23 Jan 2012

I see you are a connoisseur, Mr. Bond (Champagne, France - Day Two)

The weather seemed to get colder on the second day I was in Champagne, which makes it harder to acclimatise after six weeks in the South American summer. Possibly because my body is used to being in the Southern Hemisphere, I noticed the early symptoms of a cold, which I also battled with when I was in Northern USA and Canada. I was glad that I had brought my thermals with me, which I had never worn away from the snow in Australia. Some of my hosts laughed that it got much colder, but I’m not used to walking around in zero degree temperatures.

Amazing dessert at Le Table Kobus in Epernay.

Europe is undoubtedly the biggest pond in the world when it comes to wine, with vast numbers of producers in thousands of regions and appelations. Due to the fact that I am still somewhat a novice in wines produced outside of Australia, I am largely relying on my contacts back in Australia who import and distribute European wines. Relying on their expertise and experience is a fantastic resource, and is also important for when I return to Australia, as I know which wines will be in the market. It does however present problems in terms of communications. Whilst travelling in North and South America last year almost all of the appointments I made were by direct contact with the wineries. This way I knew exactly who I was meeting and had all the relevant information. It also meant I was communicating in local time. Arranging appointments via Australia is problematic due to time zone differences, and the possibility of things getting lost in translation. Over the New Year there were further complications of people in both continents being on hoidays. And so the first appointment I assumed I had on the second day was unconfirmed. Fortunately I was able to reschedule, and it meant I could relax over an amazing lunch at Le Table Kobus in Epernay, a restaurant I had visited in 2010.

The Le Table Kobus menu
It also happened that I returned to a place I had visited in 2010 in the afternoon. You don’t have to know much about wine to know that Champagne Bollinger is regarded as one of the best. Just ask James Bond, who has had a reference to Bollinger in practically every movie ever made. Eddie and Patsie from Absolutely Fabulous also enjoy a bit of Bollie. But there is a big difference between a champagne brands image, and the actual wine and house itself, something I discovered when I visited in 2010. Firstly, Bollinger is still family owned, a fact that surprised me. Secondly, the uncompromising commitment to quality is evident in everything they do. Thirdly, the unique style of the wines, something that is difficult to discover without visiting Champagne and comparing it with other houses. Finally, how important people are at Bollinger, in the past, present and future.

Bollinger, quite the name
The reason I returned to Bollinger was due to my last visit being restricted on time, and the fervour with which my host Christian and I discussed a myriad of topics. Thus we were left with about five minutes to actually taste any wines, and if you know me you know I don’t like to rush a tasting. Approaching Bollinger I passed Ayala which is part of the group and a house I had visited in 2010. It seemed like only yesterday I had parked my car next to Clos St. Jacques, and walked up the steps of the famous house on Boulevard du Marechal de Laittire de Tassigny. My host on this occasion had recently stepped into Christians large (pun intended) shoes, and being an Ay native is more than up to the daunting task. The tour was basically the same, with one small difference. On this occasion I got the opportunity to visit the cooper, who makes barrels exclusively for the house, and was awarded the cooper of the year in 2007. Barrels are such an important part of the Bollinger story it makes sense they would have a cooper of such renown full-time. My assumption is that last time he was already on holiday, as I visited in the last week of July.

The cooperage at Bollinger
Having more time to taste was wonderful, particularly considering the wines on offer. We of course began with the Special Cuvee, which is such a different non-vintage champagne from most, having significant toasty and oxidative complexity. We moved onto the recently released La Grande Annee 2002, which presents much more youthful and fresh than the Special Cuvee. Many consider the 2002 vintage as the best of the last decade, and this is certainly evident in the La Grande Annee, particularly being pinot noir led. The Rose NV was a little disappointing, being very clean and balanced but showing little character and texture. The Grande Annee Rose 2004 was very impressive, exhibiting lovely savoury elements of game, smoked salmon and delicate truffle notes. No surprising the strength of the grand cru pinot noir they are using for this wine.

The cellars of Bollinger
I had requested the opportunity to try the famous R.D. (Recently Disgorged), but didn’t expect to try the 1995 vintage. The golden colour was very noticeable compared to the other white champagnes. The way the multitude of flavours gently caressed the palate gaining momentum as it made its way back, was simply extraordinary. Poached pear combined with shitake, roasted pine nuts combined with salted pie crust. I hadn’t tried this wine before, nor had I tried any from the 1995 vintage, so it was truly a revelation. I’m not sure if this is a wine you could have very often, and not just because of the price. Whilst I admire and appreciate the level of complexity this wine has to offer, it is not necessarily what I look for in champagne. It really does speak to the quality and approach at Bollinger, something they should never change. Let’s just hope the parallel importing going on across the globe with this brand doesn’t compromise the image.

Bollinger R.D. 1997
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in Champagne, France.

No comments:

Post a Comment