Visting Champagne…. Bollinger

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I have a confession to make, I have a massive soft spot for Bollinger.. I don’t think that is a bad thing – I have always really enjoyed the Cuvee Speciale (their non vintage Brut) while Grande Annee has for a long time been one of two Champagnes I’ve thought of as being the things I’d drink more of if I could (the other is Pol Roger Vintage). So our third day in Champagne was one of huge anticipation for me, we were going first to Bollinger and then onto Pol Roger.

What makes Bollinger the wine that it is? Well firstly they are large landowners, that gives them really good control over every aspect of production right up until it leaves the cellars (and in the UK as part owners of importer Mentzendorff they continue to have control).

Secondly they ferment their base wines in old barrels, this gives the wines a unique texture and a small degree of flavour. Being based in the Grand Cru village of Ay on the Montagne de Reims this is Pinot Noir country and the wines here tend to be around 2/3 Pinot Noir with a small % of Pinot Meunier (in Special Cuvee only) and the balance Chardonnay.

Finally the thing that was new to me, and that I haven’t seen anywhere else was the ‘library’ of reserve wines stored entirely under cork in magnums, vintage by vintage and village by village. It is an enormous undertaking, and one that requires some very significant manpower to maintain. One advantage of this is that Bollinger are able to introduce some much older elements into their NV blends bringing greater maturity and complexity – and because they are working with a high percentage of Pinot this greatly improves matters. However each magnum is sealed not with a crown top but with a cork and with this come all manner of potential problems for cork taint – as a result Bollinger employ people whose job it is to check each magnum on opening for TCA prior to blending – imagine an entire vat being affected because one magnum of reserve wines was tainted.

It’s become a bit trendy to knock Bollinger in the last year or so, which I think is a real shame, doubters talk about oxidation and Bollinger along with Selosse get the brunt of the ire of those who want it completely rules out. I happen to have really really enjoyed every bottle I’ve ever tasted of the stuff (with the single exception of a corked bottle) and the style here is one I really enjoy. If that style is offensive to some people then so be it -but as I have been keen to point out to some of the new Gin distilleries out there – being the same as everyone else isn’t going to breed any real loyalty. Having a point of difference is important.

Bollinger Special Cuvee NV

Minimum 3 years ageing on lees. 65% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier

Full bodied, rich and fragrant. Plenty of bright citrus and some subtle blackcurrant and blueberry in the background. A touch austere but I think that is a good thing. This is made with around 45% 2010, 45% 2009 and 10% reserve wines. I really love the style here although for a simple aperatif it might be a bit too full on, serve instead with mushrooms, fois grois or even cheese. 92 Points

Bollinger Rose NV

72% Pinot Noir, 26% Chardonnay

The most recent addition to the Bollinger portfolio in 2008 this is a lovely pale pink, salmon colour. The fruit is bright and fresh with good length and concentration. Really lovely fruit expression and with plenty of fragrance. 91 points

Bollinger Grande Annee 2004

So having already my colours to the mast in saying that this is one of the Champagnes I have enjoyed most in the past at tastings (sadly vintage Champagne to drink at home has always been beyond budget) was this going to live up to my expectation. Very concentrated and powerful, a touch austere and closed still there is some real development potential still in this wine. Long in the mouth, textural and powerful it is a little bit chewy. Mineral notes add lovely complexity to the fruit and savoury character. Really liked this. 94 Points

Photo by Jon Marlow http://www.marlow.me.uk

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