The House of Paul Bara Champagne is one of the standard bearers for traditionally made Champagne. When it comes to Pinot Noir-based Champagnes, Paul Bara is THE standard bearer, known for top vineyards, meticulous detail and exceptionally high standards for quality. So it was a real treat when Marquis Wine Cellars invited us to try the very best of the Paul Bara line-up: the 2002 Comtesse Marie de France.
More than just about any other Champagne, the wines of Paul Bara express a sense of place. The department (sub region) known as Montagne de Reims is known for some of the best Pinot Noir in all of Champagne and the aglomoration (village) of Bouzy would be its tenderloin district. Bouzy, a town of less than 1,000 people, boasts 380 hectares of grand cru vineyards, planted mostly to Pinot Noir, on deep, chalky subsoils that impart a richness and minerality to the wines they produce. The warmth and sunshine of the region adds a degree of ripeness which enhances the richness and body of the wines. It is one of only 17 villages to be awarded the prestigious grand cru status within Champagne.
The Bara family has been involved growing grapes in Bouzy since the 1830s and the Bara’s are nearly synonymous with Bouzy. Paul Bara, now 90 years old, literally “wrote the book on Bouzy”, being the local historian who published a book on the town, Histoire de Bouzy. The family has been intimately involved with the management of the local coop since the 1920s. In 1962 Paul bought a press and began vinfying wine from their estate grapes. He since went on to become one of the most influential figures in the Grower Champagne movement. His daughter Chantale has taken over the winemaking now and follows all of the traditional methods handed down by her father.
Paul Bara Champagne now has 11 hectares over 30 different parcels. 9.5 of those hectares are planted to Pinot Noir, the balance to Chardonnay. Many of these parcels occupy the most sought after position near the top of the South-facing bowl that forms the vineyards of Bouzy. Farming methods utilize “lute raisonee” (French for “reasoned fight” but more usually translated to English as “close tracking”) which is the reaction to the proliferation of additives and chemical fertilizer usage. This method only uses fertilizers and other additives only when absolutely necessary and can be thought of as a derivation of organic or biodynamic farming. Yields are kept to the lowest possible level. The winery has been modernized and their cellars reach a depth of 30 feet below ground and are carved out of pure chalk.
Annual production averages around 90,000 bottles. The wines are painstakingly hand-crafted. Only free run or first press juice is used (this is the juice that comes off from just the weight of the grapes with no additional pressing which imparts the highest quality juice). Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. Chantale believes that putting the wines through malolactic would make the already rich wines too round and heavy, and like her father seeks to retain the finesse and freshness of the already ripe Bouzy fruit. For similar reasons barrels are used only for experimentation. Wines are aged at the winery for at least 2 – 3 years for the non-vintage wines and 5 – 6 years for the vintage wines. Vines are at least 30 years of age and the vines used to make the Comtesse Marie de France are 45 years old. Everything about the raising of these wines is done with the highest quality and greatest attention to detail. Dosage is kept to the drier side at Bara, usually 8g/l for most of their wines and only 6g/l for the Comtesse Marie de France.
The exemplary quality resulting from this meticulous attention to quality and detail has not been lost on the wine press. Andrew Jefford, author of The New France, calls them, “…essential references for anyone who wants to enjoy and understand the ripe, dry richness of Bouzy…” Antonio Galloni has said: “arguably the most renowned grower in the village of Bouzy, where Pinot Noir reigns supreme.” Robert Parker has written: “Paul Bara’s current line-up includes some marvelous, precise, impeccably well-balanced Champagnes that are at the top of the qualitative pyramid.”
2002 Paul Bara Champagne Comtesse Marie de France Brut Millesime
100% Pinot Noir. Medium gold colour with a very fine mousse. The bubbles recede noticeably after 20 minutes in the glass. Wonderful nose of lemon peel, toast, and a hint of peach. The palate is medium to full bodied with a rich and creamy mouthfeel and a very ripe expression that comes across almost as sweet (when in fact it is very dry at 6g/l of dosage). Flavours of honey and almonds are supported by a minerally streak and just a hint of spice. The wine seems to take on weight in the glass as its bubbles recede and makes it an ideal pairing for food. As it evolves in the glass you appreciate just how complex this is. Delicious now, this possesses the stuffing for additional development in the cellar.
$110 at Marquis Wine Cellars (very good value for this quality level; stands alongside the tete du cuvees of the big Houses, at half or less the price)