Another Thursday, another IVV wine tasting with Miki-San along for the ride. Bollinger Champagne was on the docket, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Champagne House, just pop in any James Bond movie ever made and you’ll find out. Clement Ganier, the Marketing Manager at Bollinger, coordinated the tasting.
Bollinger is an internationally renowned independent Champagne house, producing pinot noir-dominated Champagne. Bollinger was founded in 1829 when Jacques Bollinger formed a partnership with the de Villermont family who had vineyards in the village of Ay, near Reims, where Bollinger is still based today. In 1865 Bollinger began shipping dry champagne to Great Britain and by 1884 Bollinger became the official provider to Queen Victoria.
After the Second World War, under the rein of widow Elizabeth “Lily” Bollinger, the company’s holdings had reached 144 hectares and by Lily’s death in 1977, she had seen sales double to 1 million bottles per year. Lily was a strong believer in the traditional style of Bollinger Champagne, which was focused on the pinot noir grape and used strictly the “cuvée” first press juice. The soon-to-be Champagne was vinified going through up to 100% of the first fermentation in oak barrels. Additionally, and also uncommon, the bottles were stoppered with natural cork, rather than crown caps, after the addition of the “tirage”. These practices are still adhered to today. And in the case of the top vintage labels “La Grande Année” and “R.D.” (‘Recently Disgorged’), the Champagne is aged for a minimum of 5 and 8 years, respectively, in contact with the lees, thus affected by autolysis. Vieille Vignes Françaises is Bollinger’s rarest label, which is a Blanc de Noirs made from ungrafted vines, located behind the headquarters in Ay, that were not affected by phylloxera.
Under the control of Lily’s nephew Christian Bizot, Bollinger responded aggressively to the calls of critics in the 1990s. Christian issued the Bollinger Charter of Ethics and Quality, establishing clear conditions on production and upholding quality and the family name. Christian Bizot’s nephew, Ghislain de Montgolfier, took over from 1994 to 2008. Ghislain’s son Etienne also works for the House. In 2008, for the first time in the history of Bollinger, control shifted to someone outside of the family, as Jérôme Philipon stepped up to the throne.
Today Bollinger is a huge conglomerate, A.K.A. Societé Jacques Bollinger, owning stakes in Langlois Chateau in Saumur, Tapanappa in South Australia, Delamain Cognac, and Champagne Ayala, as well as some distributors and shippers. Bollinger Champagne owns 160 hectares of vineyards for Champagne production, and produces 1.2 million bottles per year. As a quick point of reference, the total Champagne production worldwide, including all producers, is 300 million bottles.
(Reference: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, Jancis Robinson)
Spécial Cuvée NV
Blend: 60% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay, 15% pinot meunier
Vinification: 80% Grand and Premier Crus vineyards, aged for 3 years, 7-9 g/l dosage of sugar
Tasting Notes: Light golden honey in the glass. Aromas of grilled toast, light raspberry, apples and nuts. A light, dry wine with a biting acidity and a smooth texture. There are flavors of orange, lemon, grapefruit, and subtle apricot. 12.5% ABV
Spécial Cuvée Rosé NV
Blend: 62% pinot noir, 24% chardonnay, 14% pinot meunier
Vinfication: 80% Grand and Premier Crus vineyards, aged for 3 years, 10 g/l dosage
Tasting Notes: Pink copper in the glass. Aromas of doughy baked bread, raspberry and very light fig. A dry, balanced, fruity wine with pronounced strawberry and more subtle orange flavors. 12.5% ABV
Rating: 14/20 (WS 88)
1999 La Grande Année Brut
Blend: 63% pinot noir, 37% chardonnay
Vinification: 82% Grand Crus and 18% Premier Crus vineyards, first fermentation 100% in oak barrels, aged for 5 years, 7-9 g/l dosage
Tasting Notes: Straw yellow in the glass. Toast, spice, vanilla and raspberry on the nose. A medium-bodied, dry wine with a balanced acidity and a creamy texture in the mouth. There are flavors of toast with a strong mid palate of apple, followed by citric and peach. 12% ABV
Rating: 16/20 (WS 94)
1997 R.D. Extra Brut
Blend: 65% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay
Vinification: 75% Grand Crus and 25% Premier Crus vineyards, first fermentation 100% in oak barrels, aged for 8 years, 3-4 g/l dosage
Tasting Notes: Golden honey in the glass. Aromas of raspberry, baked bread and dough. A medium-bodied wine with a balanced acidity. Granny Smith apples dominate the palate, accompanied by juicy citric flavors. 12% ABV