Pannier is a Champagne brand that belongs to the group of Champagne cooperatives called Covama, and whose other brands include Jacquart, Collet and Montaudon. I have always considered the wines of Pannier, which is based in Château-Thierry, to be, overall, the best of this bunch and a recent visit there showed me also that, thanks to Jean-Noël Pfaff, their director (who is also an oenologist) and their recently retired chef de cave, that this brand is also capable of creativity in a universe that often contents itself with repetition.
I did not taste the full range on this occasion but a very good and unusually fullsome extra-brut, before dining with two remarkable rosés that really stand out for me. Why? Firstly because they dare to use a full rosé colour, and not just that insiped wishy-washy off-white tone that passes for rosé these days. But with the increased colour comes also greater depth of flavours and structure, to the point where these wines have truly been designed to accompany a full meal that can include meat dishes. One of them, named Rubis Velours, dosed as a brut at around 9 grams, was matched with a T-bone steak and it worked very well. Of course the acidity of a Champagne makes good sense with anything fatty, but there was more to this combination (that would surpise many) that just an acid/fat balancing act. The depth of flavours of this Champagne responded perfectly to the meat, and the slight tannic structure, perceptible when the wine was tasted alone, was entirely foiled by the saltiness of the meat.
I actually would have preferred to try the second rosé, called Rosé Velours, and dosed as a Sec (so probably around 15 grams) with the meat dish rather than with a dessert that was too sweet and creamy for it. Tasted on its own, this wine, with its intense flavours of strawberries and cherries, also showed a subtle touch of tannin on the finish. Deliciuous with many cheeses I expect, or slightly spicy food.
Tasting notes when tasted alone
Pannier Rubis Velours Brut (60% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier vinified as white, then blended with 30% red wine from Champagne)
The colour is medium-deep for a rosé, with a distinct orange tinge to it. The nose has smoky overtones to a base of strawberry jam. Very savoury on the palate, which finishes with a slight touch of tannins that tingle the tongue and which are quickly absorbed by anything salty. Very good.
Pannier Rose Velours Sec (70% Pinots Noir + Meunier, 30% Chardonnay)
There must also be a good proportion of red wine in this although the fact sheet that I was given does not show this. In any case the colour is even deeper than that of the Rubis Velours: I would have inversed their names in fact as this one has a true ruby hue to it, rather like that of a Tavel or a Bordeaux Clairet. The dosage works well and might have been taked further to the demi-sec level if this was designed to match desserts. Perconally I wouldn’t hesitate to try it with meat dishes as it shows great intensity of flavours alongside the natural freshness inherent in a Champagne. Unusual and excellent.
So yes, one can be creative in Champagne, even when this means revisiting, with modern means, styles of the past. One should remember that, prior to the instauration of the Champagne appellation as from 1927, some sparkling Champagnes were in fact red and not just rosé or white. Congratulations to Pannier for this piece of daring. And yes, Champagne with meat works!
It is also worth noticing that Pannier has had the intelligence to use dark bottles to protect the wines. Why on earth do some producers put their Champagnes into clear glass when they must surely know that exposure to strong light with any blue content will quickly ruin their wine?