The house of Philipponnat’s single-vineyard Clos des Goisses bottling is unquestionably one of the great Champagnes of the world. Among those wines, though, Clos de Goisses is also probably one of the least well known. Partly that’s because there isn’t much of it—Philipponnat only makes about 20,000 bottles per vintage, a drop in the ocean (albeit a very pricey ocean) when compared to something like Dom Perignon.
At a recent Zachy’s auction tasting, I spoke with Charles Philipponnat about the vineyard’s history. “The twenties were disastrous in Champagne,” he recalled. The region was a battlefield during the first World War, phylloxera then ravaged the vines, and then the Great Depression hit. “It was so bad, people were even planting vineyards to wheat.”
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As a result, though, when his grandfather bought the Clos des Goisses vineyard in 1935, he essentially got it for a song (and bottled a 1935 vintage as well; it’s generally considered the first single-vineyard Champagne). It’s an unusual vineyard. A chalk outcropping on the banks of the Marne, it’s absurdly steep—45˚ or so—and south-facing, and unusually warm for the region.
Vinous and powerful, the wine also has a potent mineral character on the finish. It can age for decades, though Charles Philipponnat himself likes “to drink the wines either two years after disgorgement, or at seven to eight years. Some people like to wait until 15 years after or more…but then you risk your children drinking it instead of you.”
Wise man. For the event, we tasted five vintages, going back to 1992. Before getting to them, it’s worth noting that the NV Philipponnat Brut Royale Reserve ($49) is a great introduction to the house style—vinous, toasty, and full-bodied, yet crisp on the end—and both far more affordable and far more findable than the wines below.
The 2006 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses (not yet released) was polished and focused, with lasting minerality on the finish; ’06 is a very well-regarded vintage in Champagne, and this wine shows why. The 2005 Clos des Goisses ($245) is a standout in a much less heralded vintage. “It’s a richer wine, with more glycerol,” Charles Philipponnat noted; it also had more sweet citrus fruit and less linearity. It might not age into the distant future, but it was lovely now.
The 1999 Clos des Goisses (available at auction, as are the below vintages, and in some stores) still had gorgeous freshness, and opened in the glass to layers of complexity. Tree fruit and citrus are in perfect balance with bakery/toast notes, ending on intense stoniness. The 1996 vintage in Champagne, a year marked by extremely high acidity in the wines, was released to great acclaim. I’ve found the wines a mixed bag in recent tastings, but the 1996 Clos des Goisses was impressive, its fruit aromas shifting more toward melon, and caramel notes on the finish. The acidity still struck me as slightly overbearing, but that didn’t seem to bother Charles Philipponnat, who said, “I like bracing Champagnes.” The 1992 Clos des Goisses was more to my taste: fully developed, lean and spicy (think gingerbread), and yet somehow still extremely fresh. It had the kind of complexity that shifts each time you take a sip.
As Charles Philipponnat said, close to the end of the evening, “Great wines keep their youth and add layers as they age; regular wines are young, then middle aged, then old, and then they die.” The implied statement—that Clos des Goisses is a great wine—was clear; also, it was accurate.