Like a Day in Heaven but on Earth...
A day in heaven at Bollinger
As previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to win the Bollinger Award last year at the Master of Wine Ceremony for the blind tasting exam. In addition to several cases of the full range of Bollinger champagne the price also included a trip to Champagne. Last week it was finally time for this trip to take place the day spent at Bollinger was a day I will remember for as long as I live. But before briefly telling you about this visit and the wines tasted here is a short overview of Bollinger.
It was founded in 1829 in Aÿ by Hennequin de Villermont, Paul Renaudin and Jacques Bollinger and the house continues to be run by members of the Bollinger family. It is actually one of very few Champagne Houses that still are family run. Roderer and Taittinger are two others but just about all the others have been bought up by big groups such as LVMH to name the major player. The house has for long had a strong relationship with the British market and became the official supplier to the British court, receiving a Royal Warrant in 1884 from Queen Victoria. In 1973 another important event helped building the Bollinger brand to what it is today; Albert R Broccoli, the producer of the James Bond film Live and let Die approached Moet & Chandon if they would like to sponsor some bottles for the filming but they declined so then Bollinger offered to send some bottles instead. This was a very beneficial relationship and still today there is a strong link between James Bond and Bollinger. All this to prove that if the Queen of England and James Bond drinks Bollinger it must be pretty amazing, and it sure is (tasting notes and scores to follow).
Production: 3 million bottles per year (reputation has it the each year 7 million bottles of Dom Perignon is produced each year, just to put it into perspective…)
They make 6 different Champagnes: Special Cuvée, Rosé, Bollinger Grand Année, Rosé Grand Année, Bollinger R.D (late disgorgement) and the legendary Vielle Vignes Francaises.
They own 165 ha of mostly 1ere and Grand Cru vineyards and this covers 65% of their yearly need in terms of grape supply. The rest is bought in from growers with whom they have a long standing relationship, a model that is classic in Champagne.
Although they are not organic Bollinger have a strong link with sustainability and was one of the first companies signing the sustainability certification in Champagne. No insecticide or weed killer are used.
A particularity for Bollinger is the fermentation and ageing of the wine in oak barrels and also the ageing of the reserve wine in magnums (reserve wines is older wines one add to the non-vintage blend to add complexity and create a consistent house style year after year). They have over 300 000 magnums of reserve wines which they age for between 5 and 15 years. To age the reserve wines in magnums is unique to Bollinger and they believe it has great impact on the style and quality of their wines.
So, back to the magical day and the wines.
We arrived at Bollinger at 9h30 and to my delight the parking was just next to the legendary tiny vineyard Clos Saint Jacques which provides the Pinot Noir grapes for one of the most expensive and rarest Champagne available Vielle Vignes Francaises, just seeing this vineyard had already made my day! But of course this was just the beginning, we were then received by the cellar master Gilles Decotes and went up to see the vineyards. Then through kilometers of cellars with countless bottles of Champagne, barrels and even an in-house cooperage, something I found very impressive. After a few hours of highly technical information (too detailed for the purpose of this website) it was time for tasting.
Special Cuvée (non-vintage): The expression of the Bollinger house style. This classic Champagne blend uses grapes from a given year, with the addition of reserve wines (up to 40%). Composition: 60% Pinot noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier. A non-vintage rosé is also made.
Special Cuvée: Elegant, ripe and toasty aromas of baked apple pie and floral under tones. Palate is broad with a richness and broad firm structure. Crisp firm acidity and beautifully balanced. Broad firm finish. 89 points
Bollinger Rosé: Aromas of soft faint red fruit, brioche and oat meal. Creamy, toasty broad palate with broad crisp acidity. Firm structure and a rich vinosity. 90 points
Grande Année (vintage): When there is an exceptional year, Bollinger will produce their prestige Champagne Grande Année designed to express the character of the vintage. This Champagne is also available as a Rosé. The wine spends five years on its lees which gives the wine a very toasty/ brioche character. Composition: 65% Pinot noir and 35% Chardonnay).
2005 Grand Année: A bit closed at first with a slightly tight opening eventually disclosing white fresh almonds, green apples, toast and honey. Palate is concentrated, dense and firm with a broad crisp acid and palate. Ling rich finish and length. 92 points
2005 Grand Année Rosé: Generous and open with exotic red fruit and brioche. Broad concentrated silky palate, balanced broad and firm acidity with a mineral back bone. A very serious wine with excellent palate length and finish. 93 points
R.D. (vintage): This can be seen as a second release of the Grand Année, taken further by extending the aging on lees. R.D. spends eight years on its lees instead of 5. R.D. is a registered trademark of Bollinger which stands for récemment dégorgé ("recently disgorged").
R.D 2002: A powerful and masculine wine with power and elegance at the same time. Smoky, mineral and toasty aromas is mélange with ripe baked apples and honey. Very complex and intriguing. Palate is equally powerful and broad, almost Montrachet like with fabulous concentration and richness. Never-ending finish. 95 points
Vieille Vignes Françaises (vintage): Regarded as Bollinger's prestige cuvee is one of the finest Champagnes available. It is a blanc de noirs (made of only black grapes) made in small quantity with wine from two small plots of ungrafted rootstock. Only around 4000 bottles are produced the years when it is considered suitable.
VVF 2002 - Only tasted this once and I agree with Robert parker who writes far better than me - Robert Parker: "Bollinger’s 2002 Brut Vieilles Vignes Francaises isn’t really Champagne, nor is it a wine. Rather it is an extraordinary and frankly addicting concoction all its own. Endowed with the most refined mousse imaginable and endless layers of fruit, the 2002 VVF captivates both the hedonistic and intellectual senses to the fullest. Waves of subtle red fruit, smoke, mint and incense appear to be virtually endless, but at the same time, it is the wine’s textural richness that stands out the most. With time in the glass the 2002 just gets better and better. Readers fortunate to have the discretionary income needed to purchase the 2002 VVF should not hesitate. It is a once in a lifetime treat for most mortals"! 98 points
Coteaux Champenois La Côte aux Enfants (vintage): This still red wine is produced from grapes grown on the south-facing slope of the 100% echelle vineyard, the Côte aux Enfants in Aÿ, it is like a fine Chambolle Musigny but more slender and cooler in style, and gain very rare.
2009 La Côte aux Enfants: A tender delicate nose of cranberries, soft forest floor and mushrooms, elegant and feminine. Palate is slender and fine with silky structure and a lovely red fruit core balanced by the crisp acidity and finegraned tannins. Somewhat translucid and very fine. 90 points
And after a lovely lunch received my beautiful shiny Bollinger Medal from M. Etienne Bizot, quel honneur!
Thank you Bollinger!