Some vintages just don’t live up to the hype. I’ve tasted a broad selection of Champagne from vintages such as 1996 or 2002 where it is apparent that not everything is as it should be. There were some excellent Champagnes, but also a number that should have been much better than they were. Even in exceptional years, winemakers make decisions that can make or break future potential.
Fast forward to 2008, the next ‘vintage of the century’, immediately declared as ‘legendary’ (“oh no!” I hear the cynics cry). 2008 offers a precise combination of nervy acidity thanks to cool nights, and aromatic intensity courtesty of longer ‘hang time’ on the vine. After the harvest, winemakers were already talking about ‘1996 part deux’, drawing parallels with another vintage of high acidity and high natural potential alcohol, but with 2008 maybe even better. So do we really have a ‘perfect’ vintage? Well, a few downright awful 1996s suggest to me that there may be no such thing, but yes, it might just be possible that 2008 lives up to the hype.
When ones tastes a Champagne from 2008, one subconsciously reaches for a mental list of positive superlatives: precision, intensity, complexity, finesse, balance. All are features that this vintage possess in abundance. It is clear from the wines released so far that nature has gifted us something special.
Dom Pierre Pérignon, a person, a wine
Pressing the fast forward button again, and we arrive at Tuesday 19th June 2018, the venue being the beautiful Kensington Palace Gardens, where LVMH have chosen to present their next major release: Dom Périgon 2008.
Dom Pérignon is such an iconic name, and is not just about branding. A key aspect of this cuvée is the inclusion of Pinot Noir grown in the vineyards near the abbey (monastery) at Hautvillers, the home of Dom Pierre himself. In addition to the Premier Cru of Hautvillers, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was sourced from various Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs, Marne Valley and Montagne de Reims.
DP is a wine of such exquisite balance, roughly a 50/50 split between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with emphasis on super smooth fruit. Always stainless steel fermented (no oak since the 1960s), and made in a reductive style that enriches the wine with what Richard Geoffroy terms ‘grey’ aromas (such as coffee, struck match, toast), and avoiding the ‘brown’ aromas of oxidation (think Bollinger or Krug).
The reductive style restricts exposure to oxygen and this, together with bitter phenolic flavours, is the key to the wine’s longevity. After a relatively slow and even autolysis, DP develops further finesse and complexity during post-disgorgement aging in the bottle.
(2018) 2008 was a marathon harvest for Dom Pérignon (lasting almost an entire month from start to finish). The nose is classically 'Dom Pérignon': supremely fresh, with a polished, flowery autolytic character adding an extra dimension to the forceful fruit and toasty aromas. A real zingy kick of acidity leads initially on the palate, as the mid-palate develops, the fruit gains momentum, the acidity integrates. The finale is exceptionally youthful, long, bitter and dry. Clearly ripe, and showing weightless concentration. Nervy and tense, sacrificing width in exchange for length. This is a supreme Dom Pérignon of cracking complexity, that will join the pantheon of great DP’s. Potential to reach 98/100 (magnums likely to score higher). Drink 2023-2048.
La Retraite de Richard Geoffroy
After 28 years at the helm, Richard Geoffroy has decided the time is right to hang up his Chef’s hat, ingeniously choosing the release of the magnificent 2008 to do so. Succeeding him will be long time Dom Pérignon Oenologist, Vincent Chaperon (both pictured, right).
A trained (but never practising) medical doctor, Richard’s winemaking DNA kicked in, with a family pedigree as grape growers in the Côte des Blanc stretching back for seven generations. A career in oenology ensued. He joined the Dom Pérignon team in 1990 having previously worked at Domain Chandon in California. He finally took full control from previous chef-de-cave, Dominique Foulon, in 1996.
Richard’s time at Dom Pérignon has proven to be a solid period for the marque, developing and nurturing the brand for the 21st century. He absorbed newly acquired vineyards seamlessly into the DP blend, allowing LVMH to increase volume without sacrificing quality. He has made some tremendous wines over the years, with remarkable vintages such as 1995, 1996, 2006, and now 2008, navigated difficult years with style (a surprisingly good 2003 for example), and made very few mistakes.
With no non-vintage production to distract his efforts, Richard had challenged himself to make Dom Pérignon almost every year, believing that phenolic ripeness is the key to engineering wines of freshness and long-aging capability, and that ‘problems’ such as Botrytis can be managed accordingly (which is the skill of the chef-de-cave).
He has adjusted some of the more subtle dynamics of the cuvée, by lowering dosage, and increasing the time between disgorgement and shipment. Newly released Dom Pérignon is now wonderfully integrated, with a smooth, sublime toastiness, creamy mousse and no exaggerated “struck match” aromas from sulphur.
Richards biggest innovation has been the development of the ‘Plénitude’ program (replacing the ‘Oenotheque’ collection). By holding back bottles, Moet & Chandon has been able to present Dom Pérignon at two further developmental stages of its life (Richard calls them plenitudes).
A fine legacy indeed, and a tough act for Vincent to follow as he takes over at the helm.
Dom Pérignon 2009 – 1996
A review of every vintage of Dom Pérignon Blanc made under Richard Geoffrey’s time as chef-du-cave.
(2018) A warm, ripe vintage with fruit at full-throttle. Exotically toned, without suffering too much from the autolytic fatness that is prevalent in some releases from this vintage. Absolutely no hint of greenness, a charming, sunshine wine that is drinking well already. Quite serious for an ’09, and while the score is partly based on potential, even now it a solid 93/100. Drink 2019-2034.
(2018) I really do love this vintage, such beautiful toasty richness, a real palate staining intensity of fruit. This Champagne is a sinewy, broad shouldered beast, but never feels overly fat or heavy. A long finish you can almost chew on, and so complex. Solid potential for a score of 96/100. Drink 2020-2045
(2018) Quite a small release. A vintage in which Pinot Noir was marred by rot, Richard upped the Chardonnay to 60% to claw back some balance and freshness. A well made wine, that threatens to turn exotic in the medium-term, the apricot notes of Botrytis add detail to the finish without dominating. 92/100 perhaps, but potential for 93/100. Drink 2018-2030.
(2018) Following the heat and tiny yields of the previous vintage, the vines responded with vigour in 2004, producing grapes generous in both quantity and quality. A 'classic' (or perhaps more accurately 'old fashioned') DP, the 2004 is leaner in style, pretty and flowery, demonstrating diffuse sweetness of fruit. Toasty aromas beginning to develop. Just coming out of its shell after an adolescent grumpy phase that many ‘04’s have been going through, this has a bright future. On potential, 96/100. Drink 2018-2040.
(2018) With low yields (April frosts destroying the buds) and a hot growing season, very few wines have been released from this vintage. Controversially, Geoffroy chose to ignore perceived wisdom and rose to the challenge of making a Pérignon in 2003, leaning heavily on his cooler climate Grand Cru vineyards. The challenge was to avoid over-ripeness (and maybe Richard’s previous experience at Domain Chandon in California helped him here?). Ripe and rounded, the wine retains freshness and structure. Quite a mouthful with a chunky heft of fruit, it is not clear to me how this will develop. Precisely the reason why it was the correct decision to make it perhaps? I’ll make a wild stab in the dark that it has the potential for 93/100, and drinking window of 2018-2028.
(2018) Wind currents from the north worked to dehydrate the grapes on the vine. This is a super-concentrated vintage in Champagne, although it appears that many wine-makers haven’t grasped the oxidative nature of the vintage and protected the wines accordingly. Nevertheless, it is a grand vintage, and a grand Dom Pérignon. Although I have experienced some bottle variation, the best examples of ’02 have neutron-star-like density, immense richness and a long, honeyed sweetness. We will need to wait for the complexity and finesse, but it will come, so my score of 96/100 is based on potential. At time of this review? Maybe 93/100. Drink 2022-2042. (The “P2” has just been disgorged ready for release in 2019).
(2018) A DP I’ve struggled with in the past, not totally ripe I suspect, the aromatic spectrum leaning too much towards green and herbaceous notes for me to be comfortable. Time and evolution has masked some, but not all of this unripe character, and when last tasted in 2015, this was an easy drinking, mellowing Champagne, with an attractive spiciness. Drink 2018 - 2024.
(2018) It seems most years ending with “9” experienced hot summers, delivering exceptionally ripe fruit. 1999 was no exception. Initially a very generous cuvée, with yellow fruited ripeness, the wine has shed a little weight and has matured into a lovely, creamy Champagne. Powerful, but not excessively so. Drink 2018-2028.
(2018) The vintage I have drank the most (more than 20 occasions) and a wine that is developing so slowly that it appears to be held in suspended animation. When first released, this was zesty and mouth-watering, the bracing acidity held in check with a decent level of sugar in the dosage: compact, cool-fruited, and very tasty. The acidity has calmed down in the intervening years, aromatic volume and complexity is building, although the tiny spike of greenness is ever-present in the background. Becoming nicely toasty. Such a shame there are no magnums! Drink 2018-2035.