If you ask any Champagne expert to name a wine from the Vallée de la Marne’s historic village of Hautvillers, nine times out of ten the answer will be Dom Pérignon. Often referred to as the “cradle of Champagne,” this is where the iconic 17th-century monk, Dom Pérignon, developed new techniques that largely influenced the Champagnes we see today.
And yet, while the history here is rich and significant, Hautvillers holds so much more than “Dom.” Considered one of the finest Premier Cru villages in Champagne, this is a grape-growing paradise for passionate grower-producers, with Louis Nicaise at the forefront of its stellar lineup. Today’s lineup brilliantly highlights Hautvillers’ renowned terroir (with a touch of Äy Grand Cru fruit for good measure) and is masterfully crafted by the newest generation of the Nicaise family—one of whom was an understudy of legendary Anselme Selosse. Finding Premier Cru Rosé of this pedigree is a rarity, even more so when the price tag hovers around $50.
Laure Nicaise-Préaux represents the fourth generation of the Nicaise family and took over the domaine in 2007 with her husband, Clément Préaux. Before becoming a part of the Nicaise family, Clément apprenticed with revolutionary winemaker Anselme Selosse (of Champagne Jacques Selosse in the Côtes de Blancs) and was able to absorb the intricacies of Champagne. He learned the advantages of low-yielding vines, supremely ripe fruit, minimal use of sulfur, and the art of blending reserve wines. From there, he worked at the prominent cooperative Mailly-Champagne, working exclusively with Grand Cru grapes from over 70 growers. He was, in essence, the timely missing puzzle piece at the Louis Nicaise.
In a little over a decade, Laure and Clément Nicaise-Préaux have “moved the needle,” directing their attention to sustainability in the vineyards, extended lees contact, and lower dosage in the final wine. With plenty of south-facing slopes, the Vallée de la Marne is a haven for Pinot varieties, but Hautvillers, which has a decent amount of Chardonnay vines, is an outlier. So, although today’s rosé is dominated by the luscious red and floral fruits of Pinot Noir, there is a healthy filling of that feel-good, mouthwatering, biscuit-y Chardonnay.
The Chardonnay (35%) is sourced from the family vineyards in Hautvillers, while the Pinot Noir (65%) is split terroir: part Hautvillers Premier Cru and part Aÿ Grand Cru. Aÿ, among the top villages for Pinot Noir in Champagne—some would argue THE top—delivers supremely rich Pinot aromatics which invigorate this Champagne Rosé upon first whiff. The base wine is roughly 40% from the 2016 harvest while the generous remainder is “perpetual reserve” wine, a blend of base wines from past vintages, typically held in one vessel (Champagne’s streamlined version of a solera system, common in Sherry production). This technique, inspired by Selosse, sneaks in extra layers of complexity and texture. After disgorgement, the Champagne is topped off with 15% still Pinot Noir.
In the glass, a pale raspberry core holds its color to a limpid pink-silver rim. On the nose, the wine greets you with fresh crushed white and red cherries, pomegranate, chalk, rose petals, and, thanks to partial malolactic fermentation, the wine also carries savory brioche and an underlying creamy finesse. The dosage, at 7.5 grams per liter, gives delicious weight without the feeling of sweetness; the finish is refreshing and totally dry. Rosé Champagne is the go-to “welcome” cocktail, but today’s wine has plenty of complexity to hold up to a number of foods. Fried chicken and Champagne have become something of a fixation among sommeliers, so to lighten things up for summer, keep the fried and swap out the chicken for shrimp. Ditch your utensils, uncork a few bottles of Louis Nicaise Rosé, and have the ultimate summery fry feast! Note: During service, use a flared tulip or white wine glass and serve the wine between 48 and 50 degrees. If you pour the Champagne and the glass becomes instantly frosty, you are serving it too cold! Temperature is crucial with Champagne because the aromas are intense yet shy and really need that extra degree of warmth to uncoil and pop. Cheers!
Vallée de la Marne
Pinot Noir 65%, Chardonnay 35%