March 18, 2011

Where’s my Bolly boy?

Yesterday, I was given the full Bollinger experience in honour of ‘Special Cuvee’s 100th Birthday. And what an honour it was…. I picked up a some excellent snippets about this Champagne House that I had not previously known & enjoyed tasting my way through their range.

Being Champagne, these guys love to celebrate. After all, the whole reputation of Champagne has been cleverly built so that we now have a Pavlovian response -when we think of celebrations : popping sounds & bubbles dance in our head. Almost from the first, it was a wine that was associated with royalty however, it was King Edward VII who piqued my interest.  He was the one who affectionately called Bollinger ‘Bolly’ and even.. and this is the part I particularly love… had someone specifically to make sure he always had some Bolly at the appropriate time – the Bolly Boy.  Now we should all have one of them!!!!

So, it has been 100 years since the Non-Vintage was renamed Special Cuvee so as not to unwittingly & mistakenly convey a lower quality message. It has also been 50 years since at the launch of Bollinger RD, Madame Lily Bollinger famously said, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad…..”.   And the Bollinger RD is certainly just cause for celebration.

The Bollinger RD 1997 was disgorged in July 2010 and consequently is incredibly fresh for a wine of its vintage displaying generous freshly cooked brioche, stonefruit, almonds and baked apple characters.  As an additional treat, we got to taste the Bollinger RD 1988 (disgorged in 2000)which was looking stunning.

In keeping with the philosophy for keeping the vintage / non-vintage distinction in the background, the vintage wines produced by Bollinger are known as La Grande Annee. Many other Champagne marques have names for their ultra premium wines which is usually a tier above their Vintage offering. In effect, Bollinger only has a non-vintage & a vintage offer – the RD being exceptional vintages of Grande Annee with a later disgorgement date.  This approach makes a very accessible & easy-to-understand brand tiering for us to remember.

There is a La Grande Annee Rose which is textural & fine, but I really enjoyed the purity of the fruit at the core of the Bollinger NV Rose.  The nose is rich in strawberry & raspberry aromas with a dollop of cream. It is crisp with sweetly ripe fruit that lingers.  This is made for fun drinking with a sense of pink style.

The focus of the tasting, however, was the Bollinger Special Cuvee. The Bollinger house style has some tautness to keep the generosity in check. It is an elegant Champagne style that is fresh & creamy rather than flamboyant & fleshy – maybe more Juliette Binoche than Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Did you know that Bollinger also release a still Pinot Noir? Only 200 cases of the La Cote aux Enfants are made in a vintage, so this is exclusive Grand Cru stuff and is appropriately priced. It has been produced for at least the past 100 years, the vineyard was planted with Pinot at the start of last century, and given the same care as you would expect in a Burgundy of that caliber; green harvested to lower the yield, cold maceration for 10 – 12 days before bringing the ferment temperature up, followed by 2 years maturation in seasoned oak. In 2002, the result is a wine of brooding cherry, spice and mushroom & charcuterie savouriness. It has some of those expected velvety tannins with a firm finish. For a 2002, it is certainly looking very fresh & feisty. Some La Cote aux Enfants is added to the Grande Annee Rose for some extra charisma.

Tasting Notes:

Bollinger RD 1988 Its bronzed lemon gold colour is a little tip of the hat to the honeyed, smoky, toasted coconut hues to its apple character. The flavours were deeply resonant & lingering so that you could really take your time to get to know this wine.  Even though my preference was for the younger vintage, I certainly would not waste one drop of this one.

Bollinger RD 1997 was disgorged in July 2010 and consequently is incredibly fresh for a wine of its vintage displaying generous freshly cooked brioche, light stonefruit, almonds and baked apple characters. The base wine for this RD spent time in old oak to soften and develop without taking any oak characters & once bottled spent 8+ years on lees. Thus leaving a wine that has substance without becoming quite full bodied.  Having a lower dosage of 3 or 4 g/l sugar simply means that it is a drier style and it’s crispness leaves the palate feeling light & refreshed with the lingering flavours.

Grande Annee 2000, is 65% Pinot Noir and 100% seasoned barrel fermented.  A tricky year for Bollinger who lost 20% of the crop to hail that year.  This is a wine for those who want a fuller Champagne with its rich lemon, nutty crème brulee, coconut characters almost taking a briney note.

The Grande Annee Rose 1999 with its bronze salmon hue, is redolent with its creamy strawberry, nougat & spice character. This is a texturally round & creamy wine with lovely complexity.

Bollinger Special Cuvee – The final blend has 60% reserve wine which has been cellared in magnums under cork for up to 15 years. Made from 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay with the remainder being Pinot Meunier, it is bready with some creamy almonds & lemon biscuit.

My thanks to Bollinger & Fine Wine Partners.

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