Wed 28 Dec 2011
Among the hottest items in the hipster world of wine are “grower” or “farmer” Champagnes, that is, Champagnes made by a person or family who also grew the grapes rather than bought the grapes from other sources. The contrast is between that bucolic, artisan’s ideal and the large, established firms that purchase tons of grapes (as well as using their own vineyards) and blend dozens if not hundreds of samples to achieve a recognizable and consistent house style. The grower Champagnes, on the other hand, should, theoretically, reflect a sense of individuality and specific place, though the number of experts who could decipher a region, much less a village or actual vineyard in a glass of Champagne must be rather small. I adore both styles of Champagne, the grower or farmer versions and the house-style of the big firms. To me it’s equally satisfying to open a bottle of Pol Roger Réserve Brut and know that it will be just like all the other bottles I have opened and enjoyed or to pour a glass of a grower Champagne and savor its individual qualities. You can tell if a Champagne was made by a grower if the initials RM appear somewhere on the front or back label; RM stands for Recoltant-Manipulant, literally, “harvester-maker.” You can see that imprint in tiny type at the bottom of this label for the Paul Bara Brut Réserve, my selection for the Fourth Day of Christmas, which is also, incidentally, Childermas or the Day of the Holy Innocents, referring to the children of Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers.
The small house of Paul Bara lies in the village of Bouzy, the favorite place-name in all of winedom. In the World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised and updated edition, 2003), Tom Stevenson calls Paul Bara “one of Bouzy’s greatest Champagne growers.” I call the Paul Bara Brut Réserve “beautiful”; it’s a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards. (Winemaker is Paul Bara’s daughter Chantale.) The color is pale straw gold; a great cloudy dither of bubbles streams forcefully to the surface. This offers real grip and power yet yields lovely generosity and delicacy of detail. Amazingly clean and fresh aromas of acacia, hay and sea-salt, cloves, roasted lemon and lime peel unfold to hints of freshly baked biscuits and almonds. Huge presence and tone, staggering acidity and limestone minerality make for a compelling, dense, chewy structure, while this tensile strength feels adorned by the shimmering tinsel of steel, lemon zest and pear nectar. Deeply savory, impeccably balanced, a seamless marriage of power and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $50 nationwide, though I paid — ahem — $66 in the Bluff City, as Memphis is jocularly termed.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.