More from our Champgne expert Georgina Crawley, this time a quite extraordinary trip to Dom Perignon.
Being invited on any trip with LVMH is something you do not forget and last year I had the very good fortune of being invited to stay at Chateau Saran to try the release of Dom Perignon’s 2004 vintage. This grand Chateau stands in breath-taking countryside and vineyards, a privileged setting indeed in which to get to know this iconic champagne.
I came away spellbound, not only by the experience, but also with my new found understanding. Everyone should be buying vintage champagne! Why? Because, the richness and intensity of the Pinot balances beautifully with the elegance of the Chardonnay, the “˜terroir’ and weather add Mother Nature’s sparkle, but it is the prolonged lees aging that add “˜the magic’ to Dom Periginon. The creation of each vintage is unique, down to each individual bottle, one that will fascinate you with every sip, age very gracefully gaining depth, complexity and a most beguiling personal character.
Over the course of the following year, I immersed myself into tasting as many great champagnes as I could. A few iconic bottles down…. Salon 61, Krug 85, DP Oen’ 96, DP 70, to name a few……… I was absolutely delighted to get a second invite to Ch Saran, what a treat, this time to taste the release of Dom Perignon’s 1998 “˜P2′.
Dom Perignon is iconic and always will be. Yes they may belong to a big brand in LVMH, but they are still lead by a small team who care so deeply they are always looking to push themselves further and with each vintage, no matter how challenging, to reveal the wines “˜soul’, giving us the drinker a chance to experience the true character of each year.
Though the final blend varies with every vintage, they try to run with an assemblage of 50% Pinot noir and 50% Chardonnay. It is a beautiful blend of power and elegance that is always growing and evolving. The grapes come from 8 exclusive plots in Epernay; all are from Grand Cru vineyards in the Côtes des Blancs (for Chardonnay) and Montagne de Reims (for Pinot Noir), and a very special plot of Premier Cru Pinot Noir comes from within the village of Hautvillers. This blending of the very best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all coming from the most sunlit slopes, all on chalk, gives Dom Perignon its signature character.
Dom Perignon has two great men at is helm, Richard Geoffrey and Vincent Chaperon. Being in the presence of these great artist/creators is a real privilege. Every vintage is a unique way to create a new style, expression, encapsulate all the best things that nature offered up in that vintage. Holding on to this creation and developing the complexity and expression is then all about the “˜lees’ aging (how long the wine stays on the yeasts) in the natural chalk cellars.
The magic which is created from the extended lees ageing and maturation in the cool chalk cellars, gives way to three different stages of release for Dom Perignon. These late releases were once known as “˜Oenotheque’. This has now been changed to the term Plenitude, hence the “˜P’. The first Plenitude is released after 7 to 9 years of chalk cellaring, “P2″ after 12 years and “P3″ after 20 years.
Tasting in the Abbey of Hautvillers:
This was with the master himself, Dom Perignon’s chef de Cave, Richard Geoffrey. He gave us a great insight into each champagne. It was such a treat to listen and discuss the creation of each of the vintages with him.
Dom Perignon Tasting 2014:
2004 – The Dark Revelation
52% Pinot Noir, 48% Chardonnay. Taut, racy, very mineral on the nose mixed with some toast. The palate is mineral, oyster-shells, chalk and saline notes. Faint hints of white pepper mixed with blossom titillate your palate and give some citrus notes and lift. Wonderful freshness, well balanced – still extremely youthful. The finish was tight and long. Having tasted this a number of times, I can only continue to be a fan. Its development is only getting better. Highly recommended!
2003 – A year of extremes
The 2003 has lost its overt broadness and fullness since I last tasted it. The higher content of Pinot has mellowed and the elegance of the Chardonnay has come more to the fore. The palate is minerals and smoke, under which there is a brooding power yet to open out. The freshness and acidity give tension and balance. Long and dry on the finish. Still really interesting and for any collector this will be fascinating to watch evolve. RG said at the tasting, if he had had his wish, this vintage would have been held back to have been released at a later date. I can completely understand his point as this did seem to have grown into itself more.
2002 – Pure Class
This oozes class. Creamy on the nose, with hints of candied lemon and floral elegance. A complete contrast to the 03, much more delicate and feminine. The palate shows youthful fruit, with round creamy fresh almond flavours, nothing heavy here though. Notes of apricots, peaches intermingled with touches of fresh liquid honey, after time in the glass it reveals a little more opulence. Richard Geoffroy explained that this was a ripe vintage and the Chardonnay in some parts suffered dehydration and botrytis. You see the best notes of this ripeness in the fruit and the class of the terroir shows through, with the minerality and fresh acidity giving a very fine lift on the finish, which is long and lingering. This is an exceptional champagne.
1998 P2 (Second Plenitude)
This is an exciting champagne. It has lots of energy on the nose, very fresh, mineral. Still quiet taut and very racy. Lots of vitality. On the palate great freshness, creamy oyster shell minerality, citrus hints, leading to some smoky spice. This has complexity and depth; you start with notes of honeysuckle, orange rind, and toasted brioche, which then leads you to the brooding opulence of porcini and oyster mushrooms, mixed with notes of iodine and saline. This is rich without being heavy, mouth-filling, creamy and intense with precise flavours and very long on the finish. Wonderful balance. Richard Geoffroy agrees that this is one of the most overlooked vintages of Dom Perignon, as it came after the 1996.
1996 Oenotheque Disgorged, Nov 2013
Razor sharp, which is typical of the recent disgorgement. Notes of slate, lemon and pastry on the nose. Lots of tension. On the palate you have elegance and power, it is quite explosive. Lots of dark slate, citrus and pastry again, covering your palate with a delicate creaminess and smoky toast. The fruit and acidity create a tension which is quiet magical. This is powerful, intense champagne with great length, it has much to give. Magical. 1996 was not an easy vintage there was lots of dehydration in the fruit and the high acidity made this vintage very challenging. You can see Richard Geoffroy’s magic in this release of the 1996.
1990 Oenotheque Disgorged Nov 2013
Richard Geoffroy’s first vintage. This is an opulent champagne. The nose displays ripe honeydew melon, flower petals, fresh honey and apricots; this is Le Montrachet in style. The palate is complex, rich and hedonistic. Crème caramel, smoke, toast, lush and ripe. You can taste notes of botrytis. This has lots of personality, but beautifully retains its elegance; the acidity gives freshness and lift. It was a very hard vintage to make well.
Dark, brooding and very rich. The fruit displays a slight oiliness, akin to Riesling, dried porcini mushrooms, caramel, candid orange and some smokiness. Savoury notes of a salami style meatiness show through. Very mineral with moreish salty notes which make you salivate. The acidity keeps this all alive and fresh and the rich finish is long, full and lingering. This is such a wonderful example of what Dom Perignon can grow into; the complexity it gathers with age is immense. We were lucky enough to try 3 different bottles, all stunning but a different variation each time.
Dinner at Chateau Saran:
That evening we had an outstanding dinner, which Dom Perignon’s winemaker, Vincent Chaperon hosted. It was so memorable, again we were treated to his insight of the 1998 P2 and each course had been designed to match the individual nuances of the champagne beautifully. The meal was exquisite. We ended on Dom Perignon Rose 1990 Oenotheque from magnum. Quite a night!
Rose 1990 Oenotheque En Magnum
This is rich and voluptuous, the colour of papaya. More wine like, dried orange peel, roses and spice. Notes of white pepper tingle the tongue and rich savoury notes of mushroom and truffle show through. Very complex and brooding. The richness of the vintage shows, but ever typical the freshness and acidity give the deep fruit flavour lift.
We will be publishing a further set of notes from a previous tasting of a selection of these and other vintages of Dom Perignon next week.