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Alexandre Bonnet champions Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bar

Alexandre Bonnet explains the importance of its home village, Les Riceys, in making award-winning expressions of Pinot Noir.

On the map of the Champagne region, it is easy to miss the Côte des Bar. Usually consigned to a separate box, it sits significantly south of the Reims heartland. In fact, it is quicker to reach the Burgundian vineyards of Chablis than the Montagne de Reims.

Still, for Domaine Alexandre Bonnet, making wines in the Côte des Bar village of Les Riceys, the location is an asset. Caught between two wine-growing regions ‘par excellence’, it chooses to embrace both. “We try to harness the best of both worlds,” says Arnaud Fabre, president of the company.

Both worlds feature strongly in the village’s history. For centuries, producers sold grapes to the highest bidder. Many would have two doors: one for grapes destined north to make Champagne, the other for grapes heading south to produce Burgundy.

It was not until 1927 that the Côte des Bar was recognised as a full, equal partner in Champagne. Even this only came after decades of tense negotiations and industrial disputes. Domaine Alexandre Bonnet began production in 1934, meaning tensions over the Côte des Bar’s status are not ancient history, but an important facet of the domaine’s history.

It has led to a confident approach with Pinot Noir, the flagship grape for the village, that embraces both histories. In many ways, the team prides itself on Burgundian influences: attending to the qualities of the fruit, making the most of individual parcels and minimising intervention in the cellar. However, cellar master Irvin Charpentier is still keen to stress Champagne’s influence in the work: “Champenois we are and we remain, excelling for example in the art of blending.”

The result is an award-winning range, led by expressions of Pinot Noir. Sitting at a lower latitude, the slightly warmer temperatures make for a noticeably riper style of Champagne. The Kimmeridgian soils, a blend of clay and chalk well known in Chablis, also aid in ripening in a style that balances fruit flavour and minerality. For Fabre, it is an ideal setting: “a powerful place with a strong history, geography and know-how.”

With all its viticulture managed sustainably, and certified as such, the house is led by this natural landscape. The producer defines its Pinot Noirs by their seductive, fruity tenderness, and a balance between spice, acidity and tannin structure. Fortunately, Les Riceys offers many opportunities to demonstrate these qualities.

As part of the Côte des Bar, winemakers in Les Riceys can use their grapes for Champagne sparkling wines. They are also in the rare position of making Champagne’s dedicated still wines, both under the regional Côteaux-Champenois and the local Rosé des Riceys AOCs. At Alexandre Bonnet all three are produced.

That sense of seizing opportunities is likewise clear in the domaine’s future ambitions. Across its 47 hectares of vineyards, it has a variety of sites, which it is keen to vinify separately, better to explore the village’s terroir. Though Champenois blending will always have a place, such as in the La Géande blend of seven varieties, single vineyard production of both still and sparkling wines is key to its future development.

Perhaps the freedom to experiment and develop different styles is the greatest advantage of sitting far from Reims. “Les Riceys is a far cry from the gilded mansions along Avenue de Champagne,” says Fabre. “Our luxury is space, time and unspoilt nature. And in today’s world, that really is genuine luxury.”

Alexandre Bonnet entered two wines into the drinks business Autumn Tasting 2023. Tasting notes by Patrick Schmitt MW are provided below.


Blanc de Noirs NV

  • Producer: Domaine Alexandre Bonnet
  • Region: Champagne: Côte des Bar, Les Riceys
  • Vintage: NV, based on the 2019 vintage
  • Grape varieties: 100% Pinot Noir
  • ABV: 12,5%
  • Residual sugar: 3g/l
  • Approx. retail price: £45
  • Medal: Silver

This is good traditional method sparkling wine with plenty of softness and freshness.  There is lots of fresh apple fruit on the nose here – it is open and expressive, with delicate bready scents and touch of beeswax. The palate has plenty of appealing ripe apple and raspberry fruit with a creamy-textured mousse. Again there are shades of brown bread and a hint of beeswax, showing lingering freshness, without being too firm. It is dry and a touch chalky, but with fruity depth and richness.


Rosé d’Assemblage NV

  • Producer: Domaine Alexandre Bonnet
  • Region: Champagne: Côte des Bar, Les Riceys
  • Vintage: NV, based on the 2019 vintage
  • Grape varieties: 100% Pinot Noir
  • ABV: 12,5%
  • Residual sugar: 6g/l
  • Approx. retail price: £52
  • Medal: Gold

A pretty colour, somewhere between onion skin and deep salmon pink. The nose is likewise pretty with aromas of rhubarb, red apple, nuts and ground coffee. The palate shows a lovely mélange: ripe red apple fruit, rhubarb and cherry, a touch of creamy coffee and fresh and gently bitter grapefruit pith. There also are fine, dry, chalky-textured tannins that lead to a dry finish. It is a fresh and persistent, nicely balanced, delicate pink fizz, one that lingers and refreshes.

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