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Champagne Houses

Friday - 9/30/2011, 2:52pm  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Last week, I reviewed the wines of a few co-ops. Tonight, we’ll talk about wines from a few unique Champagne Houses.

Back in 1981, Bruno Paillard founded his eponymous winery with a passion for Champagne and a specific vision based on blending the best wines. “We have a priority of assemblage,” declares Mr. Paillard. “It is a process of composition which allows a House to blend from vintage to vintage and from vineyard to vineyard in order to achieve consistency of a style. That is why a House bears the name of a person instead of a place. Something to consider.”

I enjoy considering the consistently delicious Non-vintage Bruno Paillard Brut Premier Cuvee – a tribute to Bruno’s vision of maintaining a “house style”. Tiny, elegant bubbles carry flavors of roasted nuts, green apple and bright citrus. Just a hint of orange clove and biscuit on the crisp, refreshing finish lends a note of refinement. $40

In stark contrast to the traditional House “style” is Champagne Jacquesson. Founded in 1798 by Memmie Jacquesson, it remained true to its heritage of style and consistency. But in 1974 it was sold to the current owners, the Chiquet family. When brothers, Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet took over the operation in 1988, they made a radical decision to redirect the winery from a “House” philosophy to a “grower” philosophy, emphasizing a sense of place versus a sense of style.

The wonderfully dry Non-vintage Champagne Jacquesson 735 Cuvee Brut is a testament to the new style of winemaking embraced by the brothers Chiquet. The “700 Series” of wines is produced from the same Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards from the same vintage, with small additions of reserve wine from previous vintages as needed. The intention, according to Jean- Hervé is to, “retain the best characteristics of each harvest and not to disguise the variations that each year brings.” It features flavors of honey, apple and nectarine on a weighty palate with exceptional balance and finesse. The slightly creamy mouthfeel provides a silky-yet-firm finish. $60

Champagne Philipponnat is another House that advocates terroir over technique, using pinot noir grapes from their coveted hillside vineyard, Clos des Goisses, a five and a half hectare site overlooking the Marne River. In addition, the House buys chardonnay and pinot muenier grapes from exceptional growers. Charles Philipponnat describes the House style as a balance between freshness and intensity. “We want to produce a wine with complexity without weight,” he is fond of saying.

The Non-vintage Philipponnat Brut Royal Reserve is a blend of mostly pinot noir with 30 percent chardonnay and a small amount of pinot muenier. Aromas of ginger and brioche dominate the nose while flavors of nectarine, lime and roasted nuts sit lightly on a frame of chalky minerality. The finish is delicate and charming, leaving a graceful impression on the tongue. $40

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