Bruno Paillard is a big name in Champagne, both as a man and as a brand. It was a pleasure to be invited to the launch of the Champagne Bruno Paillard, ’06 Vintage Blanc de Blancs and to meet Alice Paillard, daughter of the man, and winemaker at the helm of the brand.
Champagne Bruno Paillard ’06 Blanc de Blancs: Let’s taste it!
Alice explains that ’06 was not such a good year for pinot noir but was very good for chardonnay and that drove the decision to create this blanc de blancs. After the aperitif of the Premier Cuvée on arrival, the contrast is striking. The Premier Cuvee is a classic blend of champagne grapes, is unctuous with fuller citrus nuttiness.
The ’06 blanc de blancs needs a little time to start displaying her sweep of creamy grapefruit flavour across the palate. This is a champagne of subtlety and charm that compels me to sprawl out across the sofas and let it wash over my senses (I refrained in company - just!).
When I sit down with Alice she describes the ’06 as a “charming vintage” and as we taste she adds, “now, strangely there’s a very light acidity coming from the back, because it is not a vintage characterised by a strong acidity, it is not in the attack, it is the back.”
For every vintage champagne produced the Champagne House has a new label featuring a work of contemporary art. A word is chosen as an evocation of the wine that has been created and that, in turn, inspires the artist selection process.
In the case of the ’06 the word is Volupté. Alice explains that it is more in French than we might imagine in English: “In French it has a sense of plenitude, fullness… you might say in the garden of Eden.”
With the word in mind, Bruno then goes in search of a contemporary artist who would be suitable to adorn the bottle. In this case it is the Swedish artist Jockum Nordström. There is naivity in the style of Nordström’s work but it is coupled with an undeniable accomplishment in execution. Volupté? Well, there is fruit, there is life… then there is volupté!
NB: How do you decide when you will create a vintage champagne?
Alice: You have at first a desire, intuition and curiosity when you see the beautiful golden grapes, very healthy, tasty and the tannins disappearing and the fruit is here and you can feel the richness of it. Obviously that is the first temptation.
The first real decision is made in the following Spring. At Bruno Paillard we bottle very late. It is our freedom to have the entire end of winter, beginning of Spring doing a series of tastings of base wines, to see which ones should be included in the blend… which villages.
That is clearly when we decided to do ’06 and when we decided to do ’06 as a blanc de blancs and when we decided to use these villages in a separate bottling. Then we forget it for 4 or 5 years and then we’ll taste it regularly to see how it is going.
NB: We expect vintage champagne to age. How long would you expect a vintage champagne to age?
Alice: That’s a legitimate thing to think. We can consider that the longer the wine ages on the lees then the longer it can age after its been disgorged. It means before that it [the ’06] had 8 years of lees ageing and with such a base and balance I imagine it can go one, two, three decades.
Now one could say that ’06 does not have a strong acidity base and that would be absolutely true. So you might think it would age not as much. Yet, it is quite interesting to observe that in the recent history of champagne, vintages that had very refined balanced, and I am thinking of ’95 for instance, or ’99, which is riper than ’95, age wonderfully.
Only time will tell but I will go three decades with this wine, no problem, but it will be different. It will go more toward the nuts toasted, more of the pastry notes, more of the ashes sensation, more of bees wax and honey notes. That is after 15 years after disgorgement. If you go longer than that you’ll probably be much more around torréfaction … and liquorice as well probably.
NB: What’s your own time and place for a vintage champagne?
Alice: That’s a good question because it is different for a vintage champagne. Some people are able to be detached from things very quickly. That’s not my case, I need a little time and I need a little time to go in depth and forget about the day and everything.
For me, a wine like this is very nice to enjoy sitting on a comfortable chair or couch with two or three great friends, a quality silence or very nice music. With a plate of cheese, why not? But not necessarily.
NB: Bruno Paillard is a very well known character in Champagne. Would you say there is any of his or even your own personality in these wines?
Alice: Of course! It is a paradox. We are a young house, founded 35 years ago when some houses are founded 2 or 3 centuries ago in Champagne. Yet, we are much closer to the houses of 2 centuries ago than of today.
This is not nostalgia. It is just that houses at the moment of their foundation have a vision. When we see a bottle of Champagne, it is so obvious people forget about it but each time, you see the name of a person. Very often the name has become a brand but it is a person first. A person with a vision!
A great champagne of course starts with a place. You can do nothing without great terroir and I know it is a popular thing to hear that it is just the Earth and I am just here to collect the best that the Earth can give. I respect that view because I think it comes precisely from a desire to respect the land.
But a great champagne is this, but it is also a service of a composition in the mind.
Mother Nature, Art, Composition and Champagne…
Perhaps that is the thread that runs through my experience this evening? Alice extols the virtues of the winemaking craft and speaks about the connections to the land and history of Champagne. Yet there is the composition, the art and the chance to savour a moment of greatness in life, cutting through the chaff and reaching the north western European equivalent of nirvana. Santé!