The art of slow Champagne – Bruno Paillard NPU 2004

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Champagne house in possession of ambitions to be taken seriously must be in want of a prestige cuvée.

Apologies to Jane Austen – and so many of us contrive to mangle the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice that I imagine her responding with a distracted and weary, “Yeah, whatever” at this latest effort to recruit her deliciously concise and wicked words for my own ends.

Nevertheless, there does seem to come a time in every Champagne producer’s development, be they grower, co-operative or house, when they feel the need to show the world what they can do when they, to a certain extent, throw commercial caution to the wind and go all out to produce something really special.

Alice Paillard, daughter of Bruno, was in London recently to show off the latest release of what she says she would prefer to refer to as a “special cuvée” rather than a prestige cuvée, the NPU 2004.

NPU, for Nec Plus Ultra translates, rather clunkily, into English as “there is nothing beyond”. It does, however, neatly encapsulate the idea of the very best Champagne they can make. As you might imagine, fruit comes from only the grand cru villages of Verzenay, Mailly and Bouzy (for pinot noir) and Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Chouilly for chardonnay. The base wine spends 10 months in (never new) oak barrels before blending and second fermentation in bottle.

Then it’s a waiting game – the fifty-fifty blend of pinot noir and chardonnay spends 12 long years in Paillard’s above ground “cellars” which are maintained at a constant 10.5°C. This extended period of lees ageing came to an end in September 2017, with disgorgement and addition of a very low dosage of 3g/l, followed by a “recovery period” of 2 years before its release.

Maison Bruno Paillard is famous for a few things, as well as the out and out quality of its Champagnes. It was the first house to print disgorgement dates on every bottle – a practice now being taken up more and more widely. And why not? A Champagne disgorged six months ago will taste different from one disgorged 2 years ago – so why not share this with the consumers who are actually buying it? And yet so many Champagnes still like to shield us poor drinkers from knowing. Are we too simple-minded? This is a nettle that Champagne producers will have to grasp, I feel, if they wish their wines to be treated truly as fine wines and to demonstrate respect for the people who buy them.

Anyhow, to the Champagne, NPU 2004. It’s a wonderful privilege to taste such wines at their release, but they are of course designed to age beautifully over years to come. The gorgeous rich gold colour and finely layered aromas hint at the opulence to come, though the palate as yet is still firm and not aromatically giving. I could smell a delicate spiciness, with acacia, tobacco leaf and roasted chestnuts. The palate has finely etched acid structure – and savoury food helped to bring out some of the baked apple and quince fruitiness which will undoubtedly come to the fore over the coming years.

For those who would like to enjoy the charms of a wine that has been fifteen years in the making, patience will be required to appreciate it at its peak.

Bruno Paillard NPU 2004 is available via Hedonism Fine Wine.

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