Venture south of Reims and Epernay and the terrain begin to change: chalky soils give way to limestone, hills become higher and vistas more dramatic.
The Champagne Region of Aube has always been different.
From 900 AD until the Revolution of 1798, the city of Troyes was the Champagne capital.
Fast forward to 1904 when the Champenois decided to define the areas in which Champagne grapes could be sourced. The Aube was left out of the picture and winegrowers in the south rioted. Finally in 1911, the area was given a special appellation ‘Champagne Deuxieme (2nd) Zone”, but the Marne was still considered ‘real Champagne’.
After the 1st World War, Champagne needed the Aube and it’s fruit, so after decades of strife, streets running with wine, and vineyards burned, Champagne, once again included its southern region.
What sets the Aube apart?
It starts with the soils; unique Kimmeridgean limestone, making the area more akin to the Burgundy region of Chablis than the rest of Champagne. Pinot Noir is the most planted variety at 83%.
Once an important trading crossroads, the medieval city of Troyes is inviting, charming and entrancing.
Narrow streets are lined with timber framed buildings, many so old that the roofs of these leaning structures are almost touching! There are alleyways, cobbled streets and gardens at every turn, with a bevy of bars, cafes and restaurants along the way.
What to See In Troyes:
The city of Troyes is home to ten historic and beautiful churches, housing the country’s largest collection of 16th c. stained glass windows. The Church of Sainte-Madeleine, located in the old cotton merchant’s area, has a charming walled garden next door.
If museums are your niche, then you’ll find everything from modern art to a museum devoted to hosiery, which was created here in Troyes! The tourist office’s website has a mobile app so you can tailor your tour of this amazing city to suite your unique desires.
What to Eat In Troyes:
‘Must try’ items include the famous Andouilette de Troyes . This gastro delight is made from long strips of pork artfully inserted into casings made from pig intestines. Many find it an acquired taste but those who love this classic dish can border on the fanatical!
Perhaps the local cider, “Pays d’Othe’ or creamy, Chaource cheese is more your style!
Troyes is also known for La Prunelle de Troyes – a sloe gin that’s been distilled here since 1840. You’ll find their original 12th century building across from Troyes Cathedral.
Where To Stay In Troyes:
One in particular that is worth a glance is the La Maison de Rhodes. A12th-century hotel, and of the boutique hotels 50 most beautiful in France, offers a gourmet restaurant, outdoor pool and a sundeck.
Troyes has been a traveller’s hub for centuries and you’ll find modern chains such as Best Western, Mercure and Ibis plus smaller boutique accommodation. The city center is the place to stay so check out the Tourism Troyes website for a list of suggestions
The majority of the local wineries are small, independent grower/producers so don’t be surprised if the knowledgeable person guiding you through the cellars turns out to be the owner.[/ultimate_info_table][/ult_content_box]
The sumptuous countryside of rural France has been inspiring artists for centuries. The small village of Essoyes (pronounced Ezz-wha) was the summer haunt of August Renoir and his family and now celebrates everything ‘Renoir’.
The old stables have been converted into a fascinating, interactive museum. Don’t miss the short film created by renowned filmmaker Jean Renoir about the painter’s life, before strolling through the village towards the Renoir home and studio. You’ll pass many of the local sights that stirred his imagination.
In 2015, the Renoir cultural center brought together local wineries, a panel of wine experts and ten of Renoir’s most iconic works. The goal was to pair the wines to the paintings, creating a new way to describe and enjoy champagne and art.
Many of the local vigneron have tasting rooms where you can sample this unique wine along with classic, sparkling Champagne:
As you travel south on the D452 you’ll reach the southern most part of Champagne and Les Riceys, a group of three villages and the largest agricultural village in Champagne.
A mere 2 km from Burgundy, Les Riceys is able to produce a multitude of wine styles – more than any other Champagne region – most notably, Rosé de Riceys.
This covetable, hard to find rosé is only made in declared vintages and is restricted to a maximum production of 70,000 bottles. There are 15 producers and the majority of their production is sold right in Riceys.
Clusters are kept intact and 10% of the fruit is placed in the tank and crushed by foot.
The remainder of the grapes are placed on top and the wine ferments via semi-carbonic fermentation, taking anywhere from four to seven days.
The must is pressed out when the winemaker decides that the fruit and tannin are optimally balanced or ‘ the taste of Riceys’ has been achieved.
Aging from 4 to 8 years, the result is a deeply hued wine filled with aromas:
-licorice, spice, wildflowers and mint.
The tannins are more pronounced making this a true ‘gastronomic’ wine that pairs really well with seafood, poultry, Asian and North African cuisine.
Where To Taste In Les Riceys:
Morize Père & Fils: Since 1830, four generations of the Morize family have been part of the winemaking community of Les Riceys. Their atmospheric tasting room sits atop some of the oldest caves in the village, dating to the 11th c.
Champagne Horiot Olivier: Previous generations of the Horiot family sold their grapes to négociant but that changed when current winemaker Olivier, took over. After spending time in the vineyards of Washington State, he returned home to craft amazing wines from their Pinot Noir, including the famous Rosé de Riceys.
Gallimard Père et Fils: Winemaker Didier Gallimard carries on the family tradition, tending their 10 ha of Pinot Noir, and a little bit of Chardonnay, creating elegant, food friendly champagnes.
With so much to see and taste, it only makes sense to spend some time in Les Riceys.
Where to Stay Les Riceys:
Hotel le Magny This small hotel (12 rooms) located in the forested countryside has the look and feel of an old world inn, but with all the modern conveniences. Their dining room serves regional cuisine in a warm, welcoming environment and offers a terrific wine selection.
Hotel le Marius: Across from the Church of Saint Peter in the heart of the village, this 16th century building oozes charm. All 11 rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed while breakfast includes croissant and other freshly baked treats, from the village boulangerie. The restaurant, located in the vaulted cellar, features gourmet fare created with locally sourced products and it’s a favorite haunt of the local winemakers.