Krug has done it, Dom Pérignon has done it, Salon has done it. All the big-name champagne houses have released their 2002 vintage, widely regarded as the best of the first decade of the millennium. It’s unexpected then that relative upstart Bruno Paillard is almost certainly the last house to release its 2002, named Nec Plus Ultra (There is Nothing Beyond).
The independent Reims-based producer practises the longest maturation in Champagne, and uses (in equal proportions) only the first pressing of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which it sources exclusively from six of Champagne’s 17 grand cru vineyards: Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Verzenay, Mailly and Bouzy. The pressed grapes for the 2002 were then fermented in small oak barrels, with only 28 of these selected for blending in 2003 before being disgorged in 2014 to make a limited, individually numbered extra-brut edition that then spent a further three years in the cellars before release.
Putting nose to glass, there’s no way of knowing this stylish champagne has spent 15 years in Reims’ deep chalk cellars, because it’s remarkably fresh. Only the aromatic intensity and complexity – a mix of oak, toasty and almond notes – is a clue to the degree of maturity, while the superfine mousse, with its richness and vinous hint of dried fruit, has the depth and seriousness of purpose of a fine white burgundy.
Paillard only founded his eponymous maison in 1981. He created his first NPU from the 1990 vintage, and subsequently only made NPUs from what he considered to be the greatest vintages: 1995, 1996, 1999, 2003 and now the 2002. There are just 6,200 bottles (£240) and 300 magnums (price yet to be set), all individually numbered, and Paillard suggests they be served at cellar temperature, slightly refreshed down to 8°C or 9°C, and enjoyed alone or with food.