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Tasting Reviews

Champagne Bollinger with Guy de Rivoire


Guy de Rivoire - Commercial Director, Champagne Bollinger

Champagne Bollinger has always held a special and respected place for the market. In my time as a wine consumer and wine retailer from the 1970s to 2010, Bollinger Champagne was always one of the most full-bodied and complex. Its small production made it one to seek out, and enjoy its special qualities, particularly with food, the Pinot Noir component in the blend having the biggest voice. Its complex flavours based on the predominance of that black grape, the extended aging on lees and use of reserve wine, especially from magnum gave the wine a character that was edgy and almost funky, based on the level of oxidation and aldehydes that were built into the style. It took some conversion to appreciate the Bollinger style, but once done, one became an evangelist.

The modern market has changed in many ways nowadays, with luxury goods, such as Champagne becoming a commodity. The prices of well-known Champagnes have risen astronomically, particularly in the case of prestige bottlings, allowing for the entry of secondary and tertiary brands and the appearance of the ‘grower Champagne’ category. This is all good, as it attracts market attention and diversity, and the whole region benefits from increased sales. But some things stay the same. Even among the commodity market, the buyers are aware of the special nature of Champagne Bollinger, its relative rarity and unique character. It has kept a loyal clientele despite the changing demographic.

Champagne Bollinger Today
In a previous life, Champagne Bollinger was seen as old-school, keeping sacrosanct the values of Madame Lily Bollinger. The reality is that since her passing in 1971, successive layers of management have kept pace with the times. The most important work was dealing with the criticism that the Bollinger style was excessively oxidative. The issue is indeed a complex one and under the oversight primarily of chef de cave Mathieu Kauffmann, the style of Bollinger has become fresher, whilst retaining the trademark Bollinger weight, power and complexity that comes from positive autolysis and the careful expression of aldehydes and oxidative notes.

Part of the process was the introduction of a ‘new’ bottle, based on one of the old bottles dating back to 1846. The narrower neck is said to reduce the amount and effect of oxygen in the bottle. In any case, the new bottle is extremely beautiful and elegant. A number of other Champagne houses are using such bottles to the same effectiveness.
The wine is finer in texture and more vibrant. Champagne aficionados of old will still recognise the house style and wonder why their first forays into the Bollinger style weren’t as invitingly refreshing, and newcomers to Bollinger, who may be familiar with the plethora of lighter and less-dimensioned wines will be awe-struck by the complexity of the modern day Bollinger.

Champagne Bollinger in Growth
Champagne Bollinger is on the growth. Growth is slow and expensive in the region. The company now has 170 ha of vineyards, having recently acquiring 6 ha in the last three years. 85% of the vineyards are classified as grand cru and premier cru. The proportions of the varieties are 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. A new press house was commissioned in 2003 and there is constant updating of bottling facilities to ensure freshness. Gilles Descotes has risen through the Bollinger ranks, originally working in charge of the vineyards to become chef de cave when Kauffmann resigned in 2013. He has continued the technical progress with the same zeal.

The production remains small, purported by several sources to be 3 million bottles made annually. This is tiny in the Champagne scheme of things. The styles are well-established with the only new wine, the Rose NV introduced in 2008. While there is a ‘Grande Annee’ Rosé, there are no plans to have an ‘R.D.’ Rosé. But in any case the Bollinger style and quality is carefully guarded, no matter what the style is, and it will always remain distinctive. Champagne Bollinger remains family owned, one of the rare such houses (the other I believe is Louis Roederer). It is the family descendants of Lily Bollinger who run the company with Jerome Philipon as President. Clearly the family are not afraid of progress, and act much more quickly than the Bollinger of old.

Tasting a Selection of Champagne Bollinger
It was a treat to meet up with Mr Guy de Rivoire, the commercial director for Champagne Bollinger, on his visit from France to New Zealand. I was invited to attend a media tasting, hosted by Guy, along with Cenna and Hannah from Negociants N.Z. who have distributed Champagne Bollinger for a very, very long time. The tasting was conducted with lunch at Capitol Restaurant. Four wines were shown. Here are my notes on the wines:

Bollinger Champagne ‘Special Cuvee’ NV 
Pale colour with very fine bubbles, moderate persistence. The nose is full and voluminous, quite open and accessible, but with structure, showing white and yellow stonefruits and plenty of broad autolysis and delicate aldehyde and oxidative complexities. Dry to dryish to taste, this is full and softly mouthfilling with rich yellow stonefruits, showing the Pinot Noir, balanced mouthfeel and size, with subtle grip, and a core of bready-yeasty autolysis and a layering of aldehyde and lesser oxidative suggestions. The structure is balanced by excellent freshness. Very fine textured finish. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier, over 85% from grand and premier crus sites, 8-9 g/L dosage. 18.5/20 Jul 2017 RRP $110.00

Bollinger Champagne ‘Grande Annee’ 2007 
Darker straw-yellow colour with some light golden, moderate persistence and fine bead. This bouquet is rich with yellow stonefruits packed harmoniously with bready-yeasty autolysis. Great concentration and density of fruit and autolysis, and less aldehyde and no trace of oxidative nuance. Quite complete on the bouquet, unfolding greater depth and intensity with aeration. Dry, but great fruit richness and density, matched by integrated autolysis. This has a firm core and great linearity, but the volume, structural textures and softness make this a wine that has no deficiencies. The yellow stonefruit of Pinot Noir, and autolysis yields a touch of toastiness too. This is as full and together as a wine can be, but underlying it all is finesse. A beautifully fresh marvel of Champagne engineering! A blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay from 14 crus, 91% grand crus and 9% premier cru, 7 g/L dosage. Disgorged November 2016. 19.0+/20 Jul 2017 RRP $235.00

Bollinger Champagne Rosé NV 
Bright peach pink, moderately fine, but with vigorous bead, youthful appearance. This is full of excellent red florals and red fruits intermingling with yellow stonefruits, all underlined by fine and complexing bready-yeasty autolysis. Refined, and beautifully refreshing, with aromatic beauty. On palate the freshness of perfumes, and fruit aromatics are the feature. Clean and clear, with purity and poised acid freshness, along with subtle textures allow the gorgeous fruit to feature. A wine to dance with and throw caution to the wind. Just enjoy its deliciousness, there’s no need to analyse this. A blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier, 5-6 % added as red wine, from over 85% grand and premier cru vineyards, 7-8 g/L dosage. 19.0/20 Jul 2017 RRP $145.00

Bollinger Champagne ‘Grande Annee’ Rosé 2005
Pale peach colour, a hint of orange, light bead persistence. This is rounded, but possesses a multi-layered core of ripe, savoury, yellow stonefruits with red florals and red berry suggestions, along with complex yeasty autolysis, along with aldehyde savouriness. More contained, but the complexity is the feature. The palate is rich with lush and savoury flavours of yellow stonefruits, faded roses and red fruits. This has concentration, texture and depth. Though less refreshing, this has layers and detailed complexing flavours. The aldehydes are more prominent, as is a touch of emergent bottle age. Under it all, the acidity gives zip and energy. A blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay from 13 crus, 95% grand cru and 5% premier cru, including 5% Coteaux aux Enfants’ red wine, 7 g/L dosage. Disgorged May 2015. 19.0-/20 Jul 2017 RRP $330.00


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