I recently had the great pleasure to dine with Alice Paillard of Champagne Bruno Paillard. Full of charm, energy, and joyful enthusiasm, Alice is Bruno’s daughter and runs the company alongside her father who started it in 1981. On a quest to create an elegant style with tantalizing acidity and mineral-driven notes, Bruno sold his prized Mark II Jaguar for 50,000 francs when he was 27 in order to finance this dream.
Today, he and Alice have produced a style that is entirely unique and well worth seeking out especially for those who prefer drier Champagnes. Made only in Extra Brut styles (under 6g/l of residual sugar) as well as Dosage Zéro (no additional residual sugar), these scintillating wines are aged longer on their lees than many other Champagnes. French law requires 15 months on lees for a non-vintage Champagne and 36 months for a vintage Champagne. However, Bruno Paillard ages their wines much longer time periods: 48 months for the Blanc de Blancs and 11 years for the 2002 NPU as examples. This longer aging period creates greater flavor complexity and depth in the wines.
Bruno Paillard also uses a variation of the solera system with their wines which means that 20-50% of each blend is composed of older wines. This requires a large stock of cellared reserve blends to be on-hand and they currently have 25 years of vintages to draw upon. The inclusion of older wines creates additional complexity in the wines as well as a higher quality product.
Bruno Paillard is also known for their innovative techniques. In 1983, they became the first Champagne producer to put the disgorgement date on the bottle. This can be an important taste indicator as it indicates when the wine was taken off its lees. More recent disgorgement dates, for example, point to a younger wine that may have less toast and biscuit notes than one that was disgorged further in the past.
Another innovation used by Bruno Paillard is a ground-level cellar which allows them strict control over humidity, lighting, and temperature as the wines age. This is a departure from most Champagne houses which use caves dug far underground. Not ones to stand still, Bruno Paillard is always looking for new ideas and ways to improve their magnificent wines.
Alice walked us through a lovely collection of the following wines which were diverse enough to offer something for everyone.
The Première Cuvée ($50) is Bruno Paillard’s “expression of Champagne” and highlights the chalky characteristics and minerality prized in the area’s soils. Alice referred to this wine as a “chapter with no beginning and no end” which is a perfect way to describe the wine’s liveliness and consistency of style.
Produced from a blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier (part of which was in barrel for the first fermentation), this wine tastes of both citrus and red fruit with white grapefruit, wild raspberry, and warm brioche flavors (from 3 years on lees). Lively acidity and firm structure back the long lingering finish.
Alice described the Rosé Première Cuvée ($60) as the “brother” to the Première Cuvèe above with its similar time on lees and aging time. Produced mostly from Pinot Noir, the goal of this wine was to showcase the delicacy of Pinot Noir and its fragile nature. The small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier added bring elegance and finesse as well as structure, respectively, to the wine.
The saignée method was used to produce this wine which means that a portion of the free-run juice from newly crushed red grapes was “bled off” after a short pre-fermentation maceration. An alluring pink copper in color, this wine boasts black cherry and brambly strawberry on the nose with a long zesty finish of lush red fruit.
The Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru MV ($70) was produced from first-press Chardonnay sourced exclusively from Grand Crus vinyeards in the Côte des Blancs. This wine spent 4 years on lees with an additional 10 months after disgorgement resulting in a regal wine dense in lemon gold color with beautiful green flecks.
White flowers, citric, and wet rock aromas waft out of the glass with grapefruit, toasted bread, and almond following on the electrifying palate. Layered complexity accentuates the long cascading finish. This wine is unique and top in its class. It was fascinating to tastes its evolution over the two hours we tasted it. And it only got better.
One of the great highlights of the day was being among the first to get to try the Champagne Bruno Paillard Dosage Zéro ($65). I’m always intrigued with sparkling wines with no residual sugar (dosage) added (hence the “zero dosage” name). Although they aren’t for everyone, they definitely have a unique place in the sparkling wine world and are worth a try.
The Champagne Bruno Paillard Dosage Zéro is a concept the Paillard’s have long wanted to produce but it took several years to master the creation of this wine as bone-dry wines such as these can be challenging to keep from being too austere. This first release was produced from over 50% of reserve wines with over 50% of the wine in each bottle being fermented in small 225L used barriques. The barriques are necessary in order to soften the wine’s searing acidity. After 3.5 years of aging on the lees, the wine was then disgorged in January 2018.
Straw gold in color with very fine mousse, this textured wine tastes of white peach, raspberry, and nut flavors with a lively saline finish. This wine is not as austere as many zero dosage wines I’ve tried and is very drinkable right now.
We also got to try the Bruno Paillard N.P.U. 2002 ($275). The N.P.U. stands for “nec plus ultra” which means “nothing beyond” in French. Made only in the best vintages from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, this commanding wine spent 11 years on lees with very little dosage. A rich gold in color, the intense nose dazzled with ginger, lime, and toasty biscuit notes. On the palate, zesty minerality, slate and red apple flavors followed with a stately and complex finish. This was a special Champagne and a real treat to sample.