by Paige Donner
First published as Philipponnat Champagne’s Clos des Goisses on Technorati.
Very few families, even in France’s historic Champagne region, can date their ancestral roots in the region as far back as 500 years. The family of Philipponnat, namesake of the champagne, is one of these rarities. Not only are they still in the region where their ancestors settled in 1522, they are still in the small village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. It’s also how they came up with their prestige cuvées name “1522.” A few vinification traditions this house respects that have great bearing on their champagnes:
- Philipponnat uses only the first press juice for vinification
- Moderate dosage
- Mostly Pinot Noir grapes during blending
- Barrel-fermented wines (which is not the total amount of the must) do not undergo malolactic fermentation
- Slightly delayed harvests for their Pinot Noir grapes to achieve optimal maturity
Balance is key. Balance of freshness and acidity are the hallmarks of the house, headed today by Charles Philipponnat who is aided by cellar master Thierry Garnier and vineyard manager Claude Laurent. As many of the best winemakers will tell you, their belief, and practice, is that good oenology means as little manipulation as possible. So their vinification methods are as natural as they can maintain them. During fermentation they keep temperatures “deliberately low.” For the oak barrels they do use, mostly so that specifically designated juice can be in contact with oxygen when aging, they source from Burgundy and choose barrels which are usually 1-2 years old.
Their historic 18th c. cellars, upon which the fairly recent (2002) winery was built in Mareuil- sur-Ay so as to be closer to their crown jewel vineyard, the Clos des Goisses, are actually the historic cellars of the former Château de Mareuil. This means that during harvest, the prime Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes growing in the 5 ½ ha. Clos des Goisses and Le Léon reach the Philipponnat pressoirs within hours and after very little – in some cases less than a kilometer – of transport. Walking past the Clos, you can actually see, from a cutout of the steep hillside, the depth of the famous chalky soils.
As a connoisseur, you can’t go wrong with a Philipponnat champagne. A few tasting highlights follow:
Grand Blanc; 100% Chardonnay, this is made exclusively from the best Premier and Grand Cru vineyards. It is an exceptional champagne in the Phillipponnat portfolio in that it resembles a Blanc de Blancs and exhibits what the Champenois call a “creamy” texture. Try it with lobster, langoustine, scallops, seafood.
1522 Grand Cru; Blended from the very best of the first press Pinot Noir (60%) and Chardonnay (40%) juice. Only a third of the usual Brut dosage for champagne, this one, at 4.5 gr. sugar per liter, is expansive with excellent balance of acidity. This fine-palate champagne can pair with meals of fish and seafood, or, to be slightly daring, a spicy Tandoori chicken dish. It contrasts with the Clos des Goisses cuvee, “by virtue of a pursuit of balance rather than of great power.”
Clos des Goisses, (2002): Always and only a vintage champagne. Low dosage (4 to 5 gr. sugar) and extended maturing under cork stoppers at the constant cellar temp. of 12C/ 54F. Of the potential 55,000 bottles that could be produced of this from the harvest, only 3,000 to a maximum of 40,000 bottles depending on the year, are ever issued. Only the best grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from the exceptional vineyard of Clos des Goisses, are used. Vines are average 25 years and older. “A truly great wine before being a champagne.” Best served with truffles, game, caviar, soft cheeses. The 2002 vintage, disgorged in June 2011, has a length to it during which it reveals to you its chalky terroir roots, its days spent in the sunshine up against the Marne River and the non-malolactic fermentation religiously observed for this wine. French wine critics call this “one of the world’s best wines.” Rightfully so.
All photos © Paige Donner