You probably know that there are 4 main regions in Champagne and that broadly speaking each one specialises in one particular grape variety: Chardonnay in La Côte des Blancs; Pinot Noir in la Montagne de Reims; Pinot Meunier in La Vallée de La Marne and Pinot Noir in La Côte des Bar (sometimes called The Aube).
- see map 1
However as you can guess, once you start delving a bit deeper you find there are loads of smaller sub-regions which have their own characteristics.
One of these is called Les Coteaux Sud d’Epernay.
See map on the right
Les Coteaux Sud d’Epernay comprises a dozen or so villages tucked away in a few undulating vales between the top of the Côte des Blancs to the south and east and La Vallée de La Marne to the north and west.
In terms of the style of champagnes it produces it’s a sort of transition area between its two larger neighbours, as I discovered recently when I visited Champagne Didier-Ducosin St. Martin d’Ablois.
Didier-Ducos is not a Christian name and family name but rather, as so often happens in Champagne, an amalgamation of two family names dating back to 1946 when Adrien Didier married Yvonne Ducos.
Times were tough back then not least because Adrien had been deported in the war and when he came back to St. Martin d’Ablois he found back absolutely nothing: no business, no house ( he had to build that himself) and certainly no customers – he started by selling champagne to his fellow returning deportees.
Still he got through it all, bought up vines whenever the opportunity presented itself and laid the foundations for a thriving enterprise which he passed to his son Christophe.
I heard all about this from Nicolas and Clotilde Didier who are the third generation of the family to manage the business.
That’s another pleasure of meeting the smaller champagne producers: you actually get to meet and chat to the people behind the champagnes.
Nicolas and Clotilde explained that although the majority of their vines are planted with Pinot Meunier they have both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir too in their vineyards all of which can be found in the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay and most of which are within a few hundreds yards of their house.
That makes them real specialists in the particular style of champagne that comes from this little enclave and indeed it does have something just that little bit different to offer.
Those little points of difference are always interesting to a real champagne lover and for anyone in the wine trade, they’re essential to make one champagne stand out from the many hundreds of others.
The soil in Les Coteaux Sud d’Epernay has a lower chalk content than in the La Côte des Blancs so the Chardonnay from local vines has less minerality , but on the other hand it has a bit more fullness to it which is nice and soft on the tongue.
As for the Pinot Meunier, well not surprisingly it has many of the characteristics of Meunier from the river valley nearby – lots of fruit and a bags of flavour - but it’s a little less coarse than is sometimes the case in La Vallée de La Marne and that gives Meunier from Les Coteaux Sud d’Epernay a little more delicacy and lightness.
This was well illustrated in Didier-Ducos’s pure Meunier champagne called Absolu Meunier.
If you’re looking for a new experience then this is well worth trying. For a start 100% Meunier champagnes are few and far between and secondly most of them come from La Vallée de La Marne, so Didier-Ducos’s offering is doubly intriguing
There’s a great story behind the Absolu Meunier too.
Only three plots of vines are used to produce this wine and each plot was planted by a different generation of the family: one plot planted in 1962 by Nicolas’s grandfather, one plot planted by his father in 1987 and one plot planted by Nicolas himself in 2001
It’s a nice twist to the appeal of this champagne and it perfectly illustrates the central role that family plays in their approach to their work.
Didier-Ducos have four other champagnes in their range: a brut and a demi-sec non-vintage, a rosé and a vintage (currently 2004)
There’ll be a video coming out soon from My Man In Champagne to tell you more about this unusual and intriguing little champagne house so look out for that - just one more treat for you from the world of Grower Champagnes.