NV Champagne Raymond Boulard Petraea XCVII - MMIII, $38, Imported by Selected Estates of Europe. Thank goodness that wine is not priced strictly according to quality (or my sense of it, anyway). If it were, Boulard's Petraea would cost far more than $38. Think of all of the insipid Champagne out there that costs way more than $38. I prefer this to any other Champagne of equal price that I've tasted, and it's better than many vintage wines that cost twice as much money. And I'm not even crazy about this particular version of the wine! Raymond Boulard's wines (now made by Francis Boulard) are a truly fantastic value in Champagne.
The Boulard estate is located in Cauroy-lès-Hermonville, even further north than Chartogne-Taillet in the Montagne de Reims. It would not be unfair to say that Boulard is in the middle of nowhere. Just goes to show that skill and dedication in the vineyards and winery are every bit as important as prime real estate when it comes to making great wine.
ChampagneGuide.net offers a complete description of Boulard's history, vineyard and cellar work, and you should subscribe if you haven't already done so, and check it out. I will, with Peter's permission, re-print his explanation of Petraea from the Boulard producer page:
Petraea is an unusual wine made in a “perpetual cuvée” (a term that Boulard prefers to “solera”), begun in 1997. The name Petraea refers to the type of oak that the barrels used for this wine are made from, and the final blend contains about 60 percent pinot noir, with the remainder equally divided between chardonnay and meunier. It’s neither filtered nor fined, and it’s bottled at a slightly lower pressure (five bars rather than six), “due to its vinous character,” says Boulard.I drank Petraea XCVII - MMII last summer and loved it, as I have loved every Boulard wine I've tried so far. And so I decided not to be frightened by MMIII, even though it features grapes from the roasting-hot 2003 vintage. But as usual, only 25% of the current vintage's grapes are blended in Petraea, the balance being a blend of wines from 1997 through, in this case, 2002.
MMIII most definitely showed the hot muscle-car character of 2003, although it retained it's elegant side too. It is not as good as MMII, and I imagine that it is not as good as MMIV, which I have not tasted. But it is very good wine, with a broad and rich marzipan fragrance and a deliciously juicy palate that remains mostly in control, with ripe fruit, rhubarb, more marzipan, and decent acidity. This is not an elegant wine, but it has a mature and refined character on the nose, and although the palate feels overly exuberant at times, it is always tasty and a pleasure to drink. Perhaps not a wine to go deep on in the cellar, but without question a wine to buy if you see it, and one to enjoy in the next few years. This is a wine that I think would pair well with the boldest of foods in unorthodox ways. I'm thinking...wait for it...herbed roast leg of lamb. Lamb and white bean soup with grilled buttered bread. Lamb, at a minimum.