Made in tiny quantities and barely even imported into the United States, Côteaux Champenois still wines are quirky and rewarding—each one is an exciting little discovery. It’s hard to know what to expect, other than that they won’t have bubbles.
A world away from the sparklers that drive the region’s economy, these wines are never produced out of obligation; they’re passion projects, and you can taste it. I tried several of the top names—some “multi-vintage,” like sparkling Champagne, and others from a single year—and I’d recommend the 11 below.
Champagne Louis Roederer 2018 Camille Volibarts ($180)
This is the first white Côteaux from Roederer’s Hommage à Camille label, and this Chardonnay may make you think of a fine Chablis with its slightly saline character. It’s a lively combination of ripe apple, toasted almonds and floral notes, a heavenly match for a wide-ranging cheese course, elegantly dancing around strong flavors.
Champagne Drappier Côteaux Champenois Trop M’en Faut! ($75)
A wine made from a grape that the region hasn’t concentrated on in a few hundred years: Fromenteau, otherwise known as Pinot Gris. (The wine’s name is an enthusiastic pun on the grape’s name.) This white doesn’t taste like a Pinot Gris from Alsace but rather makes a case for itself with balanced and beguiling melon and plum flavors. Lobster salad, anyone?
Champagne Doyard Côteaux Champenois Blanc En Vieux Fombrés ($90)
Rich, round and intense like a top white Burgundy, this Chardonnay is as much about texture as it is about taste. The mouth-coating poached-pear flavors linger forever, and it benefits from decanting; left open in the refrigerator overnight, it was even better. A match for any richly sauced white fish.
Marc Hébrart 2016 Côteaux Champenois Blanc Le Leon ($90)
A Chardonnay from a distinguished, premier cru single vineyard, the Hébrart has an ethereal, floral character. The medium-length finish offers baked apple and lemon curd tastes, and it invites a pairing with vegetable-based pasta.
Egly-Ouriet 2018 Côteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge Cuvée des Grands Côtés ($225)
This broad-shouldered Pinot Noir has several gears and could use a few years of cellar aging to knit itself together before you open it, but it’s a great example of Côteaux: intently spicy with a ripe cherry core and a long finish. When it’s ready, duck with a fruit sauce will match it in style.
Charles Heidsieck Côteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge ($114)
Like Champagne Charlie’s flagship bubbly, this is a well-tailored and self-possessed wine, a medium-length Pinot Noir with lovely red fruit and a hint of cinnamon, violet and coffee bean—it succeeds on its own terms. Give this an hour of decanting and allow it to open alongside a salmon dish.
Timothée Stroebel 2017 Côteaux Champenois Le Vin Tranquille Rosé de Saignée ($99)
Wines made from 100 percent Pinot Meunier—little known outside its role in Champagne as a blending partner alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—are rare. They’re like finding a unicorn chomping on a four-leaf clover. This lively wine-technically not a rosé but a light red—has a racy acidity, transporting you to a strawberry patch in June.
Francois Martinot 2011 Côteaux Champenois Vin Rouge De-Quoi-Te-Mêles-Tu? By Charles Dufour ($49)
A light, charming Pinot Noir that would travel well to a picnic or pair with roasted root vegetables. A touch of earthiness underlies the strawberry and cherry flavors, perfect for drinkers who like Oregon Pinot.
Benoit Déhu Côteaux Champenois Rouge ($95)
This 100 percent Pinot Meunier is farmed biodynamically with the help of a horse named Violette, so it’s a nice coincidence that violets are among the aromas in this early tannic wine. It’s got several spices going too, as well as ripe plum notes. Give it a couple hours to open up and serve it with squab.
Bérêche et Fils 2018 Côteaux Champenois Les Montées ($100)
Barrel-aging has given this deep and rich Pinot Noir an almost coconut flair, but that doesn’t obscure the cherry and plum character. This blend-three-quarters Pinot Noir, one quarter Pinot Meunier—will likely be better in a couple of years, at which time, bring out the pork loin.
Bollinger 2015 Côteaux Champenois La Côte Aux Enfants ($155)
The nose of this wine—imagine cherries growing in a shady wood—is worth the price of the bottle, incredibly evocative of good Pinot Noir and showing the quality of its Grand Cru site in the Aÿ region of Champagne. It’s fresh, fruity and classy. Given a couple of hours to evolve in a decanter, it would be a great match with lamb (normally the specialty of Bordeaux, but give it a try).