Ulysse Collin Rosé de Saignée Les Maillons Vertical


My most recent visit to Champagne Ulysse Collin was not especially well-timed. Then again, maybe it was. Olivier Collin had just finished disgorging his next set of releases, so I could not taste those wines. Instead, Collin surprised me with a vertical of his Rosé de Saignée Les Maillons, long one of my favorites here and a wine I have followed since its debut. Rosé de Saignée is also a style of Champagne I personally enjoy quite a bit, as it is so well suited to the dinner table.

Champagne Ulysse Collin is one of the great success stories in Champagne of the last twenty years. Although the family lineage goes back more than 200 years, the domaine in its current incarnation was launched in 2003 when Olivier Collin and his wife, Sandra Zaragoza, reclaimed vineyards that had been under long-term leases to Pommery.

Collin’s Rosé de Saignée Les Maillons across eight releases.

The casual visitor could be forgiven for driving past Champagne Ulysse Collin. The unassuming domaine is located in Congy, a small, sleepy village in the Côteaux du Petit Morin, just south of the Côtes des Blancs, in the middle of nowhere, as we might say colloquially. The very simple, agrarian setting and lack of nearby elite grower estates or famous villages is quite different from what is commonly found in other regions within Champagne, even those that are less developed. Olivier Collin seems to like it that way. Whereas most of his colleagues run in circles of producer friends/colleagues, Collin is quite happy to be a loner. The same is true of large showcase tastings and events, which Collin avoids. Instead, the focus here is on vineyards, the cellar, the wines and the family. That’s pretty much about it. The results are in the glass.

The Collin family has been active in Congy since the early 1800s, but their modern-day history can be traced to the early 1930s. Georges Collin, Olivier’s great grandfather, was a well-known grower and member of the Club des Viticulteurs Champenois (now Club Trésors de Champagne), the first association of growers in Champagne, comprised at the time of about 20 elite grower domaines.

In the years that followed the Second World War, Olivier Collin’s grandfather, René, established Champagne René Collin. By the 1970s, the maison had 18.5 hectares under vine, all of it used for an annual production of around 200,000 bottles, a large number for the time. Rene’s son (Olivier’s father) sold Champagne René Collin to Pommery in 1987. About half of the vineyards went to Pommery as part of that transaction, while a number of other plots, parcels that various family members had previously leased to Champagne René Collin, remained within the broader family.

Olivier Collin initially studied law. An early trip to Burgundy and an internship with Anselme Selosse proved to be formative experiences. Not surprisingly, Collin’s Champagnes share many stylistic attributes with those of Selosse, namely vinous intensity and textural resonance that is a result of picking on the riper side and vinification in wood. Tasting the vins clairs here is not that different from tasting wines from barrel in Burgundy. The region changes, but the overall aesthetic is quite similar.

Olivier Collin in his expansive cellar.

In 2003, Collin gained control of 4.2 hectares of vineyards from long-term lease contracts that had expired. It was a brutal growing season, though, so Collin opted to sell off his entire crop. Estate production in earnest began in 2004. The following year, Collin took back another 4.5 hectares from expired leases. Since then, the wines have grown notably in precision and nuance.

More than anything else, what I have always observed in my many tastings with Olivier Collin are his deeply held convictions on farming and winemaking. Collin’s views on the speculation that increasingly surrounds the domaine’s wines are just as strong. “There is no real work behind websites that simply list wines at very high prices,” he says. “What real work is behind that? Zero. I want to see work. I am looking for merchants that truly sell wine, that explain the domaine, that explain the wines. A job for a piece of the economic pie.”

Les Maillons is a small, east-facing 2.5-hectare parcel in Barbonne-Fayel, 35 kilometers from the winery in the Côtes de Sézanne, an intriguing region itself that was first developed in the 1960s and 1970s by maisons looking for large undeveloped tracts of land that could supply their growing demand for grapes. Les Maillons was once an open field, as much of the land remains today. René Collin originally leased this land and planted the vineyards as he, too, has been forced to look at new regions to grow his business. In 2012, the owner passed away, childless, and left the vineyard to Olivier Collin.

Collin makes two Champagnes from Les Maillons, a Blanc de Noirs and the Rosé de Saignée. Blocks used for the Blanc de Noirs are cropped at 60-65 hectoliters per hectare, while those destined for the Rosé, which sit at slightly higher elevations, are cropped at just 45-50 hectoliters per hectare, very low within the broader context of Champagne and closer to what one might see in the production of the top still red wine. “We have to work the vines for the Rosé differently,” Collin explains. “Yields must be lower, but not exaggeratedly so.” The combination of a cool, east-facing site and a search for ripeness with concentration is one of the most important keys to understanding Collin’s Rosé de Saignée.

Reserve wines are aged in cask. Despite the small production, Collin increasingly holds his Champagnes back for late releases.

The Rosé is done entirely with destemmed fruit and vinified as saignée. The first two vintages, 2011 and 2012, included press fractions, a practice since abandoned. Vinification and élevage take place in barrel. The wines are bottled in the summer following the harvest and then spend 36 months on their lees, although that might change in the future. For example, the 2019 will spend 48 months on the lees. Unlike most of the other Collin Champagnes, the Rosé has always been a single vintage wine, although not declared as such. That makes it quite an outlier, as the Collin Champagnes typically include a significant amount of reserve wines. The dosage is always around 2.4 grams per liter. “I do not like extremes,” Collin says on the subject. Production is approximately 3,500 bottles a year. The Rosé has been made every year since, with 2023 the sole exception.

Even though this was a small vertical, the most impressive takeaway was the consistency of the wine, even across a number of vintages such as 2015, 2016 and 2017 that all presented notable challenges. I did not taste the 2018 for this vertical, as I reviewed it late last year, while the 2019 has not been disgorged yet.

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