Bubbles Not Required: Still and Sparkling Champagne from Horiot

Bubbles Not Required: Still and Sparkling Champagne from Horiot

On a recent trip to Paris, I ended up drinking bottles of Horiot, one of my favorite Champagne producers, at three different places -- and I was only there for three days. Not only are they more expensive and more difficult to obtain in New York, but they are thrilling to drink and paired deftly with the most complex dishes we were served: rabbit kidneys, blanquette de veau, smoked pigeon, sweetbreads, asparagus, and more. The thing is, they were all still wines. No bubbles. The style is closer to a lighter red than a rosé, but with the backbone and precision of the best Champagne. 

We take for granted that Champagne has always made the best sparkling wine in the world, but it's reputation wasn't originally built on bubbles. Champagne was famed for red wine -- pale, light ones at that. In the early 1800's 90% of the wine was made in this style. Crazy, right? So what did those wines taste like? If were anything like the wines from Marie and Olivier Horiot, they were just as ravishing and luxurious as the sparkling wines.

You'll have little luck finding any traces of this previous era, even in the grand houses that existed then, like Philipponnat or Ruinart. Look instead to the humble Aube, where the Horiots are among the shrinking few who go through the extra steps to produce Rosé des Riceys, a strict, tiny appellation. It's no wonder few others bother: making sparkling Champagne from the same grapes is easier and you make more money. But the Horiots are not just cranks making a forgotten style for the sake of history, they are making some of my favorite wines in the world. 

We're offering three different iterations of Rosé des Riceys. Two are still, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs - from the 'En Barment' and 'En Valingrain' vineyards, vintage 2014. The other is a 2011 Champagne-method rosé de saignée Pinot Noir from one of the same vineyards. If anything proves the concept of terroir, it's these wines. Regardless of the vinification, bubbles or no bubbles, the nuance of soil and place is unmistakable.

I can't think of a better lineup of wines that is so satisfying to the mind, the palate, and the heart. It reminds me that something obscure and forgotten can tap into something universal. Compare and contrast them, or just gulp them with abandon.

Jonathan Kemp

Rosé des Riceys 'En Valingrain' 2014

From a single parcel of Pinot Noir with 100% chalky, limestone kimmeridgian soil. This is the leaner and more ethereal of the two still wines. Quite stony, subtly smoky, with vibrant raspberry. A truely haunting expression of Pinot on limestone. 10% of the grapes are foot-trodden, then whole clusters are added on top for 5-6 days of semi-carbonic maceration with pump-overs twice a day, giving it the extraction of a light red. It spends a few years in older barrels, and a small amount of sulfur is added at bottling. It's incredibly youthful and dynamic, the kind of wine that will age effortlessly for years. 

| Compare at $50 |

Buy 2014 "En Valingrain" | $44

Rosé des Riceys 'En Barmont' 2014

The parcel called 'En Barmont' also has Champagnes' famous chalky soils, but red clay is mixed in with the limestone, which gives this wine a touch more density. It's 100% Pinot Noir, made in the exact same way as 'En Valingrain.' Despite the broader feel it is still a nervy, tangy wine with the same ethereal beauty as its sibling, showcasing the soil and also the perfecting standards of Marie and Olivier to sublime effect. There's a savory undercurrent here: sour cherry, raspberry tea, umami, and minerals.

| Compare at $50 |

Buy 2014 "En Barmont" | $44

Champagne Rosé de Saignée 'Sève' 2011

Also from the 'En Barmont' parcel, this goes through four days of carbonic maceration and was aged in older barrels for over five years before the secondary fermentation in the bottle. Zero dosage. Lots of savory cherry and raspberry notes, plus some secondary earthy complexity which is integrated into finely structured layers. You may just find yourself saying 'wow' out loud over and over when drinking this, as I can attest. It's an outlier among Champagnes, and wildly delicious.

| Compare at $70 |

Buy 2011 Champagne 'Sève' Rosé de Saignée | $60


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