Champagne Paul Bara: visit and tasting notes

Champagne Paul Bara – Visit and tasting notes

I was privileged enough on my recent trip to the Champagne region to be able to visit a handful of vineyards and champagne houses, and to appreciate the hard job that the staff at each of these places has before them. On a recommendation from a friend in the Wine Department at a major well-known auction house, I was able to secure an appointment at Champagne Paul Bara in Bouzy.

A relatively small operation, Champagne Paul Bara is now run by Paul Bara’s daughter Chantale, whose winemaking and blending skills have ensured that the house continues to make superb wines. The house was founded in 1833, Paul Bara himself (father of winemaker Chantale) was known to be an expert on the history of Bouzy and the champagne region, and published a book on the subject. Clearly his love of the area and of the wines it produced has continued on in the spirit of the house. Leaving my base in Epernay and driving out past Mareuil-sur-Ay, we were soon in the open countryside surrounding Bouzy. Here vast flat farmland smoothly evolves into softly rolling hills, the slopes of which are planted with beautiful vines. Nearing Bouzy itself, a few plots were being pruned, and others had already been so – it’s a process that not many seem in a hurry to complete in the area, or indeed in Mareuil-sur-Ay or around Epernay.

Weaving through a few small streets, we drove past the unassuming entrance to Champagne Paul Bara before making a quick reverse and entering the small front area where one car had parked. This was wonderful to see a somewhat hidden gem compared to the appearance of lavish mansions on the Avenue de Champagne, which have their own way about them (not to mention amazing chalk caves). It was all very casual as we arrived, and knocked on the front door of the house. The winery operation across the way was sparsely populated, and we wondered whether we should have tried another door, when we were greeted. A quick bit of confusion as to booking times was sorted out and we were welcomed into a small dining room fit for 20 people or so, with cabinets decorating the surrounds, and two desks at the front of the room for administration. I admired the small but efficient operation as a group of people had almost finished a tasting as we arrived.

Bouzy and its surrounds is known for its wonderful Pinot Noir production but also the sizeable Grand Cru plots in the area. The grapes of the region evoke wonderful clarity of expression, as well as finesse and elegance, and having read so much about the region and its strengths, no time was wasted in first assessing the Cuvee Brut Reserve. Like all the wines by Paul Bara, the Brut Reserve Non Vintage is strongly led by Pinot Noir, at 80%, followed by Chardonnay at 20%. It has a soft, pale straw colour, and on the nose has a refined clarity as well as a beautiful wafting bouquet, with warm notes of white flesh fruit and soft pear skin, as well as soft underlying citrus zest. Immediately the wonderful texture is apparent, with crisp acidity and a standard dosage making this a standout, medium-plus bodied aperitif. This champagne has a longer than usual finish, and rich but clean mouthfeel with hints of buttered toast. It almost fizzed with soft strawberry and candied cherry notes, a nod toward the sweet jammy sensation of the Pinot Noir. This is really a very strong entry level champagne, and strongly recommended. 94 points (18/20).

Next was the non-vintage rosé, the Grand Rosé de Bouzy. This wine holds identical percentages of Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%) to the Cuvee Brut Reserve, however in a strange mathematical calculation, contains an additional 12% of Bouzy Rouge. The addition of the Bouzy Rouge really gives this wine something special, as it is a local specialty and also is known to be very delicate and refined. The colour of the Grand Rosé de Bouzy was a light strawberry, as far away from the pink of most rosés as a champagne house can get. The red strawberry tint is really rather hard to explain, except that if you were to identify the strawberry colour change towards the top of the strawberry (towards where it turns white), you’d be very close. On the nose, the wine is clear mixed berries and candied sugar with an almost toffee-like textural aroma, verging on very sweet candy. It has the delicacy of the Bouzy Rouge underscoring its more upfront smells. It has a high and bouncy mousse, and the bead of bubbles is persistent and lovely. To the taste, the wine maintains its sweet candy character, and almost verges on sherbet, with a medium body. The dosage contributes to this, but also the Bouzy Rouge with its texture. The wine evolved slightly to crushed raspberries and mixed berries, particularly strawberry. Our host commented that this might be a lady’s favourite, and I’m not sure what part of this wine she referred to, however it seemed to be slightly less impressive than the Cuvee Brut Reserve. 92 points (17.5/20).

Following the first two non-vintages, we began tasting the vintage champagnes of Paul Bara. The first of these was the Brut Millesime 2005, almost a Blanc de Noirs at 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. This wine is full-bodied and is an intense, deep gold colour, akin to what gold-coated straw would look like. This vintage is a late disgorgement from October 2013, and I felt extremely privileged to taste it. It is a wonderful, wonderful champagne, composed with all the elegance, refinement and gorgeous finesse that one expects from vintage champagne. Although 2005 is less hailed than 2004 as a strong vintage, this wine throws that idea right out the window. Its bead of bubbles is fine and persistent, and smells of attractive depth containing brioche, toast, soft creamy nuts like cashews, with warm hay and straw aromas rolling on the nose. To the taste, this wine sings. Lemon zest, Granny Smith apples and soft flowers join the chorus with brioche, nutty creaminess and warmth - really incredible warmth. The acidity is revealed in the apples, which keeps the warmth from becoming a lazy covering on the mid-palate. The finish of this wine went for almost a minute, and as it warmed in the glass, became richer and less zesty. The full brilliance of the grapes, with their quality and blend, becomes readily apparent and is a reminder not to serve vintage champagnes too cold at home. 10-12 degrees Celsius is recommended. This wine is super-impressive now, and will go another 5 years. 95 points (18.5/20).

Next we entered the realm of the Special Club wines, in unique, broader-based bottles and with different labels to the rest of the portfolio (excepting the Comtesse Marie de France which was unavailable for our visit). The Special Club wines are made in small quantities (around 2,500 bottles), and are doubly-tested by oenologists and experts before being admitted to the ‘Special Club’ of only a handful of champagne houses. The Special Club 2004 is intended to be a representation of the much-hailed 2004 vintage, and both Special Club wines are based on 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay (the largest Chardonnay representation in the house portfolio). The Special Club 2004 is intended to represent the very best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and is aged slightly longer than the Brut champagnes. This wine is strong enough to be served with food at a main meal, but to reveal its full elegance, should be served with a light meal or entrée. A light straw colour with gold Chardonnay tinges, this wine is full-bodied with a tantalizing mineral nose and persistence. In the mouth, the champagne continues its fine acid and mineral balance. It has a caressing chalkiness, adding white flesh fruits and pear skin, as well as apple skin. It has an enriching warm oak character, with the chalk underscoring the clean richness on the palate. This wine has an incredibly long finish and should not be served with food that will spoil its individuality. 94 points (18+/20).

The Special Club Rosé 2006 is a wonderful representation of the potential elegance of vintage rosé. Ironically this Special Club Rosé contains less Pinot Noir than the Non Vintage Rosé. This wine has a high and enticing mousse, one of the highest I have seen in a champagne, and perhaps was enhanced by the serving temperature of around 12-13 degrees Celsius. It was disgorged in October 2013, and is composed of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 8% Bouzy Rouge. The colour is red, bordering on orange-crimson, possessing a red heart with a sunset-coloured rim. It is full of strawberries and raspberries on the nose and palette, with slight earth and soil notes, as well as minerals and rocks on the palette. It has a toasty, smoky warmth, and slight candy or candied sugar, toffee mid-palette. The finish is long and lingering, and the Bouzy Rouge complements a seductively lush finish. This wine is also intended to be paired with gastronomic feasts and very fine main meals. 94 points (18+/20).

At the end of this tasting panel, we were surprised with the question of whether or not we would like to try the regional specialty, Bouzy Rouge, vintage 2004. I could not decline this offer and we were presented with a small glass each to sample. This Bouzy Rouge is a rich cherry colour, with apricots, spices and warmth on the nose. It is actually a tingling, appetizing warmth. On the palette, the apricots, spices and warmth continued, as well as luscious black fruits. Often with Pinot Noir I find some hints of ripe or blue-tinged fruit but this was straight black fruits such as cassis and blackberry, with some secondary passionfruit seeds. I also found notes of earthy, dry soil which whilst sounding unappetizing, was complementary to the overall impression. The wine was slightly astringent, and will go another couple of years in the bottle at its peak. 92 points (17.5/20).

I would highly recommend a visit to Paul Bara, and lap up the fantastic wines they produce, whilst also enjoying the Bouzy champagne experience and getting great value for money.

Good drinking to you,

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I think I was captured by how essentially natural or organic the whole process of winemaking is. It's farming, it's viticulture, it's weather and soil, and many more things. It's the winemaker. But after all these things, after the cap is unscrewed or the cork popped, I (and you) get to enjoy it. Then we talk about it and learn some more. Which is, I guess, the reason why you're here! Here you'll find stories, links, wine education samples and wine reviews. I am entirely independent and my wine reviews and ratings are based on my own thoughts and opinions. I accept no endorsements for products or good reviews. Enjoy! I can be reached for comments, feedback and questions at Good drinking to you! David

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