Champagne Philipponnat: A Clos des Goisses dinner

Champagne Philipponnat: A Clos des Goisses dinner

Friday 27th October 2017
by Julian Campbell

“I have pressed many grapes… but I have NEVER pressed a duck!” 

So went the words of Charles Philipponnat as he was whisked upstairs by Otto, owner and Maitre d’ of his eponymous restaurant on Gray’s Inn Road. “A duck yields a surprising amount of juice!” Charles exclaimed on his return to the table, having been pressed, quite literally into action, helping to operate the silver duck press that Otto uses to serve his legendary Canard a la Presse.

We were in the Private Dining room at Otto’s, a gem of a place, to celebrate 40 years of Clos des Goisses with a group of champagne aficionados. This was the very night after we’d released the epic 2008 on the roof-top of the Ham Yard Hotel, so Clos des Goisses was very much in the air. Other than exploring the famous longevity of Clos des Goisses and its incredible ability to enhance a meal, the rough theme of the evening was ‘8s (for obvious reasons), the oldest wine providing us a rare look at some magical bottles of 1978.

As guests arrived we poured Cuvee 1522 from the 2008 vintage, en magnum, a wine made entirely from Grand Cru fruit, predominantly from Ay and in particular the historic Le Leon site. Delicious cheesy Comte puffs were served alongside it, fresh from the oven, providing the perfect foil to what is still a very youthful champagne. With all of the signature 2008 cut and acidity it’s undoubtedly smart stuff, but currently very tightly wound and sure to benefit from a few more years in the cellar. For today’s enjoyment, the magnificent 2007 is far more approachable.


Sitting down we started with our first of three pairs of Clos des Goisses: 2007 and 2008, two very different vintages, the latter picked late, the former early. The 2007 was served from Jeroboam and showed a certain amount of reduction at first, a classic sign of this larger format. It was easy to see why the 3 litre bottle is such a dream size for people looking to age top Champagne. Bottles of Goisses 2007 are open, generous, charming and pretty but this Jero was taut and corseted at first, probably a couple of years behind the smaller format in evolutionary terms. 2007 is a bit of a forgotten vintage in Champagne, which is a shame, as the best are delightful. But it has never enjoyed a great reputation, not helped by some remarkably indifferent vintage bottlings. Good houses however, particularly those whose vineyards give excellent ripeness year in year out, and those with a predominance of Pinot Noir, have produced some seriously enjoyable wines. The table was split over those that preferred the focus and promise of 2008 or the breadth and charm of the 2007. We’re laying 2008 away and drinking 2007 until it’s ready…

Mention should be made of the food as Otto had devised an inspired series of dishes to match one of Champagne’s pre-eminent food wines. The first course, to match these two younger vintages was a swordfish carpaccio with a blood orange dressing. Truth be told it didn’t look like much when the plates arrived, a puddle of red sauce dotted with capers. But as a match for the sprightly young flavours in these two first champagnes, it was pretty much perfect.  The salt-fruit-acidity combination of blood orange, raw fish, vinegar and fried capers picked up crunchy salty fruit notes in both champagnes quite brilliantly. It was nourishing and refreshing and intriguing in equal measure - things were off to a singing start…

With a main course of boned rolled quail, stuffed with foie gras and truffles (Otto’s to a T), we served two wildly different vintages again, each with a ripe fruit note but borne out of very different conditions. 2003 was something of a landmark vintage across France and Champagne was no exception. It was hot, searingly so during the summer, and the resulting Champagne harvest was one of the earliest on record. The wines are low acidity, but not without freshness, and the 2003 simply lapped up the richness of the dish. Truly champagne as wine, as it sat in the glass the delicate bubbles receded to leave a wine of tender texture and generous presence. If you haven’t tried it, we wholehearted recommend it. 1998 was altogether a different beast. This was a vintage of rot, where botrytis spread through the vines and selection was key. Goisses 1998 is wonderful, in a remarkably complex way, a testament to site and attention to detail. Fresh orange peel and apricot notes, a lively seam of acidity and good concentration, with secondary notes of coffee grounds, roasted nuts and earth starting to emerge; it is full of character, presence and exuberance. It might not have the refinement of some other vintages, but it certainly gives a huge amount of pleasure and has plenty to say.

For our final course, Charles selected two very different wines, Clos des Goisses LV 2000 and straight Clos des Goisses 1978. Otto conjured up a glorious fig and Crottin tart that trod a tightrope between salty and sweet – it was another very clever bit of pairing.  After 16 years sur lie, LV 2000 represents the first Long Viellisement release from Philipponnat and something we can look forward to in exceptional vintages going forwards, though we’re told the plan is to increase the sur lie ageing to 20 years. Remarkably fresh, pure and direct, it clearly still has a long life ahead of it. And speaking of long lives, we moved finally on to the 1978, a vintage again beset by rot, and not necessarily the top of everyone’s list of must haves.  But then Clos des Goisses is famed for its longevity and remarkable ability to create something special even in years when others struggle. Resplendent, mature and yet remarkably fresh, the 1978 was a triumph; complex yet calm, full of forest floor and mushroom notes but also coffee, orange, fig and apricot notes. Great old champagne can be a magical thing. These three, remarkably similar bottles of 1978, at 40 years of age, proved that very much to be the case.

We left the table in no doubt as to the greatness of this special steep walled vineyard. Six different expressions of a site, each imbued with character and individuality but bound by a common genetic make-up. They had given us everything we could have wanted to partner an entire meal, as well as a spring in our step. Fine wine indeed!

With great thanks to all those who attended, Otto for looking after us so warmly, and Charles Philipponnat for a wealth of fascinating commentary on the night.

Discover more at Justerinis.com and the full range of Philipponnat wines.