by Andrew Chalk
In 1947 seven grape growers in the Champagne region of France threw their efforts together to form a coop to produce better wine in the tough days that denoted the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Thus was born Maison Palmer & Co. Today, Maison Palmer sees its market as global (significantly, not including Russia) with its largest sales in the United Kingdom, China, Japan, and the United States. Its wines are habitual award winners at shows and from specialist wine magazines. Its product range expanded from non-vintage Brut (the largest seller by number of bottles) to premium wines characterized by fruit from a very select range of the best vineyards and made only in the best years.
It was this latter expression that the company introduced to Dallas at a recent trade event at which I was a guest. Both wines are just released.
HOW IS CHAMPAGNE DIFFERENT
Before discussing the individual wines, there are some important facets of Champagne that aficionados of the wine keep in mind.
First, the region of Champagne is so far north that it is on the border of cultivatability. This made it unrealistic to produce wine every year with a single vintage date on the label. The Champenois solution to their problem was to make wines that were a blend of multiple years (typically 3 to 5 years). These are called non-vintage (or multi-vintage) and were so successful as a solution to the harvest variability problems that they now represent over 94% of Champagne output. The other 6% is rare, and considered to be the highest expression of wine in Champagne. It is vintage Champagne, made from a single year, but possible only in the best years (maybe two or three times a decade). Note that the wines that Maison Palmer presented in Dallas are both vintage, but three years apart.
Second, because of the multi-vintage blending, in Champagne, more than any other wine-producing area in the world, ‘house style’ is prime. The wineries in most wine areas of the world seek to emulate a regional or global style. In Champagne, climate renders that difficult, so different houses respond with their winemakers, over generations, preserving and refining an expression that a repeat customer base comes to expect. Maison Palmer is no exception, with a style that is bold, forward, close to Bollinger, or Deutz.
The 2015 Grands Terroirs is a blend of 50% chardonnay, 38% pinot noir, and 12% pinot meunier. Seven grams of dosage was added to each bottle and it was cellared June 16th, 2016. Fruit originated from the Grands Crus vineyards of Mailly and Verzenay and the Premier Crus vineyards of Trépail, Villers-Marmery, Ludes, Chigny-les-Roses, and Rilly-la-Montagne.
The winemaker’s notes on this wine say “a subtle and charming nose of orange blossom and acacia, mixed with notes of yellow fruit. Its palate is characterized by freshness, with citrus fruit sublimating brioche and dried fruits, while its creamy texture stretches into a persistent, seductive finish.”
The 2012 Grand Terroirs is available in very limited quantities and only in magnum (a bottle twice the size of a regular bottle). It is a blend of 49% pinot noir, 46% chardonnay, and 5% pinot meunier. Winemakers notes describe it thus “A fruity nose of candied lemon and dried fruit, with toasted pine nuts and caramelized hazelnuts, evolves towards honeyed and slightly spicy notes of candied ginger and pastries. The palate is both delicate and generous, marked by its saline minerality and charming citrus aromas. Its silky texture and balance between generosity and tension leave a lasting impression.” Cellarmaster Xavier Berdin calls it “a jewel of the Palmer & Co style” with a dosage of 7g/l and a cellaring date of May 17, 2013.
Palmer employs five oenologists (winemakers) and one of them, Remi Vervier, double-times as CEO (unique in Champagne). We had the benefit of he and Export Director Raymond Ringeval at the presentation and they are visibly excited about the prospects for Champagne Palmer in the USA market in the next few years. With the strength of their products, new representation from Quintessential Wines, and Champagne’s seeming invincibility to economic cycles I think their confidence is well-founded.