Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Philipponnat’s 1999 and 1998 Clos des Goisses

I had the opportunity on Friday to compare several recent vintages of one of my very favorite champagnes, Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses. Arguably the finest vineyard site in the region, the Clos des Goisses is a steep, fully south-facing slope in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ that has been owned by Philipponnat since 1935, producing an intensely minerally wine that often requires decades to reach maturity.

The current release, 1999, is surprisingly forward and fruity for a Clos des Goisses, reflecting the open, generous character of that vintage. At the same time, there’s a tension and grip on the mid-palate that still requires some time to resolve, and I would not hesitate to put this in the cellar for another ten years or more. As with many 1999s, its transformation over the aging process has been more dramatic than usual. “It was a bit disappointing in the beginning, but it’s aging very well,” says Charles Philipponnat. “It remains very pure and it has gained weight with age. I think it’s a vintage that will continue to age in a very noble way.” The saline minerality typical of the Clos is very evident on the finish, expanding with subtle, quiet grace and becoming increasingly more pronounced as the wine gains air in the glass. As with any young Clos des Goisses, I would decant this if I were drinking it now.

Due to its softer structure and more approachable fruit character, relatively speaking, the 1999 was released before the 1998, which is due to arrive in the marketplace sometime over the next few months. The 1998 is full, fragrant and complex, with creamy aromas of marzipan, tangerine peel and blanched almond. Tethered by a firm, dense structure, it feels concentrated and textural while possessing a phenomenal sense of balance and focus, staining the palate in long, vividly aromatic length. It’s already so expressive and harmonious despite being still an adolescent, and I think that the 1998, along with the 1995, will turn out to be the finest Clos des Goisses of the decade. Not to take anything away from any of the other vintages, but both the 1998 and 1995 have an extra dimension and extra bit of completeness that sets them apart. (Incidentally, there has been a Clos des Goisses produced in every single vintage since 1988, which attests to the quality of this special site.)

As good as these vintages are, Clos des Goisses promises to become even better in the future, as Charles Philipponnat continues to refine the house’s methods and winemaking. The new winery in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, completed in 2004, has made a significant difference in the quality of the wines, as demonstrated by the last couple releases of Brut Royale Réserve — the current offering, based on the 2005 vintage, is the finest I can ever remember tasting from Philipponnat.

Yesterday, I returned to Mareuil to taste the 2007 vins clairs just before they are bottled later this week. I had tasted several components of the 2007 Clos des Goisses back in November, when it was still angular and wound-up, but now as a final blend, the wine is utterly magnificent, with detailed, elegant depth and an incredibly long and complex finish that could rival a top-class grand cru Burgundy. We won't see this again for another ten years, but I can hardly wait.


J David Harden said...

If you don't mind slightly off-point question about drinking windows... when you start pouring the 1997?
David Harden

(who finally got his own gmail account and so can stop using his daughters')

J David Harden said...

And who also seemed to have left off a conditional verb. "When WOULD you start..."

Peter Liem said...

The last time I tasted the 1997 was at this tasting in London last November. It was already quite open and deliciously accessible (for a Clos des Goisses, anyway), although it should continue to develop, of course. In previous tastings of the '97 I've found a very intense depth on the finish which seems very promising for the future, as well as superb length -- perhaps the longest length of any '97 I can remember. I always think that Clos des Goisses shouldn't be touched until at least 15 years after the vintage. But I'm willing to drink it at any point in its life. Strictly for professional reasons, I assure you....

J David Harden said...

Who could doubt your professional commitment?


Craig Camp said...

I am so happy to hear that Philipponnat is back on the road to quality. I had wonderful wines from them in the 80's, particularly the Clos du Goisses, but then quality seemed to suffer. I will definitely pick up some to try again.

It is always so hard to know if it is the house that has gone down in quality or if the importer is just not taking proper care in shipment and storage of the wines.

Peter Liem said...

Hello Craig,

Yes, Philipponnat did have a bleak period. The Clos des Goisses was always solid, but the rest of the range dropped a little in quality. Their renewed vigor can be attributed to the arrival of Charles Philipponnat in 1999 — he's taken steps across the board to increase quality, and he's putting the house on track to become one of the finest in all of Champagne. The new winery is going to completely transform the wines (it already has, really), and each new vintage gets better and better.

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