France's Best, Most Ageworthy Rosé?
2005 Horiot Rosé des Riceys "En Valingrain"
Classy, Sophisticated and Without Artifice
Yes, we're dealing with one of the most obscure corners of the wine world. But beyond the pure "geek" factor, this is honestly a serious wine of noteworthy breeding and sincere winemaking.
As generally obscure as Rosé des Riceys is with the general wine-drinking public, when you actually read up on it, you'll often see it praised as France's best and most ageworthy rosé. Let's repeat that: France's best and most ageworthy rosé.
It certainly deserves to stand alongside the world's most esteemed cult rosés, the likes of of Cotat, Valentini and Château Simone. Compared to even these, Horiot's Rosé des Riceys En Valingrain seems to have more finesse, more structure and more detail.
To further situate the seriousness of the wine: 05 is the current release.
To get to this corner of the wine world, head south out of Reims. Way south. Almost all the way into Burgundy. This is the Aube - the neighborhood of Cedric Bouchard and Vouette et Sorbée. Here is where you'll find the Rosé des Riceys appellation, dedicated exclusively to non-sparkling rosés, sharing the same Kimmeridgian soils with Chablis. Sharing, too, a similar breeding, structure, detail and ageability to that region's wines.
Valingrain, the single vineyard site from which the wine on offer today hails, is south-facing with a relatively light and fine clay soil. Horiot says that it produces a wine of particular fineness, ageability and discreet complexity. The always site-specific Pinot Noir grape shines with terroir inflections here.
I should confess from the onset that I have a soft spot for this wine. The wine offers up a textured chalky minerality, a silky elegance and impressive detail. The wine is technically a rosé, but it's darkly colored and delivers almost the weight of a light red - yet it's structured like a white wine. I find this all very compelling.
What's particularly intriguing is that it displays refinement and polished elegance without feeling at all like the product of artifice. In no way does this feel like a "worked" wine. Instead, it seems like it's an incredibly expressive wine made by an unusually sensitive winemaker in tune with his vineyards (appropriately, it's a Louis/Dressner import).
Horiot's is the first Rosé des Riceys that I've tasted, but the considered word is that Horiot's is also the best. Not that a lot of this wine is made. In 2009, Bertand Celce wrote on his excellent Wine Terroirs blog that out of a whopping 866 hectares that make up Riceys, only 30 are used for Rosé des Riceys. Nevermind that in many years, many grapes don't reach the minimum alcohol required by the appellation, and so it isn't always produced.
The reality is that Rosé des Riceys requires the best south-facing hills as well as sincere viti- and viniculture. Champagne is generally easier to make - and much easier to sell.
All of this to say that it's all the more incredible that Horiot has decided to focus on making still wines. He took over his parents' domaine in 1999 and didn't make his first sparkling Champagne until 2004. Even today, non-sparklers represent two-thirds of Horiot's production. He's quoted by Peter Liem as saying, "I am more motivated to make still wines than to make Champagne."
Horiot begins making his Rosé des Riceys by foot-stomping a small amount of grapes; the rest are done with carbonic maceration, then everything is fermented and aged in old barrels. The Valingrain offers up a fragrant combination of red currants and dark cherries with a gentle cherry pit nuttiness and subtle earth tones. The palate has a captivatingly sauve, chalky texture that leads to a long and detailed finish. All of this is delivered with such elegance that you're almost instantly reminded that this comes from Champagne on the border of Burgundy.
Horiot's estate totals just under seven hectares - and two-thirds of this is sold to negociants or his father's label - so there's really not much of this to go around. We've taken all that we could, and currently we're the only retail store in the country with this.
We stongly encourage those with an interest in the obscure yet also the incredible to try a few bottles. A final quick note: The reputation of Rosé des Riceys for aging is impressive. These wines have no problem spending 15 years is the cellar - though the wine is drinking well now and would offer the perfect complement to elegant, four-star summer fare.
To order, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the store at (212) 980-9463.
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