The Rosé des Riceys, a closely guarded secret

Sep 18, 2020 • 2 mins

The Rosé de Riceys had fallen by the wayside, crushed by the popularity of the sparkling wines, and it was almost ready to give up the ghost. It is, without doubt, the most Burgundian of all the Champagne wines in terms of its origins, grape variety and aromatic profile. It tells us a lot about the style of wines from the region prior to the birth of the sparkling wines.

It is situated in the Côte des Bar, near Burgundy, and is produced from Burgundy’s Pinot Noir, grown in marly limestone soils similar to those of Chablis. It has remained relatively unknown, producing just 60,000 bottles per year compared to over 300 million bottles of champagne. You could say it spent a long time in purgatory as it did not officially become part of the Champagne region until 1947, with just 350 hectares.

Its remarkable history is related in a book by Serge and Claudine Wolikow, two academics who, in 2017, gave a conference in Pau on the theme: “Equidistant between Épernay, Dijon and Beaune, the Riceys found themselves at the centre of a battle between the wines of Champagne and Burgundy which lasted for almost a century and a half (1650-1800)"

Although a champagne by birthright, it has nonetheless retained its original style as a rosé rather than a sparkling wine.

Its pale hue is said to be the result of “pressing quickly or immediately after being harvested at the crack of dawn” (Abbot Peluche). This ecclesiastical authority initially saw this as a way for the wine producers to avoid paying tithes, harvesting before the ‘dizeniers‘ arrived in the vineyards to check the production.

This problem was resolved in 1678 with the introduction of a tax calculated on the basis of the quantity of grapes on the vines or wines in the cellar. All wines from Champagne were probably the same colour at the time, similar to an “oeil de perdrix” hue, before becoming white and then sparkling by the end of the 17th century. After having almost disappeared between 1880 and 1947, Rosé de Riceys was finally classified as an A.O.C. in 1946 and the first vintage was the 1947.

Around 20 winemakers continue to uphold the traditions of this unusual champagne wine working not more than 40 hectares out of the 886 authorised. In 2017, the appellation celebrated its 70th anniversary, the perfect occasion to hold a vertical tasting of vintages dating back to the appellation’s 1947 birth.

“An exceptional tasting of a wine with a brick-red hue and aromas of candied fruit, quince jelly and delicate spice. It’s still showing remarkable freshness and length considering its age”, said Emilie Morel from Domaine Morel Père & Fils, whose father is the chairman of the local “ODG”. In its youth, it is ideally paired with freshwater fish, poultry, scallops, langoustine, andouillette from Troyes and cheeses such as Chaource.

To try it is to love it. But don’t tell everyone as there isn’t enough to go round!