The Montagne de Reims isn’t quite as impressive as its name suggests. However, it disrupts the open, plain landscape that sits on an average of 80 meters above sea level. Reaching 298 meters at its highest point and covered by a lush, dense forest on top, this elevated plateau shares its name with the vineyards it is surrounded by.
As one of the four major wine growing sub-regions of Champagne, the Montagne de Reims spans over 94 villages located between the region’s most famous cities, Reims and Épernay. Stretched out over nearly 30 km in length and 6 to 10 km in width, the wine-growing region starts right in the west of Reims and extends to the south-east, following the curves and slopes of the plateau. The vineyards flank the plateau to the north, south, and east.
As one of the four major growing zones of Champagne, along with the Côte des Blancs, Vallée de la Marne, and Côte des Bar. The one grape varietal the Montagne de Reims has made its name for is the expressive, aromatically rich and complex Pinot Noir.
Despite the powerful image Pinot Noir has built for this viticultural area, the black-skinned grape varietal surprisingly accounts for only 41% of the plantings. It shares the vineyards with 33% Meunier and 26% Chardonnay, who thrive better than Pinot Noir in certain corners of the region.
A vineyard surface of roughly 8.000 hectares, varying vineyard expositions and altitudes, as well as numerous soil formations create a rich diversity of styles in the different corners of the Montagne de Reims.
The major sub-sectors of the Montagne de Reims can be best explained in different zones from north to south.
Spread out in the west and south-west of Reims, the Petite Montagne area descends from Gueux in the west to Sermiers in the south-west. The vineyards in this zone are mostly exposed to the north-east.
Meunier is the most common grape varietal in this sector, followed by Pinot Noir and small quantities of Chardonnay. The only exception is Bezannes, whose anecdotal vineyard of only 7 hectares is planted entirely with Chardonnay.
While the soil formations differ from village to village, clayey and sandy soils can be found in many of them.
The Petite Montagne is home to 12 Premier Crus: Bezannes, Chambray, Coulommes-la-Montagne, Éceuil, Jouy-lès-Reims, Les-Mesneux, Pargny-les-Reims, Sacy, Sermier, Villedommange, Villers-aux-Noeuds, and Vrigny.
The northern part of the Grande Montagne de Reims extends from Villers-Allerand – a village on the famous D951 Route Nationale that leads from Reims to Épernay – toward the east.
Eight Premier Crus can be found in the triangle between Villers-Allerand, the south-eastern city limits to Reims, and Ludes: Cormontreuil, Chigny-les-Roses, Ludes, Montbré, Rilly-la-Montagne, Taissy, Trois-Puits, and Villers-Allerand.
All vineyards are planted on the northern side of the plateau, which is why sun-loving Chardonnay usually ranks third behind Meunier and Pinot Noir (with a few exceptions, of course). Due to their northern exposition, the wines from this area have remarkable freshness, lots of finesse and a delicate, supple fruitiness.
Following the road from Ludes towards the eastern flank of the plateau, the soils and vineyard expositions start changing. Six Grands Crus are located on the north-eastern flanks of the Grande Montagne de Reims: Mailly-Champagne, Puisieulx, Sillery, Verzenay, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, and Verzy.
Slopes with chalky sub-soils and marly limestone – mixed with various deposits of eroded silt, sand, or gritstone – provide favorable conditions for Pinot Noir, which presents the lion’s share of the production here. Vineyards have different expositions – north, north-west, and north-east. A minor proportion of Chardonnay can be found in the vineyards as well, but Meunier is extremely rare.
Compared to the wines made from the south-eastern flanks, the grapes from the north-eastern vineyards of the plateau bring out fresher and slightly spicier wines with intensity, length and structure.
In Villers-Marmery, vineyards begin to extend toward the south. Surrounded by Pinot-Noir dominated vineyards, the villages Villers-Marmery, Trépail, Billy-le-Grand and Vaudemange stand out for growing almost exclusively white-skinned grapes.
With its east-facing slopes, bright white chalk soils, and protection from the west winds, Chardonnay is well suited to this location.
The wines of Trépail and Villers-Marmery have a bold character paired with a well-rounded structure and expose a lively mineral freshness.
Extending to the south, the Montagne de Reims reaches its southernmost vineyards with the star crus Ambonnay and Bouzy, and descends up to Tours-sur-Marne where it meets the Grande Vallée de la Marne.
Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois, and Tours-sur-Marne are the celebrated Grands Crus of this sector. Tours-sur-Marne historically obtained grand cru status for Pinot Noir only, and Premier Cru status for Chardonnay.
The south- and south-east facing vineyards of Ambonnay and Bouzy are planted with roughly 75% of Pinot Noir and 25% of Chardonnay. The south-facing vineyards with calcareous subsoils are usually reserved for Pinot Noir. With the benefit of slightly higher average temperatures than the north of the Montagne de Reims, harvest usually starts a few days earlier.
Ambonnay’s topsoils incorporate a thin layer of clay that brings out slightly more refined and spicier interpretations of these two powerful Pinot Noir terroirs, while Bouzy is known for more full-bodied intensity. Furthermore, both villages have been known for their rich and concentrated Coteaux Champenois red wines throughout history.
Compared to these two power Grands Crus, the Pinot Noir champagnes from Louvois and Tours-Sur-Marne, as well as the Premier Cru wines of Tauxières-Mutry, appear more supple, fruitier and rounder but also have significant depth.
Montagne de Reims blends:
Single-village cuvées to try:
If you’d like to read more about the crus of Champagne, we recommend this article.