We live in an era when branding is king, and the major Champagne houses have mastered the art better than most: Krug, Roederer, Moët and Taittinger are now household names. At the same time there is almost universal sympathy for the underdog, and grower Champagne—sometimes the product of family-owned micro-producers—has stormed the market over the past decade. It also turns out there’s a middle ground between the two extremes.
Champagne Palmer began in 1947 as a venture among seven winegrowers who owned Premier and Grand Cru vineyards in the Montagne de Reims. In a story similar to Nicolas Feuillatte, they gradually morphed into a brand. Palmer purchased cellars in Reims in 1959 and expanded their holdings two decades later. Today they control nearly 500 acres of choice vineyard land, and source grapes from all over the region.
Visitors to the websites of Champagne houses are accustomed to poetic prose, but Palmer goes the extra mile. They describe “balance and elegance” as the house style and declare they are combining “technical precision with harmony” for “the art of creating emotions.” They stress the quality of their vineyard sites, the importance of blending, and the unusual solera system (imported from the Sherry region of Spain) that lends depth and spice to their reserve wines.
When you taste the wines, the poetry makes sense. Palmer Brut Reserve ($45) is aged for four years in bottle on the lees (the minimum aging requirement is 18 months). The result is a wine with a fragrant nose of citrus, vanilla and honey. In the mouth, the 50-55% Chardonnay in the blend comes through with fresh flavors of lemon, lime and a touch of poached pear; the black grapes and 30-35% reserve wines add underpinning and structure. Vibrant acidity keeps the flavors alive on a long and persistent finish, with echoes of Meyer lemon on the extreme length. This Champagne will not only make a charming aperitif, but also pair well with a range of light dishes from shellfish to river fish.
Palmer Blanc de Blancs ($80), composed of 100% Chardonnay and aged five years prior to release, is best described as lyrical. A yeasty, brioche-scented nose is followed by a wine with an expansive, creamy mouth feel and classic flavors of citrus, melon, apple and pear. Once again, the acidity takes control in the mid palate and amplifies those flavors onto the finish. While the food pairings are self-evident (oysters, Dover sole and white meats in simple sauces), the wine wouldn’t be out of place on Valentine’s Day with the one you love.
Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He has written several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is available on amazon.com; his second novel, The American Crusade, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is due out in the spring.