Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Energetic & Elegant Champagnes of Bruno Paillard

Bruno Paillard and his daughter Alice. Credit: Champagne Bruno Paillard
Bruno was only 27 years young when he founded his eponymous Champagne house. In 1981, he was a man on a mission: to make precise, zesty, mineral-driven Champagnes.

Thirty-five years later, he has overachieved. These are vibrant, complex, intriguing Champagnes that are prepped for years of cellar aging. 

The Paillards were not new to the Champagne scene — Bruno’s ancestors had been vinegrowers in Champagne since the early 1700s. In 2007, Bruno’s daughter, Alice Paillard, joined the company and became co-director two years later. Champagne Bruno Paillard now releases about 450,000 bottles per year, making it something like a larger small producer or a smaller large producer.

I recently dined with Alice and tasted through her family’s wines. The lineup was seriously impressive, and Alice's knowledge of Champagne production and export markets was incredible.

These wines share a brisk and dry appeal due to their racy acidity, minerality and lower dosage. Although labeled Brut, technically all of the Champagnes would qualify for the Extra Brut label (since they contain a lower dosage of 6 g/l or less). The house only uses a small portion of the first press for its wines. Also, Bruno Paillard ages their wines on the lees for much longer than legally required (36 months for the non-vintage blends, 48 months for the Blanc de Blancs, at least eight years for the vintage-dated wines and about 10-15 years for the cream of the crop, the N.P.U). The house also claims to be the first one to place disgorgement dates on each bottle, which Bruno began doing in 1983.

For the first 15 years or so of the house’s existence, Bruno sourced grapes from a variety of trusted growers. But he wanted his own vineyards. It wasn’t easy to buy the plots, Alice explained, because they rarely come on the market and are in high demand. But her father's work as a vineyard broker gave him an inside track, and he managed to purchase his first plot in 1994. Today, the house holds more than 60 acres of estate vineyards, about half of which are in Grand Cru villages. These estate vines (which are divvied into a 80 different parcels), provide the house with more than half the grapes they need for their champagne.

Below are my notes on the wines I tasted with Alice Paillard.

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Réserve Privée - France, Champagne
SRP: $70
Such a fresh and vibrant nose with lemons, lilies and honeysuckle. Crisp and lively on the palate with lively acidity but an impressive depth and weight to the mouthfeel. Clementines and lemons mix with some rounder, juicy fruit, and it’s all topped with generous amounts of sea salt, crushed shells and that signature element of chalky minerality. Very impressive stuff that unfolds and evolves. This spends four years on the lees and is dosed at 5 g/l, Extra Brut. It comes from several sites in Grand Cru vineyards of the Cote des Blancs. A 2009 base, this was disgorged in December 2014. (92 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Richer yellow color. Some marzipan and peanut on the nose, along with lemon curd and nectarine. Rich body but lovely acidity combine for a great texture, the rounder feel is contrasted with a crisp and mineral-driven aesthetic. Orange pith, white cherry, lemon, touched with toasted bread and honeybutter. This blend comes from 32 different villages, vinified separately, it’s a blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier with at least 25% reserve wine. This spends three years on the lees and sees a 6 g/l dosage. Disgorged May 2015. (90 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Rosé Brut Première Cuvée - France, Champagne
SRP: $70
Gorgeous nose of white and yellow flowers, almond, toasted bread and bruised apples. Crisp and delicate on the palate despite some pleasantly rich texture. Oranges, apples, white cherries, add some chalk and toasted baguette. Bright, mineral-driven finish. Mostly Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay from the northern part of the Cote des Blancs. 5 g/l dosage, disgorged May 2015. (90 points)

2004 Bruno Paillard Champagne Assemblage Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $90
So perfumed on the nose with flowers, sea spray, pastry crust, nuts and all sorts of apples and pears. Tart but so elegant on the palate, brisk, bold, very young. A good amount of citrus (oranges, limes, lemons) along with almond, pie crust, also I get some chalk and minerals. Long, lovely, complex, a beautiful wine that will age nicely for a while. Spends 8 years on the lees. (91 points)

2008 Bruno Paillard Champagne Assemblage Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $85
The aromas are direct, bold and intense, with apples, pears, lemons and floral extract. Bold texture on the palate, this is a young and punchy wine but the acidity is wonderfully intense. The wine maintains a pure and structured aesthetic, a dense boldness but also laced with chalky, salty, mineral-laden goodness. A very intense Champagne, but it has this underlying emotiveness that is so intriguing and exciting. All of this nonsense language to say: this is an exceptionally pleasant experience. 42% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 16% Meunier. 5/gl dosage. Aged seven years on the lees, disgorged in 2015. (92 points)

2003 Bruno Paillard Champagne Nec Plus Ultra - France, Champagne
SRP: $200
Deeply floral nose with blood orange, apricots, honey, chalk, toasted bread – the aromas are intense but so elegant. Rich but bright, full but tart. Yellow apple, apricot, quince paste, the fruit is bold and backed up by honey, almond, candle wax and white tea. A gorgeous wine with tons of texture and richness, but lots of vivacity. The nuanced flavors take time to come out and will improve with a long time in the cellar. Dis 2003 if you’d like, but this wine slays. A 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend, sourced from Grand Crus Oger, Chouilly, Verzenay and Mailly. This wine is fermented in old oak barriques and aged 10 years on the lees and two more after disgorgement. Dosage 3 g/l. Alice Paillard said, “This is only starting to talk.” I agree – long life ahead. (94 points)

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