier. “Everyone knows Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier – we also grow Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (called Fromenteau) and Arbanne”.
Drappier have the largest holding of Pinot Gris in the region. “In 2010 we planted a 1.7 hectares single parcel in the sunniest and oldest vineyard in the village”, explained Michel’s son Hugo who looks after their whole estate, whilst brother Antoine focuses on the viticulture. “For our 100% Pinot Gris Champagne, the bureaucrats did not want Fromonteau on the label – so they called it ‘trop m’en faut – a part anagram’”.
50% of their Pinot Gris is made as Champagne with 50% as still Coteaux Champenois. Quantities are tiny, but it is a fascinating fizz with inherent ripeness and lovely balance – meticulously made as all Drappier’s wines are.
Sustainability is also high on the agenda at this Urville-based house, pioneered by daughter Charline and son Antoine. Drappier are the first champagne house in the region to be carbon neutral – they use mainly horse ploughing or electric tractors – and run on 100% renewable solar energy. They also make a wide range of unique diverse Champagnes, so there is plenty to choose from.
CARTE D’OR BRUT NV Drappier
£38.50 L’Art du Vin; Aitken Wine; Cork & Cask
Grapes: 75% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier
Standard cuvee makes a good introduction to Drappier’s ripe fruit house style with spicy full quince flavours.
ZERO DOSAGE BRUT NATURE NV Drappier
£43 L’Art du Vin
Grape: 100% Pinot Noir
Thrillingly dry zippy minerally sugar-free sulphur-free fizz with nutty undertones and bright pure ripe red fruits.
TROP M’EN FAUT EDITION BRUT NATURE EDITION 2021 Drappier ***STAR BUY***
£68 Harris & Co
Grape: 100% Pinot Gris
Extremely rare fascinating fizz with smoky earthy notes, great depth of flavour and ripeness from a blend of two vintages 2017 and 2018 – also made as a still wine.
CLAREVALLIS ORGANIC EXTRA BRUT NV Drappier ***STAR BUY***
£46 Corking Wines; The Finest Bubble; Champagne One; North & South Wines
Grapes: 75% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Blanc/Blanc Vrai
Fabulous new release with very little sulphur; rich toasty, sweet plummy flavours, full mouthfilling fruits with minerally depth – enchantingly rich & creamy – and it should keep well too (4 g/l dosage).
ROSE LES RICEYS BRUT NATURE NV Drappier
£37.99 All About Wine
Grape: 100% Pinot Noir
Zero dosage fizz made using saignee maceration method; deep colour, savoury earthy truffley notes with rich rounded depth to palate – another unique Drappier offering from this special single village appellation in the Aube.
Join Rose’s Friday Fizz Classic Cava online tasting: Friday 8 October www.rosemurraybrown.com