When you think of the champagne region of France, the areas around the towns of Reims and Epernay most often spring to mind.
But a large quantity of champagne of excellent quality comes from a more southerly area near Troyes.
This is the Cotes des Bars in the department of the Aube and although all three main champagne grape varieties are grown, Pinot Noir reigns supreme. In fact, this area abuts the most famous wine region in the world for wines from this variety – Burgundy.
This southern champagne region is attractive to visit, not only because you can arrive at almost any bar and sip high quality champagne for around five euros a glass, but also because of the other interesting places to explore. One of these is the cultural centre in the sleepy little village of Essoyes, dedicated to the world-famous impressionist painter – Pierre Auguste Renoir, who had a summer house here, together with a studio where many of his works were created.
Every summer, an exhibition is held in the Du cote des Renoirs centre, associating art with wine by pairing some of Renoir’s masterpieces with some grand cuvées of champagne. Many of the words used to describe champagne are also used in the art world – delicacy, body, complexity, harmony. A tasting committee made-up of sommeliers, oenologists and journalists select the wines and agree on the pairings for the exhibition – “a new way of describing champagne, casting a sparkling glance at the works of Renoir.”
Ten different champagnes were selected, each associated with a painting. ‘Renoir’s House Seen from the Garden’, painted in 1906, is associated with the vintage Cuvée Sainte Germaine from Champagne de Barfontarc, produced only 20 miles from Essoyes. The Renoirs’ abode was originally a winegrower’s house, symbolising the family’s attachment to this area of champagne. The description that associates this wine with the painting reads as follows: “This wine is of a pretty yellow hue, recalling the warm colours of the painting. The taster is warmly met with complexity and delicacy, followed by a long finish. A gentle feeling of happiness...happiness at reaching the summer house after the long journey to Essoyes.”
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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