In the world of fine wine, the Rothschild family needs no introduction. Their legacy dates back 150 years, to the purchase of Chateau Brane-Mouton by Nathaniel de Rothschild in 1853 and that of Chateau Lafite by James Mayer de Rothschild in 1868. These two estates were to become Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, respectively, two of the most prestigious Premier Cru Classe labels in the Bordeaux region. But today we choose to focus on the family’s namesake domain in Champagne, created by three Rothschild cousins, with the aim to add some sparkle to a brilliant portfolio of wines.
History of the Champagne House
In 2005, three branches of the Rothschild family set out with a single goal: to acquire the very best Champagne terroirs and apply a vast winemaking know-how to the creation of high quality sparkling wines. The three cousins who created the Rothschild Champagne House are Baron Benjamin (owner of Chateau Clark), Baron Erik (owner of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild) and Baronness Philippe and her son Philippe Sereys de Rothschild (owners of Chateau Mouton Rothschild). This collaboration brought together three important branches of the Rothschild family in a rather exceptional new project in Champagne. Their first challenge was to acquire an ample supply of high quality grapes, especially Chardonnay, considered the scarcest, most sought-after and most expensive variety in the region. In fact, Chardonnay accounts for less than 30% of the total vineyards in Champagne. While they did come across several small, scattered plots with high quality vines, they preferred the idea of sourcing from one large vineyard area (at least 10-15 acres). Eventually they found what they were looking for in the Cotes des Blancs region, famous for its Grand Cru and Premier Cru vines. In 2009, the Champagne House began commercialising their line of champagnes, whose labels were designed by the late Baroness Philippine (awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Institute of Masters of Wine).
While the Domaines Barons de Rothschild is the youngest Champagne House, the Rothschild family has had a long history of influence in the region. They became shareholders in other prestigious Champagne Houses after the Second World War. For over a century the family has maintained a vested interest in and enthusiasm for Champagne, a passion that materialized with the establishment of Champagne Barons de Rothschild.
The Very Best Terroirs
To produce their new sparkling wines, the three Rothschild cousins chose the very best vineyards of Champagne. The signature cuvees of Champagne Barons de Rothschild now include a Brut, an Extra Brut, a Brut Rose, a Blanc de Blancs and a Vintage 2008. This elegant line of sparkling wines all have in common the pure expression of Champagne’s finest Chardonnay, sourced from the vines of the Cotes des Blancs area in the department of Marne. Here, Chardonnay is planted at 95% on an eastern facing slope, home to four villages: Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger. A key element of this area’s terroir is the composition of the soil: vine roots find chalk at a much lesser depth than anywhere else, beneath only 30 centimetres of topsoil. The close contact between roots and shallow chalk gives Chardonnay from this area its signature minerality, while the warm morning sun cuts through humidity and reduces the chance of powdery mildew. The Grand and Premier cru vines of Cotes des Blancs provide Chardonnay for many of the vintage and prestige cuvees of renowned Champagne Houses. The Domaine Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs consists of 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from this region.
Pinot Noir for the champagnes of Barons de Rothschild are sourced from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-surAy, and Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims subregion of Champagne. The geography of this area is characterised by limestone soils with good drainage and plenty of minerality. The vineyards are planted mostly with Pinot Noir, a small percentage of which (around 5 to 6%) is vinified as red wine.
A Signature Rothschild Style
The champagnes created by the Rothschild family collaboration represent a rich and complex mariage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the best terroirs of Champagne. They are, above all, expressions of the very best Chardonnay that Champagne has to offer, a varietal that gives these cuvees their signature finesse. In fact, it is the ambition of the House to one day become the greatest reference for Chardonnay in Champagne. And considering the 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay in their signature Blanc de Blancs, they are not far from reaching this goal. The (non-vintage) blends of the House includes around 40% reserve wines to ensure consistency and express the ambition of the Barons de Rothschild. The champagnes are also characterized by a low dosage, only around 6-8 grams per litre, to provide a more pleasant experience and to ensure the purest expression of local terroir. And to ensure a quality high enough to be worthy of the Rothschild title, each champagne is aged a minimum of 4 years before being commercialised.
Focus on 2 Champagnes from Barons de Rothschild
Champagne Barons de Rothschild: Brut
The Barons de Rothschild Brut arises from a meticulous blend of 60% Chardonnay (primarily sourced from the Grands and Premiers Crus of the Cotes des Blancs area) and 40% Pinot Noir (from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-surAy, and Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims subregion). This emblematic blend of the prestigious Champagne House contains 40% reserve wine to guarantee high quality and consistency over time. The low dosage and at least six months of ageing after disgorging provides a balanced palate. The result is a rich, complex and airy expression of the finesse of Chardonnay.
At tasting, this cuvee displays a persistent stream of fine bubbles and touches of pale gold. Aromas of pear, fresh hazelnuts and almonds interlace with subtle notes of white flowers and brioche. On the palate, this wine is straightforward, with a vibrant attack leading to a great roundness.
Champagne Barons de Rothschild: Blanc de Blancs
The Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs is a pure expression of the brilliance of Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grapes are sourced from the Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger crus of Cote des Blancs. The wine spends at least four years ageing in the cellar, followed by 6 to 9 months of ageing in bottle after disgorging. This results in a pure, delicate and complex cuvee. The use of a minimum of 40% reserve wines in the blend ensures consistency, year after year.
At tasting, the Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs shows off a shade of pale yellow and fine strands of frothy, delicate bubbles. On the nose, the wine clearly expresses Chardonnay through dominant notes of citrus, mixed with hints of dried fruits and fresh almonds. The attack is precise and followed by a silky freshness. Flavours of citrus and white fruits shine through, confirming the nose. The fine effervescence lends a creamy sensation to the wine, finishing in a distinguished minerality and softness.