The ugly truth is that I – quite lazily – did not really want to write about Champagne cooperative Mailly (which takes its moniker, and the fruit from its Grand Cru vineyards, from the town of the same name). In fact, I felt so lazy about it, that I employed the writer’s laziest device (the dash) in the very first sentence (shame on me!).
Founded in 1929, this mainly Pinot Noir brand of Champers is owned by twenty-five families (three of which account for more than eighty percent of the outfit overall), produces 500,000 bottles a year, and is farming from the same spots it has since the 1960s. It’s a co-op; the least sexy of Champagne’s production options from a consumer perspective.
No fancy house (though the fact that the seven floors of the co-op stretch down over twenty meters underground is pretty cool). There’s a neat little tasting room, white chalk roads, and cellars dug by hand (over a period of thirty-six years; by the company founders, mind you, and not by the Gauls).
But while Mailly might not be much in the way of looks when considered next to its more, uhm… media-friendly Champers peers, its wines give plenty of those superficially sexier houses in the region a total run for their money…
So… seriously… that’s really about it. No attempts at verbatim note-regurgitation, or not-so-vague self-congratulations disguised as wine exposition, or a showboating vocabulary display, or any other of the wine writing style hallmarks. Just the juice, baby – and the juice is worth the focus.
NV Mailly Extra Brut (Champagne, $48)
I fully dare you right now to try this zero dosage gem with seafood and not drink the sh*t out of it. You get a lot of bang for the buck with this mostly Pinot (and 24% Chardonnay) bubbly: earth, flowers, bread, citrus, fresh apples, spices, saline, and bracing acidity. Also packs a finish much longer than we’ve come to expect from under-$50 Champers. I can see oysters just thinking about this wine.
2009 Mailly L’Intemporelle Brut (Champagne, $100)
More Chardonnay (40%) gives this golden beauty a lighter color, and a lot more white flower on the nose. You also get tons of the chalk that dominates the soils of the Mailly area, along with pear, and an overall sense of a lilting, delicate dance. There’s suppleness and finesse in spades, and it’s just gorgeous when it hits your tongue.
2009 Mailly L’Intemporelle Rosé Brut (Champagne, $120)
I liked this slightly more than its non-rosé counsin (the percentages of Pinot/Chard are identical, however). There’s just a wee hint of pink to this in its hue, but on the nose there are beautiful red currant fruits, citrus rind, and flowers, and you know that you’re in rosé territory. The entry and mouthfeel are nearly identical to the L’Intemporelle, with equal loveliness. This is really like the rosé twin sister to the previous wine, though it probably prefers lobster to oysters.
NV Mailly Blanc de Noirs (Champagne, $50)
$50 for an “over-achiever?” Yeah, they’re showing off their Pinot skills with this one; get over it. This fresh, supple, fig-filled, spicy, currant-kissed winner is one of the single best examples of Blanc de Noirs I’ve ever had in the price range. The fruit gets juicy and the mousse creamy as it goes, and it cleans up the finish with minerals and saline, and does that magic trick for a good minute-plus. If I could make it my personal house-pour, I’d do it in an instant (now accepting donations for this purpose, by the way…).
2004 Mailly Les Échansons (Champagne, $130)
The vines used here are going on eighty years old, and the result of this 75% Pinot / 25% Chardonnay blend is a bubbly that’s big on the honey, bread, caramel, toast, nuts, and wax. Things broaden quickly once it’s in your mouth, filling you up with cheek-swelling ripe pear fruits, but it never loses its fresh edge. Rich, mellow, persistent, yeasty as all get out, and above all else, as indulgent as springing for the suite instead of the standard room.
2008 Mailly Les Artisques O’de Mailly Grand Cru Brut (Champagne, $90)
Anotehr 75% Pinot/25%b Chard mix, there’s a very light golden tinge to this bubbly that belies its powerful aromatic intensity: spicy pears, ginger, white flowers, butter, brioche, and earth. It’s bold, but it gets reigned in by the tension in the mouth between its ripe fruit and cream, and the focused citrus and banging acids. That focus then gains the slight edge during the long finish, which is linear, toasty, mineral, and salty. In other words, it’s f*cking excellent.
2002 Exception Blanche Grand Cru (Champagne, $80)
The only wine of the tasting lineup during my visit that’s not from Mailly; and it’s 100% Chardonnay. It’s also 100% elegant; dominated by green apple and citrus peel notes, followed by ginger, pear, toast, and a bouquet of flowers at the end. A bit of a head-fake comes on the palate, which is generous and very toasty, before piquant lemon and dusty chalk start to take things over. Then, it gets nutty, and stays that way for a long time before the finish peters out. It’s thirteen years young, and I’m not sure that a Blanc de Blancs mouthfeel gets any better than this.