So unfortunately the vast majority of you have no chance at all of buying this wine, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. It’s a Bouzy rouge from Georges Vesselle, the former mayor of Bouzy and probably the most highly regarded of all the producers named Vesselle in that village. Unfortunately for us, Georges has retired and apparently there are no heirs, as the estate has stopped producing and is now refusing to sell any wine. As they won’t even let me stop by for a visit, I have no real idea what’s going on, but by chance I was able to find a bottle of Bouzy rouge for sale the other day.
I like the still wines of Champagne quite a bit, although sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world who does. Sold under the appellation Coteaux Champenois, they exist in both red and white versions: red is by far the most common color, as well as the most successful. While there are producers making relatively rich, complex red wines here, such as René Geoffroy or Egly-Ouriet, the majority of wines are quite light in body and high in acidity. This wine by Georges Vesselle is particularly old-fashioned in character, with a pale, limpid color—I’ve had poulsard recently that’s been darker than this! It’s tart and brisk, its pungent aromas of red plum and sour cherry underlined by pleasant, fleeting hints of five-spice and Chinese medicinal herbs. Its texture is silky and alluring, and its lightness of body makes it go down easy—the label says 12 percent alcohol, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were closer to 11.5. While it’s a very particular wine, and certainly not to everyone’s taste, I find it delicious.
The problem with Coteaux Champenois is that it needs to be grown in the warmest places in order to attain sufficient ripeness, which is why the most famous examples are from villages such as Bouzy, Ambonnay, Aÿ or Cumières, all of which have sunny, south-facing slopes that see plenty of sunshine. This means that Coteaux Champenois is just as expensive, and in some cases even more expensive, than bubbly champagne, since it comes from the best vineyards. And while it’s delicious, even the best Coteaux Champenois isn’t anywhere near the level of quality of the sparkling stuff.
My Bouzy rouge, for example, cost me 18 euros, which in France is quite a bit of money to pay for a red wine. Is it worth it? Probably not. I can buy much better champagne, even champagne from Bouzy, for 18 euros. But it’s great to drink, and it offers an intriguing and alternate perspective on the region. In fact, if you ever find yourself in Champagne, it’s worth sampling a bottle or two of Coteaux Champenois from a good producer. You certainly won’t find much of it elsewhere.