Are there really five different boozy drinks they make in Champagne you’ve (probably) never heard of that are NOT champagne? Yes!
Is this a click bait headline and I’m just going to tell you about variations on the different styles of champagne you’ve already heard me talk about? Like a special blanc de blancs, rosé, blanc de noir, vintage, prestige, brut, extra brut etc? NO!
In fact – with only one exception – these boozy drinks are so different none of them even have bubbles!
So that I don’t upset your universe too much, let me introduce you to the one wine you’ve probably never heard of that actually does have bubbles.
1. The Oeil de Perdrix
Oeil de Perdrix is really a type of rosé champagne … but I have included it because it’s actually very historic. And I’d never heard of it before my trip in June. (And it brought the list up to five, you know I love the number 5).
So we know that champagne is a clear wine.. unless you make a rosé champagne (if you don’t know this, catch up here). When they press the grapes, wine makers go to great lengths to avoid the grape skin coming into contact with the grape juice because the skin is where the red/pink colour comes from.
Well an Oeil de Perdrix is actually made when they DO let the red skins have contact with the juice. Hundreds of years ago before wine makers were intentionally making a rosé champagne, the champagnes they produced were tinted pink from the grape skins. The technique to make an Oeil de Perdrix dates back to these times, before they had the techniques available today, using a direct pressure method. The short skin contact turns the juice a very pale pink colour or a very delicate amber, which is apparently the colour of the “eye of a partridge”. The name Oeil de Perdrix means “eye of partridge” in French.
I first discovered the Oeil de Perdrix champagne visiting the house which is famous for producing Oeil de Perdrix today, Champagne Jean Vesselle in Bouzy. (Bouzy is a famous Grand Cru pinot noir village, especially well regarded for red wine to blend into rosé champagne). So well-known is the Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix that by my visit they had sold out of their entire stock. But I had a lovely chat with Delphine, the wine maker, and decided I just had to come back and try it next visit.
And then I got to try my first Oeil de Perdrix the following morning at Champagne Philippe Martin in Cumières (a premier cru village known for its pinot meunier).
The champagne style is quite uncommon and my photos don’t it justice… the image below is the best I could find to show the colour of the champagne from Jean Vesselle.
Can you get your hands on an Oeil de Perdrix in Australia? Honestly, it’s bloody hard to find one, BUT it just so happens that Emperor Champagne currently stocks the Dehours & Fils La Croix Joly Oeil de Perdrix Extra Brut Rosé for $119.
2. Rosé de Riceys
So we are still in rosé territory with Rosé des Riceys but now the bubbles are out!
Let’s start with a little bit of a geography lesson. Les Riceys is an area in southern Champagne in the Aube or the Cote de Bars region, near the border with Burgundy. The area is actually a collection of three villages – Ricey-Bas, Ricey-Haute-Rive, and Ricey-Haut-Rive – covering around 866 hectares, but only 350 hectares are approved for making Rosé des Riceys. It is a very pretty area!
Rosé des Riceys is..
- a still rosé wine
- made by a very small number of producers
- only in very good years
- and only from pinot noir
It’s a much darker wine than a normal rosé, more like a red burgundy, and it’s only 10-12% alcohol so it’s lighter than most wines.
I didn’t actually get to try a Rosé des Riceys as I didn’t venture to the Aube on my trip – I had to save something for next time. I have had a rosé champagne made from grapes in Les Ricey, but it’s not the same thing.
It’s not surprising that I didn’t try one as this is a really ancient and rare style of wine that can only come from this very small section of the Champagne appellation. The wine from Les Riceys dates back to the 8th century but gained popularity with Louis XIV who was introduced to it while he was building Versailles. Stonemasons from Les Riceys were working on the palace and brought the wines of their region with them and Louis was said to take a shine to them.
Today this style flies under the radar even in France, with only about 60,000 bottles produced in a good year. One of the best known and most highly regarded produces of Rosé des Riceys is Oliver Horoit. When he started making wine, he focused solely on Rosé des Riceys and red wine. He now makes champagne too but has earned his place as one the best at making the still wines from the area.
Something else unique about Les Riceys is that it is the only wine-growing area in France to be part of three appellations, that means it’s approved to make three different kinds of AOCs: AOC Rosé de Riceys, AOC Champagne, and AOC Côteaux Champenois red wine.
Which brings me to the third type of wine from champagne that you’ve probably never heard of…
3. Coteaux Champenois
Did you know that champagne makers in Champagne are allowed to make still red and white wines known as Coteaux Champenois?
In comparison to the still wines you find in France from Burgundy and Bordeaux, Coteaux Champenois doesn’t have a huge following even in France. That’s because they are really very expensive and not the same quality as wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux, which the French drink in preference.
The grapes they are allowed to use to make Coteaux Champenois are the same as for champagne. Because of the climate in the Champagne region, these still wines are quite light and a bit acidic but now the climate is warming up, this may start to change more. For example, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, the chef de cave of Louis Roederer, is making a Coteaux Champenois from the 2015 harvest, something he started as a global warming project (from Decanter, 2015).
I did get to try Coteaux Champenois… I enjoyed a red and a white during my degustation at Assiette Champenois. I enjoyed them but when you try them in a degustation where the next wines are the Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 2004 and Krug Grand Cuvee, the Coteaux Champenois may have suffered in comparison.
Exports to Australia of Coteaux Champenois are very limited (if any) so you may just have to travel to Champagne to try one! (If you do, don’t forget to ask me about my Champagne Concierge offer… I can help you plan and book your trip!)
4. Ratafia de Champagne
Ratafia de Champagne is a grape based spirit they make in the Champagne region.
The word ratafia comes from Latin Rata Fiat meaning it is ratified. A traditional spirit made in Champagne from the must of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, fortified with Marc de Champagne and/or eaux-de-vie from the region (spoiler alert – these are explained at No. 5).
The must (which is grape juice) that goes into Ratafia comes from the third or fourth press. The first two presses are used to make champagne, although many producers only use the juice of their first press (the cuvee) for their wines and sell the juice from the second press (the taille) to larger houses. The third and fourth presses are called the rebeche (which sounds like rubbish when the French say it!)
And Ratafia tastes nothing like champagne. I find it to be sweeter (but not overly) and more syrup-y… on my first try I thought it tasted like a light port. And I say light because it’s only 17 or 18% alcohol and the French actually serve it chilled as an aperitif or with dessert at the end of a meal. And it’s often used in cocktails… I had a ratafia cocktail during my degustation at Assiette Champenois (it was our 11th course so my appreciation was a bit lower than usual).
While I was aware of ratafia on my previous trip to champagne (June 2015), it wasn’t something we were ever really offered then. Which makes sense when I read that it was only given official status as a product of the region in September 2015.
I also enjoyed a 1996 ratafia in my tasting at Michel Gonet and one of the most highly regarded ratafias on the market, the Solera at Henri Giraud (Emperor was selling this earlier in the year, so keep an eye out – it was really good. But you can still get Ratafia in Australia from Emperor… they currently stock Chevreux-Bournazel Ratafia for $59.
5. Champagne Spirits – Marc de Champagne, Fine de la Marne, and Chardonnay Vodka
And finally at number five, we get right into hard liquor! If you are an exclusive wine or champagne drinker (like me!) these full-strength spirits will knock your socks off and put hair on your chest.
After over a week in the region touring producers, I had heard so much after about sending the rebeche to the distillery to make ratafia, Marc de Champagne, and Fine de la Marne I decided to actually visit a distillery in Aÿ. Jean Goyard is a family business that has been around for more than a century making Marc de Champagne and Fine de la Marne.
Marc de Champagne is produced from pressing the skin and seeds of the grape rather than the juice and it’s a powerful spirit (40% alcohol) that’s aged for several years in oak barrels. To use an analogy, Marc de Champagne is to France what Grappa is to Italy and Tsipouro to Greece.
Fine de la Marne is an eau-de-vie specific to Champagne, made by the traditional distillation of champagne wines. 40% ABV, the Fine de la Marne is aged for several years in oak barrels in the distillery warehouses on the banks of the Marne. For context, Fine de la Marne is to Champagne what Cognac is to Charente and Armagnac to Gascony.
The impressive thing about using the leftover must (for the ratafia) AND the skins and seeds (for the Marc) is that there is no wastage. Champagne makers are actually required by law to give the must and skins and seeds to the distilleries but many make their own ratafia now too.
Slightly less traditional but a bit of fun nonetheless is Vodka made from Chardonnay grapes! A waste of chardonnay grapes if you ask me… I suspect they only use the grapes that aren’t good enough for champagne!
I tried them all – straight! – but I didn’t enjoy them… which is not necessarily a reflection on the drinks because I don’t drink spirits (not even in cocktails!) because I don’t like the taste and I end up VERY drunk VERY fast!
So who knew they made other boozy drinks in the Champagne appellation?
If you do visit Champagne, seek out these different options for a bit of variety and don’t forget to tell me about it in comments below or post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychampers on facebook and instagram.
Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.