Champagne nec plus ultra?

Bruno Paillard goes against the grain and releases its 2003

Other champagne houses may already be teeing up their 2008 releases, but at Bruno Paillard, a maison that likes to do things differently, the focus will be on its new Nec Plus Ultra 2003 (£160), of which only 4,200 bottles (all individually numbered) have been created.

Literally translating as “there is nothing beyond”, Nec Plus Ultra (or NPU) is Bruno Paillard’s prestige cuvée, produced solely from the first pressing of Grand Cru grapes, which are then barrel fermented for around 10 months before spending 10-12 years on the lees. The dosage is also kept at a low, Extra Brut level of 3g per litre, helping to give the wine a drier, more savoury style.

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And the deep golden NPU 2003 has nutty, almost sherry-like characteristics that demonstrate clearly why this small house has acquired a reputation as one of the great gastronomic champagnes. At a preview at Les 110 de Taillevent London last month it initially showed quite closed, but evolved splendidly over several courses, filling out with notes of golden sultanas and creamy, slightly smoky leather, while maintaining a fresh acidity and fine mousse that paired particularly well with a vol-au-vent of sweetbreads, mushrooms and crayfish. “My wines are not immediate – they need to get to know you before they talk to you,” says Bruno Paillard, who founded the Reims-based maison, which is still family owned, in 1981.

This wine is also notable for being a 2003, a vintage that was notorious for harsh spring frosts, hailstorms and a long heatwave. Not many houses declared a vintage in that year, but Paillard, who was a grape broker before he turned winemaker, says the sourcing of the grapes, which came from four more northerly Grand Cru vineyards – Oger, Chouilly, Verzenay and Mailly – helped to mitigate the worst effects of the heatwave. “I wanted to contradict the idea that no great wine could come from this vintage,” says Paillard.

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