Champagne Philipponnat

Clos des Goisses 2002, Champagne PhilliponnatI am told it is purely coincidental that two very fine producers, Philliponnat and Gaja, should have happened to be booked to come to our office and present their wines last Thursday, on (our buyer) Nick’s birthday. Be that as it may, neither my colleagues or myself felt the need to give him much grief – sometimes there are much better things to focus on than office banter, and this was precisely one of those times. As a huge Champagne aficionado, I am only too happy to seize the opportunity and present some of the wines here, ahead of our upcoming offer (watch this space!).

Established in 1522, Champagne Philliponnat are not only one of the best houses in Champagne, they are also one of the very few (relatively) undiscovered treasures of the fine wine world. Their cuvées are generally dominated by Pinot Noir, however a minimum of 30% Chardonnay brings elegance, freshness and staying power to the wines. The grapes are generally picked at a later date than other houses, to ensure the grapes benefit from excellent physiological maturity. The only exception to the rule is Clos des Goisses, their single vineyard, added to the estate in 1935 and the first single-vineyard champagne ever produced. The Mosel-like steepness of the slopes, the excellent drainage, the temperature-regulating  influence of the canal and the perfect exposition of the vineyard (revered Champagne expert Tom Stevenson calls it South-South) all combine to ensure the grapes (mostly Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay) reach their maturity much earlier than elsewhere in the region.

This level of ripeness in the grapes is absolutely crucial to the house style at Philliponnat. A case in point is their “Non Dosé” cuvée, which shows no signs of the sometimes overly austere and lean style that this type of Champagne normally displays. It is precise, but generous and creamy-textured and absolutely delicious.

The 2004 Grand Blanc was widely accepted among my colleagues as the best champagne of the range, Clos des Goisses excepted of course. This broad-shouldered, rich-textured, creamy wine shows stunning freshness, but 8 years’ ageing have brought on a complement of walnuts and Comté notes that mature Blanc de Blancs often display and this aromatic complexity really lifts up the wine to another level.

Clos des Goisses is a very special vineyard indeed – as mentioned above, its 45% slopes and perfect exposition mean that it is always harvested before most other vineyards around the region, and in a year like 2001, the grapes were already crushed and safely fermenting by the time the rain started flooding the region, effectively ruining the vintage for most houses. As a matter of fact, the Clos des Goisses 2001 is absolutely delicious, very pretty, aromatic and eminently approachable for a champagne that normally needs so much ageing before it truly starts showing its mettle.

2002 Clos des Goisses is a whole different beast – from a vintage that is widely recognised as the best since 1996, combining as it does concentration, richness and levels of acidity almost on a par  with that of the grapes harvested 6 years before, this champagne is one to buy for one’s godchild instead of the traditional case of port, as it will drink beautifully in 20 years and is likely to keep on ageing from there. Currently, it is an exercise in understated power, evidently massively concentrated and powerful but very tightly wrapped on itself. My comment that it is rather reminiscent of William Blake’s bent-over, curled-up mythological figures at this stage of its development may have – perhaps deservedly – met with a few raised eyebrows around the office, but I maintain that the description is apt. I have no doubt that it will be an absolutely mind-blowingly good champagne when it reaches adulthood, but it will require patience.

All in all, Philliponnat can be proud of the fantastic quality of the entire range of their wines. This is a truly artisanal Champagne house, where the well-defined style and attention to detail yield great results, not least of which was a great afternoon at the office!

We will be offering a selection of Champagne Philipponnat wines in the next few days, so stay tuned if you liked the sound of them…

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