Champagne Dom Pérignon Masterclass

Hosted by our Fine Wine Manager Regan McCaffery. He is likely New Zealand’s foremost expert on the wine, having drunk every vintage  produced back to 1964.

On Wednesday evening I presented an wonderful tasting of Dom Pérignon, the world’s most famous Champagne, and one of my personal favorites. It is named after the Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Pérignon, who produced his famous wines at the Abbey of Hautvillers from 1668 until 1715. Under him the wines of the Abbey flourished, reaching twice the price of any other and being drunk by Louis XIV himself. The Abby and it’s famed vineyards were purchased by Moet & Chandon in 1823 after the revolution and Dom Pérignon is still made from the same sites to this day.

It was the world’s first Prestige Cuvée, the 1921 vintage in its replica 18th Century bottle, was released to huge acclaim in 1936. Dom Pérignon is always a perfect blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in roughly equal proportions, the grapes coming from all 17 Grand Crus in the region, as well as the famed 1er Cru of Hautvillers. When young, it’s hallmarks are a soft citrus creaminess and exquisite balance, it’s almost too easy to drink.

For this Masterclass we looked at three different expressions of Dom Pérignon, starting with the new 2009 against the previous 2006 release. This is the first time ever that they have released a vintage out of order, deciding that the much anticipated 2008 still needed more time resting in the cellars under Epernay. The 2009 comes from quite a warm vintage and is already rich and expressive, a really showy flamboyant Dom. 2006 is a more classic year, despite being a little reticent now it will blossom and impress if you can manage to keep your hands off it for another ten years.

We then moved on to the stunning Dom Perignon Rosé, 2005 v 2004. A different blend entirely, this is around 60% Pinot Noir, with a full 27% of it being Red Pinot added to the blend in 2005!  Again the personality of the vintages showed clearly here; 2005 is beautiful now, incredibly elegant and delicate, the perfect Summer drinking. 2004 was much darker and more brooding, the sort of thing to drink with Lamb or Duck at a stunning dinner. Either way make sure you use a large Pinot Noir glass to see it’s full personality.

We finished with the  rare opportunity to taste two vintages of Dom Pérignon P2, from the 2000 and the 1998 vintages. P2 is a proportion of each vintage of Dom (around 10%) that is held back for extended aging in their cellars of 15-20 years before release. These were formerly known as Dom Pérignon Oenothèque (The library where the older wines are stored).

P2 refers to the second plénitude’ of the wine, a term Dom Pérignon uses to describe when in its lifespan the wine is showing best. The first plenitude would currently be the 2009. All the P2 wines are aged on cork and hand disgorged for a quality check. This provides an opportunity to try a perfectly aged bottle of Dom that is still fresh from being recently disgorged. P2 has much more power and intensity, it’s richer and more harmonious, complex and textured, a real pleasure to drink. Though for me, nothing beats a well stored original release bottle.

 

American Beauty – A vertical of Opus One

This was a very special tasting of one of the world’s greats,  the very first ultra premium wine in America.  Opus One was founded in 1980 as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux 1st Growth Château Mouton Rothschild, and American icon Robert Mondavi, to create a single Bordeaux style blend based upon the finest Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

French in style but Californian in execution, Opus One is produced with uncompromised attention to detail and this was an extremely rare opportunity to taste six vintages together, 2003 to 2008. We were even contacted by Opus One themselves as they don’t often hold this large a vertical. At over $600 a bottle most of the attendees had never tried the wine and thus there was a lot of anticipation. We started with the vintage 2004 from Champagne Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin which is their best value wine by far. Stunning quality for only a slightly higher price, everyone should be drinking vintage champagne! Though just to show it can happen to the best, we did had a corked bottle which had to be hastily replaced.

The two older vintages showed a lot more maturity than the others, that is to say they were approachable now.. Bear in mind I double decanted all the wines at 11am and they then sat in the bottles with the corks out until 8pm!  These wines can handle a lot of air and have significant aging potential. Both the 2003 and 2004 were very Bordeaux left bank in style with a fine slightly earthy grain. The 2005 Opus One came out the consensus wine of the night with its dark blackcurrant and cassis intensity. For me the 2006 needed the most time with all the complexity sandwiched together in very tight layers that were saying “Come back in twenty years”. I loved the open elegance of the 2007, a real outlier, a Burgundian Opus One. So refined and impeccably balanced this what I’d buy for myself. The 2008 was the hardest to assess, this only arrived from Bordeaux (Where it is sold worldwide through the negociants there) a few weeks ago. It seemed a little simple and one dimensional in comparison to the others, but really this is just too young to make a call on right now. From a very hot vintage the fruit is just swamping everything else and was the most Californian in style.  Overall this was an extremely impressive tasting, the wines are very much left bank Bordeaux in style rather than ‘traditional’ Napa. Though with richness of fruit that you only see in years like 2009 in Bordeaux. In fact, all the wines showed a lot of similarity with Mouton itself in their refined flamboyance. These are built for the long haul and in my opinion, 10-15 years is the minimum for getting the best out of them. For my palate I think the sweet spot would be around 20-25 yrs of age.

Clos Vougeot 2009 – One Vineyard, One Vintage, seven producers.

This was a really interesting tasting to host and one I’d been especially looking forward to. Clos Vougeot (Or Clos de Vougeot) is one of the most famous Pinot Noir vineyards in the world, and the largest of the Grand Cru vineyards on the Cotes de Nuits in Burgundy. Being so large (50.96ha) and having such a long history (The wall around it was finished in the year 1336) it now is divided amongst almost 80 different producers. The goal of the evening was to try and get an idea of the vineyard style by tasting seven different cuvees from some of our top producers, all from the great 2009 vintage.

 

We ‘warmed up’ with a Grand Cru Chardonnay, the Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne 2009. Bonneau du Martray is one of the greatest producers from this vineyard and we have recently started importing these wines into New Zealand again after a long absence.  It didn’t disappoint with exceptional power, rich phenolics and stunning length.  Then it was on to the 2009 Clos Vougeots.  In order of tasting. Francois Lamarche, Gros Frere et Souer, Vincent Girardin, Faiveley, Michel Gros, Anne Gros, and Alex Gambal.  What came across most strongly this evening was that 2009 is a sensational vintage for Burgundy. Some of the richest and lushest fruit we have seen in many years, giving the wines a very sexy ‘New World’ appeal upfront, but with great structure behind, ensuring they will continue to improve over the long term. The next most interesting aspect for me was that there was no one wine that really stood up as significantly better than the others. The quality was extremely high across the board and it really came down to stylistic preference as to where the favourites lay. The Gros family came through well with Gros Frere and Anne Gros both being very popular. I think there were also many people pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the Girardin, a producer famed for his whites but not well known for his excellent reds.

I honestly enjoyed all of them fairly equally, but if I had to go home with just one it would have been the Alex Gambal. This is a wine that can be enjoyed now (Make sure it sees some air) but has is still aromatically restrained with such a tight core of dense fruit that it will only blossom over the years.  This deserves to be allowed time to show it’s best and I can’t wait to see what this is like in another decade or so.