August is Champagne month in the Voss tasting room. I taste upwards of 300 wines from late July through August, with reviews and scores for publication in the December issue of Wine Enthusiast.
Being Champagnes, these bottles represent the finest sparkling wines in the world (sorry, other regions). Scores chart regularly in the upper 90s. So, a wine has to stand head and shoulders above the rest to receive a coveted 100-point score.
Terroir, climate, soil and the blend of grapes are what make Champagne so special. And in 2020, one wine brought all those elements together in a glorious amalgam: Philipponnat’s 2010 Clos des Goisses Extra Brut.
To analyze this Champagne’s greatness, let’s start with its terroir. Clos des Goisses is a special vineyard. It spans 14 acres of an extraordinarily steep, almost sheer, drop to the Marne Valley from the Montagne de Reims.
It’s south-facing and creates grapes that are especially rich and full. The vines are planted on a chalk subsoil, perfect for the minerality that gives Champagne its grip and texture. And the vineyard of old vines is a blend of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay.
I have stood at the base of the vineyard, on the narrow road that runs along the base of the vines, and marveled at the sheer stamina that must go into working those rows. And then I have moved into the Philipponnat winery almost next door in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ to taste with Charles Philipponnat, the 16th generation to head the house.
Philipponnat 2010 Clos des Goisses Extra Brut (Champagne); $386, 100 points
This famed Champagne comes from one of the steepest vineyards in the whole region, facing across the Marne river. With a blend of 71% Pinot Noir and 29% Chardonnay, the densely textured wine shows great richness, a magnificent sense of place and structure. This is a very fine wine, a monument among Champagnes, one that will age for many more years. Drink through 2030. Cellar Selection.
Single-vineyard Champagnes are significant in the annals of the region, and I have recognized and rewarded others in the past. This is because most Champagne, even if it comes from a grower, is a blend across different vineyards: some great, others less so. The most familiar big names are even blends of grapes from different sub-regions of Champagne.
So, to drill down to one vineyard is an event. It gives grapes that “are both fresh and rich, pure and complex at the same time,” says Thomas Jorez, export director at Philipponnat. “Powerful yet elegant. Profound yet mineral.”
What I found in this great Champagne was intensity, a monumental richness that set it apart. It stands in a line of great vintages—Clos des Goisses is always vintage-dated— that goes back to 1998.
Quantities are limited and depend on the vintage. A production of 25,000 bottles is massive. In 2010, there were a mere 10,000 bottles.
According to Jorez, the selection was strict because some of the elements seemed too lean at the blending stage. Now, having tasted the bottled wine after 10 years, “we are sorry we didn’t make more,” he says.
There it is: a special, limited-production Champagne from a special vineyard. Sometimes the planets align and the two come together into a wine that says more than Champagne. It says great wine, from a great place. And it’s worth 100 points.