Earlier this year, we travelled to Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, the Premier Cru rated village in the south-east of the Vallée de la Marne, home to Champagne Philipponnat. We met with sixteenth generation family member Charles Philipponnat, to discuss the 2018 harvest and taste a selection of the base wines.
Philipponnat had an excellent harvest last year. Charles shared his initial impression of the wines: “pretty ripe altogether” and “aromatically fine”. Despite the extremely wet winter in 2017/18, there was no problem with dilution due to the high levels of ripeness. “In fact,” he said, “if there is a problem, it is with ripeness.”
Although winemakers at other houses had reported having pH levels of around 3, the average pH at Philipponnat was 3.15. “With this level of ripeness, you cannot hope for a pH lower than 3. We are higher than other houses, but at Philipponnat we look for such high levels of ripeness, so that is normal.”
Ripeness was again a determining factor in the malic acid levels, which were much higher at Philipponnat than elsewhere. “Others had low levels because they pick unripe,” Charles told us. Consequently, Philipponnat did very little malolactic fermentation, and only on wines destined for the non-vintage: “We did some malo because we need wines with malo for the young non-vintage.”
With such a huge crop of perfectly ripe and healthy grapes, one of the biggest challenges for Charles last year was not making too much vintage champagne. “We had enough great Pinot to make 200k bottles!” he told us. Although the market would not take such a large quantity of one champagne, Charles did decide to produce every wine in the Philipponnat range, for the first time since the 2009 vintage.
2018 Vins Clairs
Charles showcased a range of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Red Wines, many of them grown close to home, from different plots of the famed Clos des Goisses vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The four Chardonnays selected were all from very different regions, highlighting the variety of style in Champagne, however each had a common ripeness and freshness which we’ve already come to expect from 2018.
The majority of the Philipponnat range was bottled in mid-February without any interference from the winemaking team (such as the addition of sulphur etc).
|CHARDONNAY | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Trépail
Very aromatic and light. Fresh plums and jasmine with loads of pear and some hints of tropical notes. Finishes with a good spicy lift.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Rich and ripe characters straight away. Pineapple and smokey, has some mango and spices. Very delicate with some chocolate notes. Powerful.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Premier Cru: Vertus
Wonderful spicy edge, a Gewurtztraminer character, lychees and lots of lemon richness. Richly flavoured and wonderful spice.
|CHARDONNAY | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Vineyard: Clos des Goisses | Plot: Écluse
Lots of rich fruit, pineapple and very aromatic like delicate white flowers, rich on the palate with big mouthfeel, an abundance of guava, plums and hints of spice. Really singing – big and powerful but finishes light and fresh.
The Pinot Noirs had a similarly consistent ripeness and freshness, with an abundance of tropical fruit flavours and great elegance. The rosé de saignée we tasted from the Valofroy plot of Clos des Goisses, which was cold macerated for 36 hours and produced from de-stemmed bunches, had an impressive structure from the tannnis, which compensates the richness from the wine, or, in Charles’s words, “dries it up a bit”. Between 12 and 15% is blended with white wine to create the beautifully light Royal Réserve Rosé NV.
Pushed for a vintage comparison, Charles compared 2018 to 1995, 2009 and 2012, with good balance between the latter two vintages. “It is better than 2009, yet not as racy as 2012,” he summarised.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: L’Écueil
Quite forward redcurrant and strawberry with freshness and loads of loganberry, redcurrant and spiciness.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Vineyard: Rémissonne
Softer and genourous with roundness to the fruit, loads of loganberry and hints of blackcurrant.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Grand Cru: Aÿ
Spices and pepperiness that has a lightness and elegance, big and fresh and spicy with good texture and length of flavour.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Vineyard: Clos des Goisses | Plot: Grands Cintres
Can pick up the newer barrel notes, lots of spice and yet this works really well on the mouthfeel. Lots of tropical fruits like pineapple and then loads of ripe apples, melons and wild strawberry.
|RED WINE | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Vineyard: Clos des Goisses | Plot: Valofroy
This is very concentrated, has some nice tannins that give structure. Some power of strawberry, raspberry and redcurrant. On the palate, there is some of the peaches and exotic fruits, like lychees.
|RED WINE | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ | Vineyard: Clos des Goisses | Plot: Griffon
Has some real power of black fruits, black cherry, graphite and chocolate. Dark ripe plums and very soft ripe tannins which Charles says will develop more later.
Philipponnat have a comprehensive range, including the different non-vintage expressions, vintage champagnes produced in different styles (such as blanc de noirs), and the prestige cuvée Clos des Goisses, some individual plots of which are bottled independently.
The non-vintages we tasted were based on the 2014 vintage. Charles commented that 2013, which was considered very good, could have overshadowed 2014, yet the champagnes based on the latter vintage have turned out even better. Although he would like to produce more rosé, doing so would take key Pinot Noir away from other important cuvées.
The dosage that Philipponnat add post-disgorgement to their vintage champagnes is usually half what they add for the non-vintage champagnes and the liqueur mixture added is ‘neutral’, containing mainly sugars.
Two recent releases that we tasted were Blanc de Noirs 2012 and Cuvée 1522 2008. The first is produced from 100% Grand and Premier Cru vineyards owned by Philipponnat, mainly from Mailly and Verzy. For Charles, this champagne expresses what Pinot Noir is all about: balance, fruit, freshness and no early oxidation. Cuvée 1522 2008 was a particular standout, with a high proportion of wine from Grand Cru rated Aÿ bringing an incredible crispness, that leaves the palate feeling wonderfully refreshed.
Philipponnat also launched a new project last year, Clos des Goisses L.V. (long vieillissement, or ‘long ageing’). The idea is to release a 25 year old Clos des Goisses each year, starting with Clos des Goisses L.V. 1993 in 2018. The champagne is identical, with the same dosage added, the difference being the extended lees ageing: in this case 24 years. The bottles were aged sur latte (horizontal) for 8-9 years and sur pointe (upside down) for the remainder. Just 293 bottles of Clos des Goisses L.V. 1993 were produced.
|Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut NV | 17/20
65% PN, 30% CH, 5% PM | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 29% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Lots of fresh pear, ripe lemons and marzipan. Good lift of freshness. Has some spicy notes and tropical hints, can see lychees coming through. Lifts up great on the end with mineral character.
|Philipponnat Royale Réserve Non Dosé NV | 16.5/20
65% PN, 30% CH, 5% PM | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 29% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: September 2018 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
Lots of apples and lemons and hints of nuts like almond and roasted cashews. Nice, full mid-palate structure and fresh acidity with enough fruit to keep it balanced.
|Philipponnat Royale Réserve Rosé Brut NV | 17/20
75% PN, 20% CH, 5% PM | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 30% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: September 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
Very attractive redcurrant and black cherry fruits with more strawberry and apples coming through on the palate and then hints of peach. Very good rosé for a warm summer day in the garden or with a curry!
|Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs 2012 | 17.5/20
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: May 2018 | Dosage: 4.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 10 Months
A lot of red berry fruit and some tropical notes. There would be more malic in this vintage as more wood fermentation and hence you get some of the metallic hints like oyster water. Great mouthfeel, leaves your palate refreshed.
|Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 2008 | 18+/20
58% PN, 42% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: March 2018 | Dosage: 4.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Lots of juicy forward fruit, like pineapple and tropical notes. On the palate, there is freshness and texture from the lees, layers of fruit build and the freshness of the 2008 acidity is apparent.
|Philipponnat Clos des Goisses L.V. 1993 | 19.5+/20
67% PN, 33% CH | Lees Ageing: 24 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 4.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Months
This has such a great nose, power and fruit and no oxidation. Beautiful texture and wow so much freshness, fruits and creaminess. A big, texturally exciting champagne with all those aged champagne characteristics: nuttiness, creaminess, dried fruits in abundance and it all finishes fresh.
Finally, we tasted a comprehensive range of non-dosage champagnes, all of which had been disgorged just over a week before our visit. Two noteworthy examples were Clos des Goisses 2009 and Clos des Goisses 2010. The first is currently closing down a bit, tasting more reduced than it was some time ago: deeply yeasty, with a more Vegemite flavour – Charles advises storing this one for a while.
The second was a complete surprise. Charles made just 5,000 bottles of Clos des Goisses 2010 due to the difficulty of the vintage and the low quality wines yielded. He initially thought they were too rich and forward, so picked certain parcels for the blend, holding back the ones he felt were too heavy. However, he now regrets being so strict as Clos des Goisses 2010 is “not too bad”. We were impressed with how big and powerful it was, especially considering Charles held back those heavier wines. One to watch for the future.
|Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 2009 | 18/20
65% PN, 35% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
Tight today, ripe apples and lemon and the palate brings more tropical notes like pineapple and mango. This has a big texture from lees ageing and loads of ripe fruits like plums, gooseberry and fresh acidity. After a little time in the glass, you pick up hints of chocolate. Very good.
|Philipponnat La Rémissonne 2009 | 17.5/20
100% PN | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
Seems a bit closed and the smoky reductive character is forward, though after a little time and you get more coffee and lemon richness. The palate has bright fruits, loads of apples, lemons, redcurrants and spice. Finishes very elegant.
|Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009 | 17.5/20
69% PN, 31% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
An abundance of peaches and apples. This has a freshness to it, quite a lot of tinned strawberry and lemon with hints of pineapple and cooked apples. Charles thinks this is going closed and is reduced at present, so should hold for a couple of years. Has some coffee and spiciness that really lifts it up and some of those dark aromas and hints of liquorish and marmite.
|Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2010 | 18.5/20
71% PN, 29% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
Quite forward fruits, lots of fresh peaches, apples and loads of spice. Some hints of pastry and richness and roundness, despite no dosage. Has a freshness and vivacity that is really attractive. A big and powerful wine when you consider Charles says he held back some parcels that he felt were too heavy for the blend.
|Philipponnat Les Cintres 2009 | 18.5/20
65% PN, 35% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
A lot of powerful fruits and density: pineapple, cooked apples, chocolate, white flower, saltiness and freshness. Wow the texture is rich and round with lots of liquorish and chocolate. Finishes fresh and clean.
|Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 Rosé 2008 | 18.5/20
70% PN, 30% CH | Red Wine: 8% | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
Light delicate pink colour with good summer fruits and richness of the vintage. Has bundles of fruit to balance the acidity: papaya, pink grapefruit and some lychees and wow this is really quite big. Delicious now, but very racy so in a few years time will likely be more balanced.
|Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Juste Rosé 2008 | 19/20
55% PN, 45% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: 6th March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Days
Very delicate colour with dark cherry, has power and density and so much fruit. Strong texture on the palate, beautiful balance with dark cherries, blackberry, chocolate and pink grapefruit. Very fine indeed.