Tasting the wines of Champagne Bollinger

xI recently had the opportunity to taste through the portfolio of Champagnes from the house of Bollinger. Founded in 1829, Champagne Bollinger has remained in family hands for almost 190 years. Currently headed by the charming Ghislain de Montgolfier, nephew of the famous ‘Lily’ Bollinger, the company owns 160 hectares of vines in largely Grand Cru and Premier Cru sites, and all three of the main Champagne varieties are used in their wines. Bollinger ferments its base wines in small oak barrels, though stainless steel is also used, depending on the quality and characteristics of the parcel of grapes to be vinified.

Bollinger also ages its wines in bottle for longer than the statutory minimum before release, three years in the case of the Special Cuvée, five years for the Grande Année and a minimum of eight years for the RD (recently disgorged) wines. For all stockists of Champagne Bollinger, see wine-searcher.com

The wines

Bollinger Special Cuvée
The Special Cuvée is Bollinger’s ‘regular’ non-vintage wine, which comes from Bollinger’s own vineyards, with 80% from vineyards designated as Grand Cru. Over 50% of the blend is ‘reserve wine’ in this case that reserve being the 2003 and 2004 vintage, plus magnums of 1995. Bollinger holds all of its reserve wines in bottles and magnums, and not in tanks. Beautifully yeasty, bruised apple and pear fruit with a touch of orange. Quite broad and rich on the palate, and the acidity of lemons and mineral cuts through. Elegant and quite full bodied, this is delicious as always and could repay some time in the cellar too. £35 – £45, See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Bollinger Rosé
Bollinger recently added this non-vintage rosé wine to their portfolio. It is a Pinot Noir-dominated blend, made by blending a proportion of Pinot Noir still wine from Bollinger’s Grand Cru Vineyards in the Cote d’Ay and Verzenay. The ‘recipe’ is much like the Special Cuvée, with partial oak fermentation, aged reserve wines and extended maturation. It has a pale, salmon-pink colour, and quite a high-toned nose, with floral and rose-hip notes to charming raspberry and cherry fruit. There is something a little spicy and biscuity developing in the background too, adding some mystery and depth. On the palate this strikes a balance between fresh, easy, but elegant red fruits and quite a serious structure, with a hint of tannin and fine acidity. Expensive yes, but a very fine rosé and one I’m guessing might benefit from a little cellaring. £50 – £55, see all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Bollinger La Grande Année 1999
I loved this wine when first released, so great to have a chance to re-taste it as part of a Bollinger lunch recently. “The sum of the Bollinger style,” according to Ghislain de Montgolfier, this wine comes exclusively from Bollinger’s own grand cru and premier cru vineyards and contains an unusually high 65% Chardonnay in the blend. The Grande Année is vinified in older oak barrels. It is beautifully yeasty, filled with bruised apple fruit over a nice, ripe vegetal Chardonnay background with gentle truffle nuances. On the palate it becomes much tighter and steelier, with a beautiful core of acidity running like a laser through toasty, broadly yeasty and burnt orange flavours. Fabulous stuff with ageing potential. Around £55 – £65, See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Bollinger RD Champagne 1997
Interestingly, Ghislain de Montgolfier told me the Recently Disgorged wines have a ‘dosage’ of only 3gms, as opposed to 9gms typically for the vintage release. Certainly this has a very steely nose, with a lemony twist and tight, focused, mineral-edged character, though there are oxidised apple notes too. The palate has tight, very pure and linear flavours, but it not even remotely tart or thin. A walnutty dryness begins to fill in, with those oxidised notes adding chewy, delicious, powerful layers of complexity. £100, See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Bollinger RD Champagne 1988
This was poured from a magnum that was disgorged in 2003. It has a nice coppery colour, with massive, nettly, oxidised nose with brioche and nutty notes, but still that tight lemony core. The palate has a hugely complex, multi-layered personality, with all sorts of truffle, herb and mineral, stony flavours. Deliciously like an aged white Burgundy in its marriage of toast and striking minerality. A tip from Ghislain de Montgolfier, who says: “Buy the 2007 when it is released – we were totally influenced by the 1988 when we made it.” Around £125 / £150.00, See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

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