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Tasting: Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne

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Buying wine for tastings as part of the WSET Diploma has led me to some amazing bottles, but every now and then some of those bottles are kept for drinking, not tasting.

It’s worth repeating something I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion – I love Champagne. I’ve also mentioned before how much I love what Bruno Paillard is doing in the region.

This was a show-stopper.

The labelling of wines with the term ‘Grand Cru’ in Champagne is not without controversy. This is because, unlike in Burgundy and Bordeaux where the term is used to denote single sites of particular quality, in Champagne it refers to entire villages – themselves made up of several vineyards, all of varying quality. This can lead to some, shall we say, interesting wines designated as Premier Cru and Grand Cru.

There’s no such controversy here though, this is a truly exquisite wine.

A blend of 25 vintages of base wines going back to the 1980s, all sourced from Grand Cru vineyards in the Côtes des Blancs, and aged on lees for four years with a further 10 months of aging post disgorgement. The dosage is low – very low – technically Extra Brut at 5g/L. Dosage, for those unaware, is the addition of sugar to the wine after disgorgement and helps create balance against the searing acidity – the lower the dosage, the greater the perception of acidity on the palate.

At approximately $150 or so Australian dollars a bottle, it’s not an everyday tipple, but the quality here is obvious. I’ve drunk lesser Champagnes with a much higher price tag, so I still think this wine is good value.

A pale gold colour with very fine and persistent bead, it’s hallmark high quality Blanc des Blancs Champagne.

The nose is all green fruit – granny smith apples to the fore, and undercurrent of citrus, and then a mineral, wet stones like quality, followed by the brioche-biscuit aromas unmistakable for well made, aged Champagne.

The first thing you notice on the palate is the mousse – it’s perfect. Fine, light, not explosive in any way – and herein lies the difference between high quality Champagne and other Traditional Method wines, the creamy mousse is an integrated part of the wine and almost subtle in how it dances along the palate.

Then comes citrus (lemon and lime, juice and zest), green apples and an almost steely effect. The acidity is high, almost brutally so given the dosage, but once again, it’s integrated and balanced. The finish just goes on for days – three days later and I can still taste it writing this now. Those brioche characters make themselves known here once more as well – it’s just hallmark.

It’s hard not to get excited about wines (and producers) like this. This is where wines cross over from being just a drink to an experience.

My issue with Champagne will always be about price – the fact that this wine comes in at $100 less than more well known wines is at once telling and almost stupendous. Are there as good wines from new world producers at a lower price? Almost certainly, but with this, as with any Champagne, you’re paying for that word on the label – ‘Champagne’ – and that, in the current market, comes with a cost. Throw in a more well known Champagne house and the cost goes up again.

The real question is would have I spent $150 for the bottle before having had the chance to taste it? I don’t know the answer to that – I may have, having known the producer’s other wines fairly well, but $150 has a psychological barrier that, even for a complete tragic like me, is tough to overcome.

I will say this – having drunk through one bottle with friends, I will definitely be buying more.

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