• Jamie

The Five Sub-Regions of Champagne

Updated: May 23, 2021

Many of us look at Champagne as a single area for producing the most famous of all sparkling wines. However, the region is actually composed of five sub-regions which offer completely different styles. Here's a short guide to each one.

Vallée de la Marne

The largest of the five sub regions, it stretches approximately 60 miles from east to west and is situated within the north west side of Champagne. It's home to a number of premier cru villages and the snazziest areas can be found around Épernay where land values increase in line with levels of limestone.

The best Pinot Meunier vineyards can be found in Vallée de la Marne. In terms of finesse, Meunier is still considered somewhat overshadowed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although the lesser-known Pinot is gaining in popularity. The further west you travel within the wine region, the more you'll discover an experimental spirit - more wineries producing 100% Meunier champagnes with vintage or single-vineyard versions. Maritime and continental influences both prevail in the ‘lengthy’ climate of the region, and being cooler, ripening or ‘hang time’ is longer, which favours the formation of aromas and flavours. Typical styles of a Valleé de la Marne are usually vibrant, youthful and fragrant, which, within any blend, will bring freshness and added complexity.

Montagne de Reims

Arguably Champagne’s most famous sub region, it's certainly its most northern. It's known for having more grand cru villages than the other sub-regions put together. Champagne’s capital, Reims, is a picturesque town full of Michelin-starred restaurants and the headquarters of lots of large champagne houses are based here. The dominant grape variety is Pinot Noir, which adds red berry fruit flavours, acidity and structure to the champagne. The soil of the Montagne de Reims is extremely diverse, but mostly limestone and clay dominate. Like in Burgundy, Pinot Noir also enjoys the clay and marl areas in Champagne. The grape variety takes up 60% of the vineyards.

Being the northernmost part of Champagne, frosts are always a threat to the harvest. Consequently plantations are almost exclusively on south-facing vineyards, so that the plantations get the highest possible amount of sunshine. All nine Montagne de Reims grand crus, and as many premier crus, can be found here, including the Grande Montagne de Reims, which surrounds the hill to the south of Reims.

Côte des Blancs

Côte des Blancs could be considered as the most ideal sub-region of the Champagne region. It's basically a long stretching, east facing hillside. The grapes get all day sunshine and the warmer afternoon rays aren't too hot. Côte des Blancs was named after its recognisable, limestone rich hills. Limestone is at its most dominant here within the region, at times lying under just a very thin layer of topsoil, and deeper into the ground it can be found almost exclusively. It benefits the grapes by retaining heat as well has reflecting heat upwards too which helps the ageing process. It's a fast draining soil that helps minimise the damage that can be caused by the rain and it also enriches the final flavours of the wines with unique mineral notes. So really the most suitable grape variety in Champagne is Chardonnay and 97% of this sub-region is planted with it. Blanc de Blancs is prevalent in this sub-region, which refers to a white champagne made from a white variety. Out of Champagne’s 17 grand cru villages, six can be found here, so it’s not surprising that the Chardonnay for almost all prestige cuvées comes from here.

Côte de Sézanne

This area may appear connected with Côte des Blancs with its Chardonnay dominance (64% of plantings), yet the similarities end here. The two sub regions are separated by a marshy area. Sézanne has a lower prestige, but don't be discouraged: this is colourful variety for those who seek something a little more unusual. Due to the forests and the swampy marshland, the climate of Sézannes is wet, and rich in clay. This dual effect gives a wide, full, rich character to the Chardonnay that comes from here. The grapes ripen earlier, with rounded acidity and fuller flavours, which are a lot fruitier than its northern neighbours. After Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier is the next most planted with a 20% share, and is often the raw material of rosés.

Côte des Bar

As the southernmost part of Champagne (it’s almost two hours from Reims by car) the Côte des Bar has a completely different profile to the other sub-regions. Although Pinot Noir is the dominant variety (86%), it has a truly distinctive climate and soil structure. Similar to Burgundy’s Chablis area, the soil is made up by Kimmeridgian marl. It’s the warmest sub region, thus it primarily favours black grapes.

Up until the 2000s, the Côte des Bar’s main focus was grape growing, and the large houses purchased the grapes from here in order to achieve more complex flavours. For example, some Champagne houses are known to blend Pinot Noir from both Reims and from here. At the beginning of the 2000s, some of the local family wineries started making their own champagne. Since these wineries do not have lots of reserve wines, most of the champagnes come from one vintage, single-vineyard wines are very frequent, and among some of those grape varieties that come to the forefront, such as Pinot Blanc, Arbane and Petit Meslier.

I hope you've enjoyed my little whistlestop tour of the regions. Below I've included some shots of our own 'grower producers' - producing champagnes within their own wineries, using their own harvested grapes. This is what I believe makes all our champagnes a little more interesting than the more well known and (in my view) rather homogenous brands. Subject to the vagaries of the weather and the soil, it is farming with a touch of magic making these champagnes a truly artisan labour of love.


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