Philipponnat: 2017 Vins Clairs and new Clos des Goisses 2009

The Philipponnat family are one of the oldest names in Champagne. However, despite their long heritage (they have owned land in the famous village of Aÿ for more than five centuries) it took until 1910 for Champagne Philipponnat to be officially founded. The house grew quickly since then and is now proprietor to seventeen hectares of vineyards in the villages of Avenay, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.

We met with sixteenth generation family member Charles Philipponnat (who has been managing the house since 1999) at the grand estate in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ to learn about the 2017 vintage. Alongside a fascinating range of vins clairs, we also tasted some reserve wines and finished champagnes, including a trial disgorgement of the latest vintage of their prized cuvée: Clos des Goisses 2009.


Vins Clairs 2017

Charles began by describing 2017 as a “funny vintage… some rot, also rainy and humid, but very ripe.” The team at Philipponnat quickly decided not to make any vintage champagne apart from Clos des Goisses. Charles told us that, due to the relative strength of the Chardonnays over the Pinots, they “could have made a Blanc de Blancs” but decided against it as “the reputation [of 2017] will be so bad.”

The grand old Philipponnat winery in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ


The newly renovated interior at Philipponnat


The 2017 Chardonnay vins clairs


That said, on the whole Charles was much more positive about the harvest than the other houses we’d visited. “It is not as bad as 2001 and may be even better than 2011,” he said. We were told that the normal policy at Philipponnat is to carefully select which of the wines kept in stainless steel to put through malolactic fermentation and to never do malolactic fermentation on the wine in barrels. However, 2017 produced much higher levels of malic acid and, as no vintage was being made, Philipponnat decided to do malolactic fermentation on all of the wines in stainless steel vats. The Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut NV with 2017 as a base year will therefore have much more malolactic fermentation than usual.

We began our vins clairs tasting with the best of the vintage: the Chardonnays. Remarkably, Charles informed us that Philipponnat did not find rotten grapes on any of their Chardonnay parcels. “The Chardonnays this year are at least as good as normal,” he said. Particular standouts were Grauves – a village which Charles says is “just as good as Le Mesnil”, and Clos des Goisses – which had a nose so impressively aromatic and floral that fellow guest Simon Stockton commented that it “could be worn as a perfume”.


Vert-Toulon | Autre Cru, Côte des Blancs
Lots of smokiness with pineapple, ripe apples and cinnamon spices.
Grauves | Premier Cru, Côte des Blancs
Very tropical; pineapple and nectarine. Seems slightly dilute in the middle. Very aromatic, all lychees and jasmine.
Trépail | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Very upfront peaches and tropical fruits, quite creamy and quite fleshy. Much riper than usual.
Vertus | Premier Cru, Côte des Blancs
Very aromatic, like ripe apples and peaches and hints of guarva. Lower acidity.
Clos des Goisses | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plots: Écluse, Jolivet Blanc
Very powerful and chalky. Loads of fruit, like pineapple, ripe citrus and cooked apples. Great texture and weight of fruit on the palate.


Next, we tasted a selection of Pinot Noirs. The first, Venteuil, was the village most affected by botrytis in 2017. Unfortunately, this was quite evident when tasting the wine, which had a musty, mushroomy characteristic, which Charles referred to as a “veil of dust”. The second, Vertus, had been stirred with Chardonnay lees, in order to reduce the effects of botrytis. Charles told us that, in years that favour Chardonnay, Philipponnat frequently treat the less expressive Pinot Noirs with Chardonnay lees to add complexity and produce a cleaner wine. This was not only obvious in the lighter colour, but also in the delicate and more elegant palate of Vertus.


Pinot Noir
Venteuil | Autre Cru, Vallée de la Marne
Some hints of mushroom – what Charles calls a “veil of dust”. Has some light red berries but thin in the middle.
Vertus | Premier Cru, Côte des Blancs | Plot: Vigneronne
Delicate with that slight hint of garlic. Lots of raspberry and a hint of blackcurrant.
Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plots: Mareuil Remissonne, Buisson, Grandes Chemin
Lot of strawberries on the nose and palate.


In 2017, Aÿ and the surrounding villages were some of the worst affected by botrytis for Philipponnat. Charles told us that approximately 50% of the grapes in Aÿ were left on the ground during harvest. “Even some of the healthy looking grapes had rot inside the stem – you cannot see this at picking so some inevitably slipped through,” he said.

The final Pinot Noir we tasted was a blend of four plots from Clos des Goisses – the famous 5.5 hectare vineyard situated on an extremely steep 40° vertiginous slope adjacent to the house in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. These four plots contain much older vines than the others in Clos des Goisses, noticeable in the rich, oaky character of the wine produced which, according to Charles, “comes from the grapes and not the barrels”. Wine from all four of these plots will be used in the Clos des Goisses 2017 blend.


Pinot Noir
Clos des Goisses | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plots: La Dure, Chalet
Very intense strawberry, raspberry and redcurrants. Great texture for PN of this year.
Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plot: Croix Blanche
Lots of lush ripe fruit, strawberry and raspberry and good mouthfeel.
Aÿ | Grand Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plot: Le Leon
Has that “veil of dust” again – unfortunately from the botrytis. Has some oak.
Clos des Goisses | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plots: Jolivet Noir, Croix des Goisses Collet, Griffon
Redcurrants and hints of gooseberry. Lots of apricots and the texture is right up there, chalky with good length.


The cool and dark cellars in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ


Charles Philipponnat presenting the vins clairs


The strikingly deep red colour is achieved using the saignée method of rosé production


In the 1990s, Philipponnat pioneered putting disgorgement dates on the back labels of bottles


Charles Philipponnat and Essi Avellan discuss 2017


The stunning range of champagnes tasted


Click this picture for a video of the full range of vins clairs tasted


We finished our still wine tasting with a reserve wine, rosé and red wine. The reserve was last year’s Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut NV blend – with 2016 as a base year. Once assemblage had been completed last year, the finished blend was put back into oak barrels for five months. “We like to put our reserves back into oak to keep them fresh,” Charles told us. “A touch of toast and minerality improves their ability to age.” All of this wine will eventually be used as reserve wine in the non-vintage; about 33% has gone into this year’s 2017 base year blend.

The rosé and red wine we sampled had been produced solely from grapes picked from loose bunches. “The loose bunches have longer stems, more air flow and therefore less botrytis,” Charles explained. This is apparently a result of planting a special selection of vines from Burgundy strains. “Everything we are planting recently is from Burgundy,” he added.

The rosé was produced using the saignée (bleeding) method. This involves allowing the grape must to remain in contain with the skins for a few hours, enriching the juice with colour and aromatic components, before ‘bleeding’ the juices off. Asked about the impressively deep colour of the red wine, Charles informed us that they concentrated the red by bleeding the must after 24-36 hours and then doing five days maceration before starting fermentation – allowing the intensity to come through in both the fruit and the colour. “The lees in the bottle will take out some of the harsher hints of pink, mellowing the tone,” he said.


Reserve Wine
Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut NV | 2016 Base Year
65% PN, 30% CH, 5% PM | Base Year: 2016 | Reserve Wine: 30%
Lots of peach and apricot and butteriness coming from the barrels and nice creamy texture. Youthful and refreshing.
Rosé de Saignée
Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plot: Valofroy
Very clean and with lots of fresh cherry and strawberry.
Red Wine
Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne | Plot: Valofroy
Lots of cherrry fruit, spicy blackberry and dark cherry.



Charles generously concluded our visit by sharing a selection of finished champagnes. Interestingly, after tasting the first champagne – Blanc de Noirs 2011 – immediately after the Pinot Noir vins clairs, Charles stated that “2017 may be better than 2011 after tasting the still wines”. We were then shown a trial disgorgment of the next prestige cuvée release: Clos des Goisses 2009. An already stunningly rich and creamy champagne, Charles compared 2009 to 1989 and believes they will age similarly. Although lacking the bright acidity of its predecessor, Clos des Goisses 2008, this new release has a huge, generous fruit-forward character. It will be available at the end of the year.

We also tasted a bottle of the extremely rare Clos des Goisses Justé Rosé 2007. Charles told us that the rosé is produced by blending the Clos des Goisses blanc with red wine from the same year. However, Philipponnat do not produce a rosé in every Clos des Goisses vintage and when they do, just 2-3,000 bottles are typically produced, compared to the 25,000 bottle production for the blancs.

Finally, we tasted two of the house single-plot cuvées: Les Cintres, produced from the core parcels of Clos des Goisses (Les Grands Cintres and Les Petits Cintres); and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, produced from the very best parcels in the village. Both vintage 2008s, these are just the second ever creations of these exciting single-plot cuvées, to follow the first in 2006.

Speaking of Les Cintres, Charles said: “I normally describe Clos des Goisses as athletic but this is more like a Turkish wrestler!” He is not wrong – they are both huge champagnes that take some time to open up. Although not as approachable as the 2006s, these are much more complex and interesting and will undoubtedly last for years. As one may well expect, these are extremely rare. Not wanting to take too much away from the vintage champagnes, especially Clos des Goisses, Charles produces just 2,000 bottles – and each one is individually numbered.


Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs 2011
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: January 2018 | Dosage: 4.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Months
Peach pie and lychees. Very clean and bright with many fruits apple richness and hints of raspberry. Nice integration of fruit, acid and oak toastiness. Refreshing. 17/20
Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 Brut 2008 Magnum
65% PN, 35% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: July 2017 | Dosage: 4.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Has hints of coffee and soya and a long finish with ripe apples and lemons and lots of fresh acidity. “Still needs some time to balance” says Charles. 17.5/20
Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009
Trial Disgorgement | Released: December 2018
Very ripe fruit forward and softer acidity than expecting. Lovely and rich fruit with loads of peaches and apricots and hints of tropical. Charles says “will go chocolatey” – has started to already. 18.5+/20
Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Justé Rosé 2007
55% PN, 45% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 4.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Months
Has quite a lot of soya and peach and lychee. Good texture in the mid-palate and then you taste the redcurrants and chalkiness. The tannins from the red seem to make it tighter and fresher. 18.5+/20
Philipponnat Les Cintres 2008
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 4.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
Quite prominent oak with bundles of pineapple and cooked apples.  So much fruit and freshness from the acidity and great texture. 18+/20
Philipponnat Mareuil-sur-Aÿ 2008
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 4.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
Has a very vibrant ripe peaches and apricots palate. Very soft and chalky and more-ish character with so much fruit and freshness from the strong acidity. 17.5+/20