The arrival of Charles Philipponnat in 2000 appears to have resulted in a turn in Champagne Philipponnat’s fortunes. Not only does their flagship wine, Clos de Goisses, continue to get rave reviews, and rightly so as this is widely acknowledge as one of THE great single vineyards in Champagne, but also the quality and consistency of the rest of their range has never been higher. Today Philipponnat grows 20 hectares of Premier and Grand Cru vineyards in the outstanding communes of Ay, Mareuil and Avenay. Pinot Noir is king here and represents two thirds of their plantings. The winery is located just a stones through away from the iconic Clos de Goisses vineyard above the historic 18th century cellars of Chateau de Mareuil, where bottles are still aged and riddled manually (including all the vintage cuvees). A proportion of their wines are vinified and aged in oak barrels and malolactic fermentations are generally avoided. Ageing sur lie runs from three to eleven years and dosage levels are low.
Stylistically, this is a house whose focus is Pinot Noir. The house character lies in harnessing the power and fruit of great Pinot Noir without sacrificing freshness or relying on oxidative winemaking techniques to bring complexity. Bright aromatic complexity (a particular characteristic of Pinot Noir) marks a common thread, while structure is found in freshness and minerality.
For the Royale Réserve cuvées, great care is lavished on the quality of the reserve wines and in recent years, Charles has introduced a second perpetual reserve with a greater proportion of old reserve wines adding new layers of complexity and finesse to the finished wines. Alongside these Brut and Non-Dosé cuvees sits one of Champagne’s most characterful and food friendly Rosés, not such a surprise when one considers that the still red wine used in its blend comes from the upper sections of Clos des Goisses.
The Blanc de Noirs cuvee marks the first of the vintage wines Philipponnat produce and in only two vintages it has cemented itself as a hugely impressive addition to the range. Primarily from great Pinot Noir vineyards in and around Mareuil and Ay, the blend can include up to six villages that mix North and South exposures. Fermentation is carried out in oak barrels, without malolactic fermentation, and vats with partial malolactic fermentation. Disgorgement happens after 7 years sur lie. The resulting Champagne is rich but bright, powerful, generous but also chiselled.
The first of the prestige cuvées is the exceptional Cuvée 1522, a wine produced exclusively from Grand Cru terroirs. It is blended exclusively from the house’s most outstanding vineyards, in particular the historic plots at Le Leon in Ay, complemented by Chardonnay from Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger. It offers complexity and a rich dry brilliance matched to striking minerality in a remarkably complete wine that is dosed at just 4 g/l and aged for 8 years sur lie before disgorgement. That it doesn’t represent the finest wine in this line up is only down to the presence of the mighty Clos des Goisses vineyard.
Clos des Goisses is a legendary vineyard that has been in the Philipponnat family for almost a century. It is often cited as the original truly great single vineyard Champagne – the one that first proved that Champagne greatness could be achieved without recourse to blending. A fully walled 5.5 hectare vineyard for which the term ‘micro-climate’ could not be more apt, it looms over the Marne river with slopes reaching a vertiginous 45 degrees, surely some of the steepest in all Champagne. The resulting grapes are boosted by the warming effects of the river and the steep, fully south facing slopes, two factors which combined to produce mean vineyard temperatures 1.5-2° higher than rest of Champagne. In the cellar vinification is done primarily in oak barrels without malolactic fermentation, the better to support the naturally powerful nature of the terroir. Ageing sur lie runs to about 10 years, depending on the vintage, and dosage is once again low at around 4g/l. The resultant wines, which tend to amount to around half of the potential production of the vineyard, are magnificent expressions of regal power and animating minerality – in many respects a fine wine before a fine champagne, and a true reflection of the uniqueness of the Goisses terroir.