While production is tiny, Champagne lovers are always alert to new releases of Bruno Paillard’s Nec Plus Ultra or, as it says on the label, NPU, this exacting house’s prestige cuvée.
Challenging himself to make the ultimate Champagne, Bruno Paillard came up with the seven principles that are applied to every NPU release: The wine must be made only in great vintages, from grand cru vineyards, and from the first pressing only; the base wines should be barrel-fermented; and the wine should age for a decade on lees, then be disgorged with an extra-brut dosage and have at least one further year of post-disgorgement aging. So far, so theoretical, because the practice of this endeavor is always delicious and outstanding—especially when the vintage in question is 2008 and the wine is the even rarer NPU Rosé.
Its 2008 white counterpart is only the eighth vintage of NPU since its inception. Preceded by the 1990, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003, and 2004, the 2008 was released in October 2021—a wine of immense elegance, precision, and longevity. The 2008 NPU Rosé, presented to a small circle of journalists at the Paillard family home in Reims in October 2023, is only the third pink NPU to have been made and only the second to see release. Paillard made his first attempt at a pink NPU in 2003, a tentative debut with a tiny release. His daughter, Alice Paillard, reveals that a 2004 was also bottled. “We made an NPU Rosé in 2004,” she says, “but very much like the 2003, it was a trial, made in minuscule quantities and way too limited to be officially launched.” She then adds, “For now, it is kept in our collection library, from where it may be released at some point in the future.” The decision to release the 2008 Rosé now, from what her father calls “pretty much the perfect year,” followed the realization that “NPU is a slow wine by definition and needs time,” as Alice states. “The 2008 vintage in particular required all the more rest. But when we retasted the NPU Rosé in early March this year, it felt right.”
More than the ultimate
Like every NPU, the 2008 Rosé is made from equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, sourced from the grands crus of Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Cramant, Verzenay, Mailly-Champagne, and Bouzy. Bouzy also provided the red Coteaux Champenois that lent the pink hue to the wine, even though the proportion of red wine added is not disclosed. Only 1,304 bottles were made, and they spent 12 years on lees before being disgorged in February 2022, with a dosage of 3g/l.
It turns out, however, that NPU is even more than what Bruno and Alice Paillard consider the ultimate expression of Champagne. On the back label, the opening statement made me wonder: “Née du désir de transmitter les arômes si particuliers de Grands Champagnes d’autrefois…” So, is NPU also about reviving an older idea of Champagne? Is it about memory? Was Bruno harking back to rounder, richer styles? I ask Alice, who gives this compelling answer: “It all comes down to a memory my father has of a bottle of very old Champagne that had been walled up for protection during the war and was much later retrieved. In truth, the term autrefois is not completely accurate. If we allow ourselves the luxury of being as precise as we are in our wines, we should really talk about Champagnes that transcend time and space. Going back to this extraordinary Champagne my father once had, it was close to a century old and evidently very different from the wine it had been when first bottled. For me, it really is this character that I want NPU to retain:its capacity to withstand the test of time and to exceed itself.”
2008 Bruno Paillard NPU Rosé
An initial whiff of smoke dissipates to reveal a nose that holds creamy notions of strawberry pavlova, with rosehip overtones and a rich backing of golden, buttery shortcrust pastry. After time in the glass, there is even a suspicion of licorice. Despite this aromatic opening, the palate plunges into deepest chalk. Minuscule bubbles create a creamy foam that underlines a certain generosity, roundness, and ripeness of fruit but still pursues the essential linearity of the vintage. There is both expansion and direction, a stony, profound core veiled in gentlest, softest, creamy foam and subtle berry. This is a contradiction of sorts, but one that resolves into chalky, fruity depth. 96