Champagne Day: Paul Bara Bouzy Grand Cru Special Club 2002

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Champagne more than any other region exemplifies the modern debate between wine as a platonic ideal and wine as an expression of the particular. On the Platonic side, the great houses blend purchased grapes culminating in a prestige cuvee meant to be the purest expression of house style. For the particular, growers own and farm the land from which they source their grapes and try to create wines that express that land. You can distinguish between the two types of winery by the designations NM (houses) and RM (growers) on the bottle.

Of course, as with any starkly positioned debate, the reality is far more complex. Some houses are starting to bottle vineyard specific wines and a group of 25 growers has created the “Special Club”, a collective that seeks to make the greatest wines possible in their domains and label them as such. This was done to compete with the house prestige cuvees and to show that the growers could produce wines just as good for ¼ of the price.

What’s So Special About this Club?

The special club is somewhat of a paradox, focusing both on the specific terroirs of each of its grower members but also seeking to produce blends of the highest possible quality that reflect a sort of “house style” of each member. Where does terroir end and style begin? With Special Club Champagne it is not entirely clear.

Special Club Champagnes are rigorously controlled, with a panel tasting the wine at blending and the finished product to ensure it meets quality standards. Wines must be aged at least 3 years in bottle before release and must include the very best fruit from the estate making the wine. A grower may make a Special Club wine in each vintage, but the wines must pass the quality test regardless, and so most growers only make Special Club wines in the best vintages for their domains.

The tug of war between principles of terroir and house style are particularly evident in the five main articles of the Special Club Charter:

Article 1: The Club recognizes that it is the quality of the grapes that allows growers to be part of the club and thus members individually and collectively commit to high quality methods in the vineyard.

Article 2: Each member will reflect the unique characteristics of its land, respecting the natural cycles of the vine and the environment.

Article 3: Each member will develop a wine in its own style and suitable for the unique characteristics of the winery. This style will be subject to the approval and supervision of the Club Commission.

Article 4: The Club will specifiy and monitor specific requirements for the techniques used in the maintenance of the soil, its fertilization, pest control and all actions that affect the quality of the grapes.

Article 5: Any person may consult the specifications set by the Club’s Wine Charter directly with the members.

As you can see, the articles comprise a mixture of terroir specific principles and those that allow and encourage each grower to develop its own style, all within certain uniform parameters. The project is a good one and the wines tend to be of very high quality, but it would be a mistake to assume that Special Club wines are inherently more “terroir” focused than those of the houses or other independent growers. Despite this, many bottlings do manage to express some degree of terroir on a case by case basis.

Bouzy and Bara

Paul Bara is a grower with vineyards in the town of Bouzy, which is part of the Montagne de Reims sub-region of Champagne. This region has mostly chalk soils but higher elevations on the slopes also see lignite and, depending on the site, soils may also contain clay, sand, marl or gravel. The main grape is Pinot Noir.

Paul Bara is known to produce superb expressions specific to Bouzy – a rich and powerful style with surprising intensity. The entire 11 hectare vineyard is classified Grand Cru.

The Power of Fruit

This is powerful Champagne, with great intensity and richness. White chocolate, apples and pear cascade over mineral undertones that increase considerably with air. The ripeness is the house style, but I also suspect that the 2002 vintage has something to do with the particular intensity here.

The richness derives from the quality of the fruit rather than any oak or lees aging and thus the richness is distinct from a wine like Krug, which is far yeastier. This is not about brioche and bread, but more about poached pears and apple tarts. This is an outstanding quality Champagne but may be on the opulent side for some, particularly those who prefer Blanc de Blanc. Regardless, the complexity and structure are undeniably superb.

This Champagne is a definite win for the Special Club and for Paul Bara and was a great way to bring in the New Year.

$90 at Marquis Wine Cellars


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