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Champagne Bruno Paillard and the Château des Sarrins

text and photographs © 2003 Tom Cannavan

Part II - the Joël Robuchon dinner and Champagne Bruno Paillard

Last summer I received an invitation to spend a weekend as house guest of Bruno Paillard, at his Provence estate of Château des Sarrins. One of the undoubted highlights of the weekend (and of my year) was an extraordinary dinner, cooked by Bruno Paillard's friend and fellow house-guest, Joël Robuchon. Joël Robuchon's food is as extraordinary as it is delicious. Voted "Chef of the Century" by the French food-lover's bible, Gault-Millau, the effortless simplicity of the finished product invariably hides the mind-blowing complexity of ingredients, techniques and many, many hours of preparation that have gone before.

Joël is one of the world's greatest chefs. With his umpteen Michelin stars, hugely influential cook books and place of honour in the firmament of French culinary greats, this was a remarkable occasion and a real privilege. To accompany the food, each of five breathtaking course had been designed to match a specific Champagne from the house of Bruno Paillard. (left, Bruno & Joël enjoy an aperitif before dinner).

Robuchon's mashed potato, a dish with which he is synonymous, is really more of a potato-flavoured purée of butter and cream that goes through endless stages to arrive at an utterly irresistible, silk-textured thick sauce that is one of the most memorable dishes I have ever tasted. The first course, Le Caviar en fine gelée à la crème de chou-fleur, a cocktail glass filled with layers of caviar and mousses made from shellfish and cauliflower was jewel-like in its precision, and tasted like nothing on this earth. Another highlight was Langoustine Croustillante au basilic, where large, succulent prawns were wrapped in basil leaves and the most delicate pastry. Joël had brought the cheeses from his favourite Paris shop too. Each stage of the meal was a triumph.

One Champagne was served with each of five courses, as follows:

the menu


Le Caviar en fine gelée à la crème de chou-fleur

Langoustine Croustillante au basilic

Le Foie Gras cuit à la vapeur avec truffe et légumes mitonnés, petits oignons glacés au jus de canard et pommes purées Robuchon

Les Fromages fermiers frais et affinés

Les Fruits de la Passion avec un velouté à la vanille et un sorbet exotique

Le Fin Moka escorté de palets au café

the Champagnes

Bruno Paillard Chardonnay Reserve Privée NV
This has a welcoming, golden, glowing colour and persistent, minuscule bubbles. Lovely development on the nose, with some toasty aromas, lots of nutty autolytic notes and soft, peach and nutty cox's pippin fruit. The palate has a rolling mousse and a suggestion of sweetness through very ripe fruit. There is a weight of juicy nectarine and ripe pear, with lovely broad-based acidity and grapefruity sharpness. This is a delightful Champagne, which was a heavenly match for the creaminess of the extraordinary cauliflower cream of the dish, whilst the crisp acidity worked beautifully with the caviar. Very good indeed/excellent. Around £26.00.

Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée NV
45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier. Slightly deeper colour, with again that persistent stream of minute bubbles. There's a nettly edge here to broad, juicy, orchard fruits. On the palate a rolling mousse and plenty of yeasty complexity with earthy raspberry fruit and good acidity. Elegant and poised, this has good length and its slightly more robust fruit stood up the basil in the dish, whilst respecting the delicacy of the langoustine. Very good indeed. Around £19.99.

Bruno Paillard Brut Vintage 1995
1995 is unanimously regarded as a great vintage for Champagne. It has quite a deep colour and a steady stream of pin-prick bubbles across the glass. Toasty, deep and even a touch figgy on the nose, there's a hint of minerality with orange and grapefruit steeliness. The palate is rich, with fine mousse and deep, herbal, bracken notes. This is a lovely food wine, with plenty of savoury depth and good length. Very good indeed. Around £32.00.

Bruno Paillard Champagne N.P.U. 1990
N.P.U. stands for "Nec Plus Ultra", or "the last word": a vintage Champagne given lavish care and attention in order to create the ultimate expression of this house's style, with only juice from the first pressing of Grand Cru grapes, barrel fermentation, and release only after 10 years in Paillard's cellars. It has a deep golden colour, and massive depth of tiny bubbles. Deeply honeyed, figgy notes, with brazil nut and red fruits emerge. The palate is weighty and expansive, with nutty qualities, a rich mousse, and a keen raspberry edge to the fruit. It is very elegant, with a distinct orangy acidity and lovely length hinting at toasty depth and layered fruit. Will improve. Very small quantities available from Bibendum at £65.

Bruno Paillard Rosé Premiere Cuvée NV
85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay. Lovely salmon pink with a touch of bronze, and plenty of tiny bubbles. Fine, earthy, very Pinot nose with berries and hints of truffle before a sweeter profile of red summer fruits emerges, even a touch of parma-violet. On the palate it is clean and fresh, with raspberry fruit and a core of citrus acidity. That hint of earthy roughness shows up again in the finish, adding depth. A lovely Champagne and great match with the precise fruit flavours of the dessert. Very good indeed/excellent. Around £23.00.

I would like to thank Bibendum, Bruno Paillard and Joël Robuchon for making this such a sensational few days in Provence.

For all stockists of Paillard Champagnes, see wine-searcher.com.

go back to part I - the Château des Sarrins, Provence