BRUNO PAILLARD has recently unveiled its latest cuvée: MM « Z:D », a multi-vintage zero dosage champagne, with an innovative architecture that seems to break away from the conventional approach to non-dosé champagne.
Zero Dosage (aka Brut Nature) champagnes, with 0 to 3/gl of added sugar, have been growing in popularity in the last decade or so, and are a now part of the wine portfolio of an incresing number of Champagne Houses.
These champagnes are very seducing intellectually, being the purest expression of champagne wines without any “makeup.”
However, the truth is that they often are austere wines, a bit harsh for common palates.
This is why, Bruno Paillard, one of the most innovative and quality obsessed champenois, has never released before a Brut Nature champagne.
Already in the 1980s, he experimented with no-dosage champagne, but he abandoned the idea as he found these wines to be a little bit too aggressive.
With this new cuvée Z:D, he has finally achieved his vision: to make a champagne with absolutely no added sugar (after disgorgement), without compromising the power of seduction of champagne.
To accomplish that, he has carefully and intelligently played with the tools that can naturally add roundness to champagne, without compromising its balance, and neither the BRUNO PAILLARD style: a great combination of elegance, freshness, and complexity.
First, 50% of the assemblage of this champagne is made of Pinot Meunier, a grape variety known to bring roundness and fruitiness – mostly from the Vallé de la Marne and the Montaigne de Reims.
The rest of the blend is made in similar proportions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The actual crus of origins are not revealed and remain a little secret that the House wishes to keep.
Second, a massive 50% of reserve wines makes this cuvée, some of them as old as 10 years, bringing extra complexity.
Third, the base year wines are vinified in oak barrels, and so are part of the reserve wines, to bring a hint of richness, but definitely not to bring any oakiness to the wine.
Fourth, a tiny bit of N.P.U. champagnes, BRUNO PAILLARD prestige cuvée, is included in the blend, to add a je ne sais quoi to the wine.
At BEST CHAMPAGNE, we became very, very curious about this new cuvée, and asked Alice Paillard, Bruno’s daughter a co-manager of the House, some questions about the philosophy and architecture of this new champagne, to understand it better.
Her answers are enlightening, and prove that making proper champagne is much more than transforming grape juice into sparkling wine; it is a carefully planned act of creation, based on individual ideas of pleasure, and elegance.
Read on and enjoy. And grab a bottle as soon as you can!
PINOT MEUNIER AND CRUS
BEST CHAMPAGNE: The proportion of Pinot Meunier in MM « Z:D » is very high, something unusual in your House. How do you avoid impacting on your style?
ALICE PAILLARD: I must make clear that the approach to creating this new champagne is not based on the grape varieties or the base year used, but on the reserve wines first.
This comes from the lesson that my father had learned from his first attempt in 1985 to make a zero-dosage champagne, which he found unbalanced and not rich enough in reserve wines.
It is on the reserve wines that our reflections and work to create this champagne were based.
And then we focused on the actual blend, and on the grape varieties used, which are always linked to their terroirs or origins.
That is to say that beyond a grape variety, we choose a crus and a place.
This is how we do not deviate from our style, which is based on the expression of the Nordic and chalky character of Champagne: therefore, a selection of terroirs on chalky soils.
I believe that a Brut Nature champagne can also be made without Pinot Meunier. For example, we could work on a vintage logic and use only grapes of very mature years when acidity is lower.
This is why Pinot Munier is only part of the equation of this champagne, and the use of a high percentage of reserve wines in a multi-vintage champagne, and the winemaking in oak barrels, make up for the rest.
RESERVE WINES VS AGING
BC: Is the high percentage of reserve wines used in this champagne a better solution compared to longer aging on lees?
AP: It all depends on the profile of the reserve wines used. For sure, if the reserve wines are “young,” then maybe a longer aging on lees is more useful.
But this approach, which my father adopted in 1985, was disappointing.
Regardless of the age of our reserve wines, younger or older, we will never age a bottle of our champagnes for less than 3, 3 and a half years. This is the absolutely necessary time to create this harmony that we seek.
RIPENESS OF THE GRAPES
BC: Where is the limit in producing only champagne with no dosage, with global warming and more mature grapes at harvests being more frequent?
AP: The impact of global warming is not linear and stable, resulting in harvests increasingly varying and hard to anticipate.
So theoretically yes, one might be tempted to think that the natural path of Champagne wines would be that one, but in actual terms, I am not so sure.
The maturity of the grapes remains very variable and producing champagne with no dosage is particularly complex, demanding, and expensive.
BC: Does the use of more mature grapes with lower acidity also impact the overall organoleptic profile of the wines?
AP: AT BRUNO PAILLARD, we have always wanted to be as faithful as possible to the expression of what Champagne is most unique for in our opinion: its famous chalk belemnite.
When you put this concept at the center of winemaking, and of the assemblage, it inevitably leads to a certain wine profile, while still searching for harmony, hence the challenge.
There are several elements that affect the maturity of a wine: of course, that of its grapes, but not only.
The aging, first of all of the base (still) wine: is it fast? Long? In stainless steel? In oak? And in an oak barrel or barrique (smaller than the barrel).
Then the aging on lees in the bottle of course, then the aging after disgorgement… in short, there are many parameters to take into consideration.
It is important to stress that a greater maturity can, of course, soften the acidity, but not necessarily, and not just that.
For example, the 2018 harvest in Champagne showed us some surprises, with some riper grapes that have preserved a beautiful acidity better than others.
In any case, maturity brings a different aromatic generosity, a certain body to the wine, and also impacts its texture.
But let’s not forget that the effervescence and the texture of champagne plays a great deal on the perception of acidity, if not on the acidity itself.
USE OF N.P.U. 3RD FERMENTATION
BC: How does the usual inclusion of made champagnes, your prestige cuvée N.P.U. (vintage 2000), which have already undergone a second in bottle fermentation, impact the profile of the champagne when compared to the traditional use of still reserve wines only?
AP: I will not answer to that 😉 You can only find out during the tastings, over time, of this new cuvée.
What I can say is that, as my father likes to say, they are like “a spice in a dish”; there is little, but it impacts the whole.