If you can’t visit the village of Ay in Champagne right now, then Champagne Bollinger will come to you. At least it would have, if you were among a handful of wine writers living in global lockdown earlier this year.
Lockdown continues to take away many of the freedoms we take for granted. Popping out for morning coffee, newspapers and crosswords before work, for evening drinks, day time at the office, socialising and even meeting with work colleagues takes on an allure for some. It was definitely alluring to meet online to taste a new champagne this year with the makers Champagne Bollinger.
The online masterclass was guided by Denis Bunner, chef de cave (deputy cellar master) for Champagne Bollinger. He sent us all four bottles and a pack of new Riedel champagne glasses to prepare us for the tasting. Not that it gave much away. Three bottles were unlabelled and there were no tasting notes. We were all to chill the wines and meet online at the agreed time in early July; 6.30pm mid week in New Zealand and 12 hours earlier in France, as well as various times around the world. Since I was meeting alone for the online tasting from my home office, I luckily didn’t need to wear a facemask, as some of the tasters did, due to meeting in groups. Bunner explained that four winemakers from Bollinger had been having an in house competition to come up with their best version of a new Bollinger made from 100% Pinot Noir. The new wine is the result. It’s called Champagne Bollinger PN VZ15, code for 100% Pinot Noir, mostly from vineyards in the village of Verzenay and mostly from the 2015 vintage.
Champagne Bollinger owns 178 hectares of land in the Champagne region, of which Pinot Noir represents 104 hectares of grand and premier cru vineyards in Ay, so it seems only natural to push the Pinot power in this wine. Every Bollinger tasting I’ve ever been to has been memorable but this one was the best yet, not only for the novelty of tasting online but because this innovative champagne producer went ahead and launched their new wine during the pandemic, despite the obvious obstacles. Bollinger is my favourite of all Les Grands Marques champagne producers, a controversial category that’s a hangover from the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC), formally known as Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne, which was founded in 1882 to protect the interests of its members. The syndicat has now been disbanded but the term Grands Marques remains in use, informally, to describe many of the best known elite champagne houses, as this story eloquently explains, but back to the new Bolly.
It will be a permanent addition to the Bollinger range and like all Bolly, it has richness and body to burn with 50% of the wine fermented in barrel, compared to 15% for Bollinger Special Cuvee and 100% for Bollinger Grand Annees. There is no discernible oak taste but there’s definitely oak influence, thanks to 20 year old barrels used for fermentation.
Those of us who attended online were sent three component wines to taste. Wines one and two were made with grapes from Verzenay. Wine one was crisp and fresh; wine two had a deeper colour, richer flavour, more character and body while wine three was my favourite and turned out to be a reserve wine from Champagne Bollinger’s library stocks, aged in magnum from 2009. It was oxidative with freshness, thanks to Bollinger’s reserve wines aged in magnums. The character of the third wine is what makes Bollinger such a class act. The company has 800,000 magnums in its reserve wine aging programme. Imagine all those magnums. There is no shortage of character waiting in the wings to be blended into bottles of Bolly.
Do I like the new Champagne Bollinger PN VZ15 more than Bolly’s flagship wine, the Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee?
It’s a good question. I do like the new wine a lot and rated it 18.5/20 but then I am a Bolly devotee. Why else would we give our new puppy the name Patsy?
The new Champagne Bollinger PN VZ15 will be on shop shelves globally in time for this year’s festive season in December and January.