The Côte des Blancs, or ‘hillside of the whites’ is named for its predominance of white grape vineyards. It is one of 5 wine producing districts within Champagne and is planted primarily to Chardonnay. Along with the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs is considered to produce the best Champagne grapes and these 2 areas have the highest concentration of vineyards designated Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The Côte des Blancs has a reputation for producing the best Chardonnay in Champagne, allowing wines of great complexity, finesse and age worthiness. It provides the Chardonnay for many vintage Champagnes and prestigious bottling from the larger houses. The slopes of the Côte des Blancs face south east and east, situated on a bed of chalk which is very close to the surface, covered generally by just a little soil. Topsoils are generally only 30 centimetres deep so the vine roots into chalk at less depth than almost anywhere else in Champagne. This allows for regular access to water for the vines and also contributes to the minerality which marks so many of the wines produced from the region. Wines range from quite feminine in the north to more powerful and masculine with increasing minerality as you head South. Perhaps the greatest village in the Côte des Blancs and indeed all of Champagne is Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. According the Tyson Stelzer, current International Wine and Spirit Communicator of the year (2015) and a former International Champagne writer of the year, “no village in Champagne is capable of standing alone as confidently as Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.” It is from this tiny village that wines like Champagne Salon ($500 per bottle) and Krug’s Clos du Mesnil ($1600 per bottle) come. Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is also the village from which we have sourced our own Grand Cru Champagne from a tiny producer. While I was in Champagne and at Prowein I tasted a stack of Champagnes from all over the region. This particular producer was a real standout, offering exceptional Grand Cru and non-Grand Cru wines. Their Grand Cru spends 5 years on lees in bottle prior to disgorgement and offers a wonderful combination of power, richness and finesse. You’ll find a depth of citrus, brioche and toastiness. Ideal food matches include cheeses, oysters, marron and Asian dishes with just a little spice. For something a bit more out there, consider crumbed mushrooms or cold rolls. The acid in Champagne can generally stand up to a vinaigrette, so a salad with pears, parmesan or a creamy blue, walnuts and a vinaigrette is a rippingly good combo.