Every so often, someone asks me how I got “into” wine. For those of you that have not heard the story, I spent my Junior year in college in Strasbourg, France, living with a French family, and taking classes at the University of Strasbourg. The mother of said family was a fantastic cook and a lover of wine (she was also a blatant xenophobe and racist, but I would rather avoid that digression), and she instilled in me a love for wine, particularly French, and specifically Alsatian.
Fast forward a few years.
I was a high school French teacher with summers full of, well, not much. Determined to put my summers to good use, I made a couple of phone calls, and I landed a job leading bike tours in Europe. After a few weeks on the job, I found myself in a bit over my head—I had no problem the bike, or with the language, but I was lacking in my knowledge of wine in general and the myriad French regions where I was “leading” tours.
It was then that I received some valuable advice.
Instead of tackling the entirety of “French wine” en masse, I should focus on one region, learn it well, and then branch out to others one by one.
So I did. And that first region I chose?
I started delving into the world of sparkling and, really, I have never stopped.
Over the years of reading about the region and doing my fair share of tasting the wines, a name that continually emerges is that of Bruno Paillard. Although Paillard is a relative newcomer to champagne production (he started his house in 1981), he is one of the more influential figures in Champagne, sitting on various boards throughout the region.
Before I left Philadelphia this past summer, I was able to sit down with Bruno’s daughter, Alice, who, by all accounts, is every bit as charming as her father. While I have never met Bruno himself, he would have to be over-the-top charming to make that previous statement untrue.
The dinner was organized by the Kate Morgon-Corcoran, who despite being British, is quite bubbly herself, and fellow Philadelphian Brian Freedman, who, well, is indescribable. We all met at the relatively new restaurant, the Urban Farmer in the Logan Hotel, right off of Logan Circle in downtown Philadelphia.
Alice brought five wines with her, which were already iced down and ready to go. Over the years, I had tasted a few of Bruno Paillard’s wines, but this was the first time I would have the pleasure of trying all of them together. Alice started off by mentioning that 20% of all wine are fermented in barrel, which for me is a very good thing, as it adds considerable depth and structure to the wines. The wines are also sourced from some of Champagne’s best vineyards, most of them Grand Cru.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne: 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier. 40% from Mesnil, 40% from Oger. The first thing I noticed was the disgorgement date (the date that the dead yeast cells were removed from the bottle)—Paillard has lead the way in including the dates on every bottle. Nutty, creamy nose with a hint of citrus. Whoa. As I have mentioned before, Blanc de Blancs is not my preferred style, but this is sublime. Wonderful acidity with a creaminess that you don’t usually find in a Blanc de Blancs. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Rosé Première Cuvée Champagne: Retail $65. Right before we moved onto the rosé, I mentioned that I was a huge fan of rosé champagnes because, in general, they tend to be a bit more muscular and weighty. Alice was silent for a second and then stated: “Well, then you likely won’t like ours–it is a much more delicate wine.” Oops. Although this is not a “typical” Rosé (at least for me), it is fabulous. Mostly Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay that spend 3 years on lees. Mineral and austere and surprisingly not as full-bodied as the Blanc de Blancs. Still very nice. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Champagne: Retail $50. 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunière. 35% reserve wines. Bruno started a reserve wine program, holding a significant amount of wine every year for future blending right after the disastrous 1984 vintage. Since these wines are a therefore a blend of several vintages, Paillard refers to his wines as multi-vintage (M.V.) instead of the more common non-vintage (N.V.). Creamy and yeasty with a depth that you usually don’t find in a $50 champagne. Full of gusto, surprised that it is only 45% Pinot. Fabulous. Back in my wheelhouse. Firmly. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2008 Bruno Paillard Millésimé Assemblage Champagne: Retail $80. 42% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 16% Pinot Meunier. The nose reveals that this wine is going to be incredible. Toasted and creamy, tantalizing you to get your nose out of the glass so you can taste. On the palate? Tart green apple. This needs time. Maybe a lot. Now? 90-92 Points. In five years? 92-94. In ten or more? Off the charts. 94-96+. Outstanding.
2003 Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra N.P.U. Champagne: Retail $160. This is dangerous. Whoa. Sherried, viscous and dark. Carameled Apple. Whoa. On the palate this has the aged champagne taste that I crave but it is paradoxically too young. This is not for the faint of heart as it is not your every day Champers. No. This is more, and on a completely different plane. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 97-98 Points.
Over the course of the meal, we vacillated between serious champagne talk and unmitigated banter, all the while Alice proving to be gracious and engaging. As I left she asked if I wanted to take the rest of the bottle of N.P.U. home with me. Huh? You want to know if I would like the better part of a bottle of Bruno Paillard’s top cuvée to take home?
There was about half the bottle left and I “forced” myself to drink it as the clock moved past midnight. Many of the bubbles had exited in transit, but this is still one of the more incredible champagnes I have had in recent memory.
As I finished the bottle, I thought that Bruno himself must be deservedly pleased with his champagnes, but he is undoubtedly much prouder of his best “cuvée.”
His daughter, Alice.