Our visit with Jancis Robinson MW in June 2019 was our second of the year to Palmer & Co’s flashy new High Environmental Quality winery just outside of Reims. Only the second such winery to be built in the region (the other is owned by Moët & Chandon), its wildflower meadows – sowed on the ground surrounding the winery to aid biodiversity – were in full bloom this time around, lending a quaint natural backdrop to the high-tech, predominantly glass building.
We met with managing director Remi Vervier, chef de cave Xavier Berdin and export manager Arthur Camut to taste the current Palmer & Co range and a wide selection of older vintages. Vervier’s brief history of the house included a quite unexpected explanation of the origins of the house’s name.
When the house was founded in 1947, a particular brand of English biscuits called Huntley & Palmers (which had proved difficult to acquire during World War II) were very chic in Reims. They were so popular in fact, that the founders believed they could take advantage of some positive association by naming their Champagne cooperative Palmer & Co (the ‘& Co’ was apparently added “because everyone had ‘& Co’ after their name in the 1940s”).
Fortunately the criteria for entry into the Palmer group was much more thorough than the naming process. Beginning with seven founding growers, only established winemakers could join the cooperative, as new members were required to have a pressing machine, ownership of which was uncommon at the time.
Today, more than 350 members make up the Palmer & Co cooperative, including six of the original founders (the remaining founder, based in the Côte des Blancs, left when Palmer & Co settled in Reims). The group collectively owns over 420 hectares of vineyard, more than 50% of which is prized Grand and Premier Cru land in the Montagne de Reims. The Chardonnay from this region, particularly from Trépail and Villers-Marmery, contributes heavily to the unique citrusy fresh house style.
Management is still kept very much ‘in the family’, with the grandson of one of the founders still presiding over the Palmer & Co council today. The oenology team consists of five individuals with an impressive gender balance for such a male-dominated industry: three women work alongside Vervier and Berdin to form the tasting committee.
|Palmer & Co Brut Réserve NV | 16.5/20
55% CH, 35% PN, 10% PM | Base Vintage: 2013 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 11 Months
A bit reductive on the nose with smoky hints and lots of bright apple and lemon. You can really feel the lees on the palate. Rich and fresh.
|Palmer & Co Brut Réserve NV Magum | 16.5+/20
55% CH, 35% PN, 10% PM | Base Vintage: 2011 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 11 Months
Fruit seems more forward than the bottle with with lots of lemon, apple and good lees character. Has a real freshness, great texture and nice finish.
|Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs NV | 17/20
100% CH | Vintage: 2013 | Dosage: 7 g/l
Very chalky. Lots of richness on the palate with lemon, pineapple, grapefruit and lees richness.
|Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs NV Magnum | 18.5/20
100% CH | Vintage: 2007 | Dosage: 7 g/l
Very reductive with that signature smoky note. Rich and powerful fruits with ripe lemons and pineapple. The lees seems to really build on the mid-palate. Great finish; light and fresh.
|Palmer & Co Blanc de Noirs NV | 17.5/20
50% PN, 50% PM | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: January 2018 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 18 Months
Sweetness and richness from the Pinot Meunier and lots of spice from the Pinot Noir. Ripe red berry raspberry, black cherry and great texture with hints of raspberry spice.
|Palmer & Co Blanc de Noirs NV Magnum | 18+/20
50% PN, 50% PM | Base Vintage: 2012 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 4.5 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 20 Months
Quite a lot of that smoky character. Great texture with a fresh and crunchy red fruit character building on the mid-palate. Lots of black cherry and hints of blackcurrant. Quite special for the price.
|Palmer & Co Vintage 2012 | 17.5+/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Dosage: 7 g/l
Lots of fresh citrus and very precise pear, ripe lemons and bright acidity giving a lovely freshness. The palate fills more with the lees ageing character and finishes with hints of saltiness. Going back to it has a dried grass character. Very good.
|Palmer & Co Vintage 2008 Magnum | 18/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Dosage: 7 g/l
Lots of lime and lemon and hints of tropical fruits like pineapple and lees character built around very fresh acidity. I have had better magnums, this one finishes a little short.
|Palmer & Co Rosé Réserve NV | 16/20
40% CH, 40% PN, 10% PM | Red Wine: 8% | Base Vintage: 2015 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Dosage: 8 g/l
Lots of spice and raspberry like red fruits, good lees texture with the red wine evident, broadening out the palate. Light and fresh.
|Palmer & Co Rosé Réserve NV Magnum | 17/20
40% CH, 40% PN, 10% PM | Red Wine: 8% | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 35% | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Dosage: 8 g/l
Right from the start a combination of smoky reductive notes and spicy red fruits. This seems way younger than the bottle although there is just one year’s difference. Very fresh and crunchy and the Chardonnay seems much more evident in the magnum.
We tasted the current range from both bottle and magnum, as larger formats are very important to Palmer & Co. “Magnum size is the best size for us”, Vervier confided. “There is never the same ageing time on lees for bottle and magnum.”
Indeed, Palmer are one of only two producers (alongside Drappier) to conduct lees ageing in all size formats up to the mighty 15L Nebuchadnezzar (other houses will ferment in bottle and transfer the wine after). Vervier commented that “it is very difficult to find a Nebuchadnezzar that can withstand the necessary pressure of four bars for a ‘real’ second fermentation”.
The lees ageing periods for different formats is roughly: 4 years for bottle, 6 years for magnum, 10 years for Jeroboam, 15 years for Methuselah, and an incredible 20 years for Nebuchadnezzar. “We have to leave wine on the lees for long time. It’s not for fun (its expensive!) but we do it because the wines from our region have lots of strength, complexity and richness, so we need lees ageing to get elegance and freshness. We obtain the character from the lees ageing,” Vervier told us.
Alongside the current range we tasted two new products, Vintage 2012 and Grands Terroirs 2003. The latest vintage is a precise, linear and powerful champagne with all the potential to be even greater than the current 2008 release and will be launched at the end of the year. Meanwhile, Grands Terroirs 2003 is an exciting limited edition champagne boldly challenging the commonly held notion that hot vintages produce champagnes that are not suitable for long-term ageing (discover more here) and is the perfect idiosyncratic addition to an already accomplished and diverse range.
Although the mission with Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs is to demonstrate the power of Chardonnay from the Montagne de Reims – rather than to showcase the vintage (it is always produced from a single vintage but is not labelled as a vintage champagne) – the late release Blanc de Blancs Collection bottles do show the vintage on the label, permitting a fun and interesting comparison of vintage style.
We were fortunate enough to taste three vintages from the Blancs de Blancs Collection and four from the Vintage Collection, dating as far back as 1961. Aside from one unfortunate case of oxidation, all highlighted the supreme ageing potential of the Palmer & Co wines and style, a fact further confirmed by new Grands Terroirs 2003. Through careful selection of grapes in the prime north-facing real estate of the Montagne de Reims and careful, attentive winemaking, Palmer really seem to have discovered the secret to ageing – even in the most challenging conditions.
|Palmer & Co Amazone de Palmer MV | 17/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Vintages: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: May 2018 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 13 Months
Lots of fruit; grapefruit, lemons and yellow plums. Builds well on mid-palate and supported by bright acidity. The one in the range that I never really get excited about.
|Palmer & Co Grands Terroirs 2003 | 18.5/20
54% PN, 46% CH | Lees Ageing: 13 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 7.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Lots of concentration of fruit and some of that beautiful magnum maturation, so some dried fruits, creaminess, lime and nuttiness. Has great Chardonnay richness and nice red berry and cherry notes. Finishes fresh and crisp. A great example showing that in a hot year, by picking Pinot Noir from the cooler north-facing vineyards you can make something worthy of ageing, even with a vintage that isn’t renowned for its quality.
|Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs 2005 Magnum | 18.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: February 2016 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Beautifully generous considering the magnum was just opened. Big and ripe tropical fruits and on the palate it is elegant with wonderful acidity and freshness. Layers build giving it a rich and textural delight that finishes fresh and light. Very good.
|Palmer & Co Collection Blanc de Blancs 1995 Magnum | 19/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 22 Years | Disgorged: June 2018 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 12 Months
Lots of juicy fruit and richness of texture. Peaches and cream, dried fruits and wow layers build on the palate with loads of dried fruits. What great freshness and salinity on the finish. Magnificent.
|Palmer & Co Collection Blanc de Blancs 1985 Magnum | 18.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 31 Years | Disgorged: June 2017 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Lots of lime and lemon and so much of that creamy soft texture from long lees contact. Has that peachy silk texture, perhaps a little soft on the finish but showing so well for its age.
|Palmer & Co Collection Vintage 1999 | 17.5/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 16 Years | Disgorged: June 2016 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Lots of ripe yellow fruits and still has great freshness on the palate and some juicy fruit.
|Palmer & Co Collection Vintage 1979 | 18/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 35 Years | Disgorged: June 2015 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Lots of lanolin and evolution and a great texture with a lot of dried fruits. Has that magic mix of freshness and evolution.
|Palmer & Co Collection Vintage 1976 | ??/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 38 Years | Disgorged: June 2015 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
This is a little oxidative, not a good bottle. However you can still see great texture and dried fruits, just a shame about the oxidation.
|Palmer & Co Collection Vintage 1961 | 19/20
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 53 Years | Disgorged: June 2015 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Peaches and truffles and wow what a great texture. This has papaya and is very pure – like the 2008 with age. Has impressive freshness, salinity and complexity. What a great finish to the tasting!