“So voila!” is a favorite saying of Alice Paillard. This I learned in a recent ZOOM call with Alice, the daughter of Bruno Paillard who began his Champagne house in the 1980s where Alice grew and which Alice now runs as CEO. What was that like, I wondered, to grow up in a Champagne house?
“My parents have four children,” Alice answered, “and three of them are female.” Her parents let “us grow our own interests… I’m lucky to be the youngest one, much easier. You know you’re not taking any one’s place.” She learned the importance of thinking of wine as an adventure, as a mystery, as a living being to be respected.
“Going down to the wine cellar was like digging out treasures. The way you bring it up top and wait for hours. Respect for the work of the wine, whoever made it, and nourished it.”
In 2007 Alice joined the house, and she feels very fortunate: “My history, I feel very lucky.” While she took over management two years ago, her father is still very active: “My father is in good shape. I’m very privileged to pick up the phone. He’s not out of the game. He’s not the type to retire.” Which means her father and his experience is available to her, and working with him, working together she says, “It’s a pleasure.”
He’s also still involved with the assemblage of each release which is key because “Champagne has always grown grapes in a challenging environment,” said Alice. The Champagne region is in the northern reaches of France, and the extreme climate and weather makes it difficult to grow grapes to sufficient ripeness.
That’s why the idea of assemblage was invented in Champagne she said, because an assemblage or blend of grapes from different growers can make a challenging harvest successful — and why the assemblage also often includes various vintages. This assemblage changes all the time. If it did not, Alice said, “This is to be bored. Sometimes you have to do things that are very different from the year before because nature is different.”
Champagne Paillard uses both estate grown and purchased grapes from 35 terroirs which gives them “a rich palette of grapes for the best blend.”
For example, where the vines grow on chalky soils offers up a “more joyful expression of Pinot Noir,” explained Alice. Pinot Noir also gives body and structure while Chardonnay brings finesse and elegance, but she urged “never mention character of the grape without discussing its origin.” Terroir matters.
While Bruno Paillard is one of the youngest Champagne houses, she said “we have a reserve wine system started in 1985” giving them one of the oldest reserve wines to draw from for their assemblage.
When the wine is disgorged makes a difference also, and her father Bruno Paillard was the first person to put this information on the bottle “when he realized how impactful it was” especially “important on wines that didn’t carry a vintage.”
With age, Alice says, “The wine opens its wings more.”
As the disgorged wine ages, it gains in complexity by progressing from “the age of fruits”, then “the age of flowers”, then “the age of spices”, followed by “the toasted age”, and finally “the candied age” and “the roasted age.”
Wine is alive, and she explained, “You take a living body. It’s been aged for years. You take something out– sediment– add dosage. It’s like a surgery– what it feels like to the wine.” Immediately after disgorgement, there’s a “disharmony” she says, liking it to surgery and recovery. Like a young person, a younger wine recovers more quickly while older wines recover more slowly.
During the ZOOM call, several of us — including Alice and I — opened a bottle of rose and we tasted it together and I enjoyed it with sushi later.
I loved how it had sweet fruit yet tart flavors, and it also reminded me of kettle corn — sweet but also salty. Alice agreed with my characterization– the ancient sea impacts the soils of the region, and the saline character from the ancient ocean animals imparts a saline characteristic to the wine making it ideal for cured, salted meats like ham and prosciutto. The wine’s luscious texture was an excellent foil for the lush sushi, and it handled a dash of soy sauce as well.
For our tasting of the two disgorgements, Sue wrapped a round of Marin French Cheese Supreme Extra Creme Brie with her homemade Chardonnay grape jelly (from grapes she grew!), pecans, and dried cranberry in a puff pastry and baked it at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. She also made polenta to go with the fresh local live ridgeback prawns I purchased at the Ventura Harbor fisherman’s market. Our final course was a beautiful salad with fresh organic blackberries, burrata cheese, and spiced pecans with drizzles of orange olive oil and balsamic.
With this wine, and these pairings, we were in heaven .
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, Reims, France
Disgorged March 2016
purchased on sale at the Cave, Ventura
In other seminars on Champagne, I had learned that Champagne is meant to be enjoyed within a few years of its disgorgement and release. So I asked Alice about the wine that I had in my cellar which I discovered was disgorged in March 2016, nearly five years ago; I was quite surprised I’d had it that long! I wondered how she thought it would be, and I was even more surprised to hear Alice say their Champagne will develop and be enjoyable for 4-5 years after it has been disgorged. As discussed above, with age, she says it will offer less citrus, more florals and spices, then as it gets older, more candied notes. We certainly found this to be true, taking note of orange marmalade flavors in the wine. I also tasted this wine when it was more recently disgorged which you can read about here which is when I was first introduced to Bruno and fell in love with this distinctive wine. Read the comparison below.
Color: Very golden, almost the same color as the label, gentle lazy bubbles, almost as if they haven’t a care in the world.
Nose: Butterscotch, orange marmalade, honey, honeycomb, very much like an elegant dessert on the nose.
Palate: Lovely fizz, so enveloping and luxurious. We both fell in love with this wine. Why? It took us a bit longer to put our finger on that. It is not super yeasty. Their dosage has a lot of older vintages in it. It does not taste old, it just tastes rich and decadent. The orange marmalade comes through. This is an older wine, so there was not a lot of bright acidity, but the acidity was there. It was more mellow and smooth, with a nice long finish. It is brisk and clean, with a bit of chalk on the finish.
Pairing: This wine was so interesting with our fresh oysters, bringing out brioche in the wine. Fantastic with the oven baked brie. The fruit, the savory, the nuts, the baking spices were so fantastic together. Because Sue drizzled orange olive oil on our burata blackberry salad, it was perfect. She also sprinkled a bit of Great Basin spiced nuts over the top. The baking spices, orange oil and the blackberry brought out other flavors in the wine.
Perfect match with the shrimp and grits, loving the richness of the bacon, the creaminess of the polenta, and the rich briny shrimp.
What I noticed with the shrimp and the wine was how much it brought out the yeast, and the brioche quality of the wine. Every pairing brought out a different quality in the wine. The entire meal from start to finish was perfect with the wine. It was very hard for us to decide what was our favorite pairing of the evening. Sue and I designed the entire meal around this wine. It was all so decadent and delicious as was the wine that went with it. We could not stop eating and would have easily polished the bottle off if it weren’t for the fact that we needed to compare it with the wine from a later disgorgement that was to arrive that day but did not.
I thought it would be fascinating to compare two disgorgements, and fortunately the fine folk at Creative Palate who organized the ZOOM sent along a more recent disgorgement so we could compare. With excitement, I tracked the process of the bottle across the country and Sue and I made plans, and I purchased the prawns and the oysters.
I was assured that the wine would arrive by 5pm that day — and that my package was on the truck on its way to be delivered, then I learned it was in Ventura at their warehouse. Unfortunately, this was not the case either we learned when my spouse went there to pick it up. So we had planned our evening and our meal around comparing two disgorgements; however as this wine did not arrive in time BUT the dinner was ready, we went ahead and enjoyed the meal with the one bottle and we set aside a small amount to compare when the wine did arrive and we could get together. But with the holidays and COVID restrictions, we did not. So it was up to me. I paired with more oysters and the left over shrimp and grits.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France
SRP $65; sample for my review
Disgorged August 2019
45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% of which was fermented in barrel.
So lively! Full of vitality and fresh citrus fruit especially lemon.
Perlage: While we felt the older disgorgement had “lazy” bubbles, these are more vivacious.
Color: Pale lemon.
Nose: Lemon, honey crisp apple, slight brioche like a lemon danish.
Palate: Swoon. Such a lovely expression of the terroir, and the legacy of this house and the depth of its reserve wine. There’s lots of bright fruit and yet that depth and richness. Really interesting to contrast the orange marmalade and spice characteristics of the older disgorgement with the vivacity of this more recent one.