In the days when the Chateau de Versailles was just a small castle and grand only on paper, a drawing that promised of the glory to come, builders, decorators and artisans of all sorts were employed to help create its greatness. The work was hard but some of them had a secret advantage, a pink wine called rosé des Riceys which made them happy…
Legend has it that among the workmen were a group who were conspicuous by their happy work demeanour. So much so that even the Sun King, Louis XIV, himself noticed these men were always laughing and singing while they worked. He had a minion ask them what caused them to be so cheerful. The answer, apparently, was that it was all due to the wine they had bought with them from their homes in a town called Les Riceys in Champagne. A beautiful pink colour, its delicious aromatic taste made them happy said the men.
Louis XIV demanded of his staff that they procure a bottle for him to try and the wine known as Rosé des Riceys passed into history as the choice of peasants became the choice of a King.
A unique rosé
Made from Pinot Noir, the grape of choice for Champagne, Rosé des Riceys is a non-sparkling pink wine. It is only produced in this part of France and in small quantities by 20 or so producers when the conditions are right – and that’s not every year. In fact, it’s so rare that you can hardly buy it anywhere but here in the area and in upmarket wine merchants stores in Paris. Les Riceys is made up of three close-knit villages named Riceys-Haut, Riceys Haute-Rive, and Riceys-Bas. Wine has been produced in this area for almost 1000 years and thanks to the Cistercian monks who lived and worked here, the development of the art of wine has always been of the highest standard.
The Appellation rules for this AOC wine are among the strictest in France for a rosé wine. They aim to protect and preserve the viticulture methods developed by the monks.
In this small area in the Champagne region there is a unique situation by which there are three appellations – Champagne, Rosé des Riceys and Coteaux Champenoise.
I visited a producer of the wine at the Champagne Bauser domaine in Les Riceys hoping to try some of the famous pink wine; alas they advised that they had run out completely. Of course I made the best of the situation by tasting some of their delicious champagnes instead.
Luckily, in the town of Les Riceys, at the delightfully quirky and quaint Hotel Le Marius where I was staying, Madame (the hotel owner) announced that she would be serving Rosé des Riceys at dinner that night. I too would get to taste the wine of the King. That evening Monsieur and Madame popped into the sitting room where I sat chatting to other guests and offered us Champagne from their own vineyards, Monsieur is a local vigneron with a great reputation. Their son joined us to gauge our reaction – this is very much a family business and client service is of paramount importance to them. The Champagne was absolutely delectable.
Dinner was held in a dining room in the vaulted cellar beneath the hotel which is actually three houses joined together, the other tables were mainly locals. Le Marius is higgledy-piggledy, on varying levels and very charming, I loved it. Each of the eleven rooms is different and each has a Champagne themed name (and a cork on the key ring).
For the first course, Madame brought out a precious bottle of the celebrated rosé des Riceys wine, she uncorked it and poured. We swirled, sniffed and sipped. “What do you think?” asked Madame watching our faces intently. We sipped again. It was like no rosé I had ever had before, exquisitely delicious and yes, it did make me feel happy, just like those workmen of the 17th Century and the King before me…
Find lots of information and details of what to see and where to stay in the area at: www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk
Visit Essoyes close by and follow in the footsteps of Renoir who lived and worked there
Get a sneaky peak at Renoir’s House, not open to the public until 2017…