The grand cru village of Ambonnay produces some of the greatest Champagnes in the heart of the region’s prestigious Montagne de Reims. René Coutier’s family has been rooted in the village since 1619, and he is the fourth generation to work the family estate. While Ambonnay is best-known for its Pinot Noir, René’s father was the first in the village to plant Chardonnay here in 1946—a decision far ahead of its time. This has come to define the Coutier family’s house style, which marries the traditional richness of Ambonnay’s Pinot Noir (70%) with the pure, racy crispness of its Chardonnay (30%). The vineyards on the Montagne de Reims shift exposure as one arrives in the village, facing south by southeast to provide a warmer microclimate than is typical in France’s most northerly growing region. A higher ratio of clay to the chalky limestone in the soil lends richness to the finished wines. The Coutiers farm nine hectares sustainably, but keep their production small and focused, selling off 80% of their fruit to the local cooperative and keeping the best fruit to bottle 2000 cases under their own label. This is real grower Champagne.
Grapes at R.H. Coutier are harvested by hand. The clusters are pressed with their stems to act as a natural filter, facilitate drainage, and to best obtain clear juice from the Pinot Noir. To best safeguard the freshness and natural acidity of the grapes, only about half of the Coutier wines go through malolactic fermentation, although it depends entirely on the vintage. Neither barrel fermentation nor aging are used on any of the wines, except the “Cuvée Henri III,” half of which sees time in barrel to take advantage of the controlled micro-oxygenation that they naturally allow. All bottles are hand-riddled. Low dosages allow the natural character of the fruit and terroir to come through. R. H. Coutier is one of the best domaines in Ambonnay and is a wonderful introduction to the magic of grand cru Champagne.
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