Bruno Paillard accomplished what many thought impossible—creating a new, prestigious Champagne house from scratch. Champenois by birth, he had the advantage of a family history of growing grapes in Champagne, and he began by working in the Champagne wine trade. Still, to establish a new winery and brand (in 1981), purchase top quality Grand and Premiere Cru vineyards, and develop a reputation as one of the best houses in Champagne is almost unheard of these days. We’ve tasted the Bruno Paillard Champagnes over the years, but we recently had the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with Alice Paillard, Bruno’s daughter and business partner, and to taste the latest releases, including the just released 2004 Nec Plus Ultra. Read much more about Champagne in our forthcoming new report Champagne: Diversity and Change.
Bruno Paillard began buying vineyards in 1994, the first being a 3 ha Grand Cru parcel in Oger. Today he has 31 ha of organically cultivated vines in 15 different villages; about half are Grand Cru, which accounts for 70 percent of the house’s production needs.
Bruno quickly developed his house style: elegant Champagnes made from healthy vineyards, partial (about 20%) fermentation in oak, a high percentage of reserve wines from soleras specific to each non-vintage cuvée, and extended time sur latte ranging from 36 months for the non-vintage cuvées to an extraordinary 10-15 years for the N.P.U. tete de cuvée. He also give them longer than usual post-disgorgement aging. He began putting the disgorgement date on each bottle’s label in 1983, long before other producers began doing so. The dosage level has also decreased, from an average 9 percent to 5-6 percent today.
The Bruno Paillard house is a firm believer in the merits of blending, and Bruno, Alice and winemaker Laurent Guyot, who has been with the house for 25 years, do the assemblage.
Alice says that a warming climate and an increasingly variable climate argue for blending as each cuvée can draw from hundreds of parcels grown in the distinctive and different terroirs of Champagne. The high percentage of reserve wines in the Paillard Champagnes also helps keep in check the vagaries of any one vintage and ensure stylistic consistency over time. And Alice believes their organic viticulture practices also help vines to better manage weather-related stress. The Bruno Paillard vineyards are certified HEV3, the highest level of sustainable agriculture, by the French Agriculture Ministry.
The Bruno Paillard Champagnes are elegant and richly styled, best suited for accompanying food. Even the Zero Dosage is rich and food-worthy, attributable in part to the contributions of reserve wine and Meunier, which accounts for half the blend. The Extra Brut Premiere Cuvée is not only beautifully balanced and flavorful, but it’s also a highly flexible food wine. We loved pairing it with briney oysters. We found the simply spectacular Nec Plus Ultra to be a perfect pairing with quickly grilled, earthy maitake mushrooms.
Thanks to Alice Paillard for the interview, to Champagne Bruno Paillard and Creative Palate for providing the Champagnes, and to Washington DC’s Old Ebbitt Grill and the Blue Duck Tavern for several delicious food pairings.
Bruno Paillard 2009 Assemblage Premiere Cuvée Champagne ($50) 92 The 2009 Assemblage is an elegant Champagne with a delicate perfume of chalk, lemon and flowers. It’s creamy on the attack with nuanced fruit, limestone and hints of toasted grain and earth, finishing with lingering minerals and a light tannic edge. A 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, 20% fermented in barrel. Matured 7 years on the lees. Disgorged September 2017 with 5 g/L dosage, followed by another 18 months in bottle before release. Excellent value. Bruno Paillard NV Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Côte des Blancs ($70) 93 The nonvintage Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru is consistent with the refined, precise and focused character of the Bruno Paillard Champagnes. It shows an ultra pure, perfumed nose of ripe citrus, pear and freshly baked bread followed by a beautifully delineated attack and elegant palate showing superb overall finesse. All Chardonnay sourced from Grand Cru vineyards of Oger and Mesnil sur Oger. 5 g/L dosage. Spends 4 years sur lie. Disgorged July 2017 after a minimum of 4 years sur lie. Bruno Paillard NV Dosage Zero Extra Brut Champagne ($65) 92 Surprisingly deep, rich and broad for a zero dosage, this is a knockout Champagne that begs to be served with food. There’s a strong mineral component with lemon-lime zest accents and superb mid-palate depth contributed by the wine’s Meunier focus. Partly fermented in barrel with reserve wines from a solera accounting for half the blend. Spends 3 to 4 years sur lie. Bruno Paillard NV Extra Brut Premiere Cuvée Champagne ($50) 93 Showing aromas of lemon citrus with hints of baked bread and dusty minerals, the NV Premiere Cuvée offers good freshness and outstanding balance that makes it a highly flexible food wine. It pairs superbly with briny oysters as well as a variety of sushi.This is the domaine’s flagship wine made of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, and 22% Meunier, one fifth of which was aged in oak barrique. Reserve wines, comprised of 25 past vintages, are up to half the blend. Dosage under 6 g/L. Aged 3 years sur lie. Disgorged November 2018. Bruno Paillard NV Extra Brut Premiere Cuvée Rosé Champagne ($60) 92 The Premiere Cuvée Rosé reveals the finesse and purity of the Bruno Paillard wines but with special intensity of succulent fruit. It begins with the usual graceful bouquet before showing beautifully delineated fruit on the palate and a firm cut on the finish. A lovely wine. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 106 parcels in 12 vineyards; disgorged July 2018 after 36 months aging on the lees. 6 g/L RS Bruno Paillard 2004 NPU Nec Plus Ultra Extra Brut Champagne ($195) 96 The 2004 NPU is an elegant Champagne of superb textural richness. It opens with toasted grain, smoky minerals, and ripe pear aromas and then offers an intense, open, lively palate of lightly toasted hazelnut and baklava with a hint of dried orchard fruit. The finish is solidly dry with mineral driven persistence. Disgorged September 2017. A 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fermented and aged in oak barriques for 10 months. The wine spends no less than 10 years sur lie. 3 g/L dosage. The Bruno Paillard NPU Nec Plus Ultra belongs in the top range of luxury cuvées.