Tag Archives: Bollinger

Bollinger – A Visit to the Legendary Champagne House

Emerging from the forested hilltop of Montagne de Reims, the heartland of the Champagne region unfurls itself before you. The reveal is gradual and, as you’d expect from this most famous of wine regions, not without elegance.

However when I visited the region in March it was not lush undulating green hillsides that greeted me but the rather more sobering sight of heavy, leaden grey skies over bleak fields of skeletal vines – the area had not yet fully emerged from its winter dormancy and so was distinctly lacking in any vegetation or colour.

I was in Champagne to visit Bollinger, the famous House known to anyone with even a passing interest in sparkling wine. Having worked with the brand for years it was akin to meeting one of your heroes, though in contrast to the old saying I couldn’t imagine this encounter to be in any way disappointing.

Descending from Montagne de Reims we hung left before Épernay in the direction of Aÿ, home to Bollinger as well as other notable names such as Ayala, Deutz and a small boutique brand known as Moët et Chandon. Aÿ itself came upon us quite suddenly and without the fanfare I was expecting from such an eminent address. I also found it difficult to comprehend its size: with a mere 4,000 souls or so, I didn’t expect Aÿ to be, well, a village.

Overlooking Clos St Jacques in Aÿ

More surprising was how we came to find ourselves outside the House of Bollinger itself: instead of a gilded avenue lined with cypress trees and cherubs heralding our arrival, we approached the château via what seemed to be a back lane behind some houses, pulling up outside the iconic polished brass nameplates with absolutely no ado.

That’s not to say the House of Bollinger itself is very impressive however: a very typical château in that much French style, with two sweeping staircases leading to a doorway beneath a wrought iron balcony and surrounded by white shuttered windows. It features a lot in the Bollinger iconography, and rightly so.

We started by having a gander at Bollinger’s back garden – literally. Behind the House is a walled vineyard, and a very rare one too as it’s one of the few in France that wasn’t devastated by the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out most vineyards across Europe in the 1860s onwards. Indeed, it’s one of only two in Champagne that wasn’t affected by the devastating louse – the other, Clos St Jacques, is literally across the road and also owned by Bollinger. Needless to say this rarity is fully exploited via an extremely limited-production Champagne called Vieilles Vignes Françaises which is made exclusively from these two plots; a bottle of this – if you can find one – will set you back at least €500, if you’re lucky.

The cooperage in Bollinger

From there we made our way down the deserted streets on foot to Lily Bollinger’s house where, across a modest courtyard, there was a small cooperage where they still maintain their oak barrels to this day, the last company in Champagne to do so. Hanging haphazardly on the walls were a handful of movie posters from past Bond films, the only obvious connection here to the world’s most famous spy, for whom Bollinger has been the Champagne of choice since the 1970’s. Oddly, the posters they chose were all from the Pierce Brosnan era – none from before, and none since. I wonder if the coopers of Bollinger have a particular affinity for the man from Navan?

Next to the cooperage was a door leading down into the cellars of Bollinger: dark, dank tunnels hewn from the chalky earth for which Champagne is famous. Here, thousands upon thousands of dusty cobwebbed bottles line the walls that snake for an incredible five kilometres underneath Aÿ. It’s mind-boggling to think that the  residents of this sleepy village have literally millions of Euros of the finest Champagne resting beneath their feet.

One of the many stretches of underground cellars

Established in 1829, Bollinger is one of the few Champagne Houses left under full family ownership. The beefy “Bollinger style” is famous worldwide and owes no small part to the predominance of Pinot Noir in its blends, but their dogged commitment to traditional (read: expensive and time consuming) methods also play their part, for example their habit of fermenting a high proportion of their wines in wood, their use of a large amount of Premier and Grand Cru wines in the blends, and ageing for well beyond the legal minimum, amongst others.

‘Attention to detail’ is a term bandied about a lot, and mostly erroneously so, but for Bollinger it really is an underlying philosophy of what they do, preferring as they do to prioritise quality, tradition and craftsmanship over profit and margins – an enviable situation made all the easier by being family-owned.

The result is expensive, yes, especially in light of €20 Champagne in the likes of Aldi and Lidl, but you really do get what you pay for with Bollinger.

When Bollinger says they lay down their Champagne for years they ain’t lying!

Back at Aÿ we emerged blinking from the cellars to face what was perhaps the highlight of the highlights: tasting the fruit of all this effort. The full range of non-vintage and vintage wines were laid before us in white and rosé versions, and even a rare still red wine called La Côte Aux Enfants.

But before we finish, no article on Bollinger is complete without the famous quote by Lily Bollinger, a tour de force who ran the company on her own for four decades in which she revolutionised the company, doubled sales, expanded production, and all the time adhered resolutely to the tradition that made the Bollinger name famous:

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.


TWO TO TRY

Bollinger Special Cuvée
RSP €65 and widely available from good independent off-licences

The benchmark, and not for the faint hearted: full, rich, toasty, buttery, this is bruising but nevertheless elegant – a contradiction of sorts, yes, but true nevertheless. A properly posh Champagne.

 

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002/2004/2005
RSP €120 from Mitchell & Son, O’Brien’s, The Corkscrew, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and other fine wine retailers

This is the vintage Champagne from Bollinger and any one of the years above may be on the shelves of your local fine wine retailer at the moment. I’ve recently had the 2002 and for me it’s the best vintage Champagne I can recall, and from (vague) memory the 2004 and 2005 vintages are up there too. It’s more refined than the Special Cuvée, more delicate and mineral, and though more toned down in volume is nevertheless still rich and complex with incredible length. A true treat Champagne.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

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Some Valentine’s Day Sparkling Rosés

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie


I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.

And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.

 

Jacob's Creek Sparkling RoseJacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé

RSP €18.49, but currently on offer in O’Brien’s Wines for €17

I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.

However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.

If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.

 

Graham Beck Vintage Brut RoseGraham Beck Vintage Sparkling Rosé
RSP €29.99 from The Corkscrew, Dublin; WineOnline.ie; and other good independent off-licences nationwide.
Currently on offer for €24.95 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin

South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.

Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.

This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.

 

Devaux RoseDevaux Cuvée Rosé

RSP €59.99 from Fallon & Byrne; Clontarf Wines; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Terroirs, Donnybrook; WineOnLine.ie; and Miller and Cook, Mullingar

If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.

Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.

 

Bollinger Rose╠üBollinger Rosé

RSP €85 from O’Brien’s Wines, nationwide; Fresh Supermarkets, Dublin: Joyce’s of Galway; Ardkeen Superstores, Waterford; and other good independents nationwide.
Currently on offer from Mitchell & Sons for €65.95.

When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.

Highlights from The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair – Part 1

Yes yes, I know what you’re thinking: why in God’s name am I writing about this fair almost two months after the event, and in “Dry January” and everything? Well, as regular readers of The Motley Cru (all dozen of you) will know, I’m not exactly the most expedient when it comes to writing up my blog posts, and this annual fair is too significant and has too much going on to just simply leave slide. So better late than never.

Yes, this annual gathering held by wine retailer of note, The Corkscrew, is for me at least one of the highlights of the wine year in Ireland, providing as it does a fantastic opportunity to overview the Irish wine trade in one fell swoop (and a woozy one at that).

I first experienced the fair all the way back in 2008, my first year in what was then Woodford Bourne, when I myself stood behind one of the tables serving wine to an increasingly inebriated public who, by degrees, came over just to taste “your most expensive wine.”

Back then our “most expensive wine” on show was iconic Super-Tuscan Ornellaia‘s second wine Le Serre Nuove, which today retails for €55. But over the years I saw the quality of wines on offer drop somewhat: a product of that perfect storm in the wine trade involving both the recession and successive, punitive increases of alcohol duty in the Budget.

Last year, though, I thought I sensed a glimmer of hope, and this year I was glad to see that confidence was finally returning to the trade, at least as far its the public face was concerned. Not that we were showering ourselves in Dom Pérignon, of course (we’re not the Sunday Independent Life Magazine after all), but the fact that suppliers weren’t afraid once again to show bottles in the €30-€40 range and above was heartening, and a testament to the returning confidence in both consumers and wine importers/retailers in this country.

My recurring difficulty of successfully tasting wines from each table at events like this was very much to the fore once again here (as it was for Ely’s Big Rhône Tasting), and as I was also with a few friends at the time my notes were a mess of mostly incomplete scrawls squeezed into the margin of the accompanying booklet, so this is far from being a comprehensive review of the fair. But from what I can decode from these scribbles, and recall from memory, below were my favourite sparkling wines and whites of the day:

 

Charles Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne
€60-65 from Castle Off-Licence, Mitchell & Son, O’Brien’s, Terroirs

This is a really lovely, biscuity champagne, very fine, delicately balanced and deliciously moreish. I couldn’t but help draw comparisons to the Bollinger style, with its toasy brioche, albeit a little less bombastic. Enrobed (as I’m sure they’d like me to call it) in a new bottle and label, this is a serious Champagne both in and out. (Jamie Good has a more detailed article on Charles Heidsieck for wine nerds here.)

 

Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV
€54.95 from The Corkscrew and the Wine Workshop

I was informed that this was a Blanc de Blanc (i.e. 100% Chardonnay), which was news to me as they didn’t specify it on the label, which itself I identified immediately since it’s been popping up on various social media outlets this last year or so (especially Frankly Wines, who reviewed it not once, not twice, but thrice).

This was a really very lovely Champagne in a nicely contrasting style to the Charles Heidsieck from earlier, a point I relished elaborating to my friends (for all of, oh, 12 seconds or so before they got bored).

Delicate, poised and creamy, it had an unmistakable citrus streak but finished with a softened almost bready finish. A really delicious, artisan Champagne, and highly recommended.

 

Bodegas Menade Rueda 2013
€14.65 from Le Caveau and Quintessential Wines

I always enjoy visiting the Le Caveau table at these fairs, but unfortunately I was a bit rushed on this occasion time as my friends had moved on elsewhere, partly given the awkward location of the table in the far corner of the room. In what time I had I found the offerings at the lower to be most noteworthy and great value, a fact most likely down to the fact the more expensive bottles all needed to have stories to be told and their styles explained, a luxury not afforded by my time constraints.

So this Rueda was one of those I marked “GVFM” – a handy acronym I now use regularly which I ‘borrowed’ from Kevin Ecock. Much more subtle than the sprightly, lively Ruedas available, this provides a nice counterpoint to ubiquitous the ultra-fresh style. Unmissable in its acid-green labelling also.

 

Saget La Perrière, Petit Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2013
€13.95 from The Corkscrew

A pretty straight-forward wine, nice and inoffensive, but when I realised the price I was very impressed. Wine made to this quality for this price is a rarity, most especially in France. Excellent value for money and one to buy by the case.

 

Le Domaine Sagat, Pouilly Fumé
€22.95

Very clean, precise, deliciously fine wine. Sorry, I don’t have more notes, but i do remember it being delish, so take that as you will.

 

Jean Chartron Rully 2012
€29.95 from The Corkscrew

Rully (“roo-yee”) is a region in Burgundy that produces whites which are a great example of Old World and New World Chardonnay styles combined, hot-skipping between the former’s buttery oakiness and the latter’s fresh tropical fruit to give a chameleon-like wine. The Jean Chartron’s ultra-rich buttery nose belies a really clean, fresh palate with a fantastic, refreshing mineral streak. Balanced and beautiful.