Bollinger: Still Delivering the Goods

Bollinger is a venerable and highly regarded Champagne producer.  Founded in 1829, the house has survived the region’s engulfment in wars, revolutions, economic depressions and waves of destructive vineyard plagues and is now at the top of its game.  The style of their wines is intense and rich, showcasing the power and red fruit nuances of pinot noir (at least 60% of each cuvée) and the toasty buttery influence of oak aging of their base wines in old 228 litre Burgundian barrels.

Bollinger may be famous but it considers itself to be a “small producer.”  Its annual production of three million bottles puts it at 1% of the region’s production and 25th to 30th in volume behind such giants as Moet & Chandon, who pump out thirty five million bottles a year.  The firm owns an impressive 160 hectares of vineyards in Grand Cru and Premier Cru zones of Champagne.  A large store of reserve wines amplifies the depth and diversity this gives to their cuvées.  Ripeness, more difficult to achieve than freshness in the cool climate of Champagne, is much sought after with meticulous attention to vines and picking grapes as late as possible.

At a recent event at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, Bollinger’s Ontario Agents John Hanna & Sons presented a tasting for wine folks of six Bollinger champagnes and a still pinot noir-based red produced by the house.  Bollinger enologist-turned-export-manager Frederic Reuter was on hand to answer our detailed questions.  The wines partnered beautifully with cod, veal, duck and cheese courses at a lovely lunch.  These are not inexpensive bottlings, but they’re affordable if you think of them as special treats for special occasions.  The prices quoted apply in Ontario.

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée ($78.95, score 90+) is a 60/25/15 blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and meunier, over 85% Grands and Premiers Cru.  It makes up 80% of Bollinger’s annual production.  The nose is intense with aromas of sweet autolysis, ripe peach and sweet spices.  It’s bone dry and crisp in the mouth with vigorous mousse, power, mineral grip, and a hint of black berry fruit.  The finish is long.

Champagne Bollinger Rosé ($103.95, score 90+) is 62% pinot noir, 24% chardonnay and 14% meunier.  Red pinot wine makes up 5% to 6% of the total.  It represents 7% to 8% of the house’s production.  A pale salmon coloured sparkler, this rosé features strawberry and stewed plum fruit with raspberry and mineral notes and a vegetal autolytic nuance.  It’s tasty and crisp with red fruit notes and a long finish.

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2007 ($159.00, score 91+.)  This wine is a 70/30 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay made only in exceptional years, 91% Grand Cru fruit and 9% Premier Cru fruit.  Straw gold, it has a complex but harmonious nose of toasted almonds, autolysis, sweet ripe stone fruit and a hint of citrus.  On the palate it’s crisp and creamy, bone dry with a honeyed note, a black fruit note and chalky grip.  The finish is long and rich.

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2005 ($199, score 92) was only disgorged in April 2016.  A pale salmon/onion skin colour, the wine exudes very deep very ripe mature strawberry and raspberry fruit with sweetly spicy autolysis and a ginger note.  It’s fresh to crisp with nice grip and a long finish.  Sophisticated stuff, this.

Champagne Bollinger R.D. 2002 ($279, score 92+) is a blockbuster blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay sourced from 23 crus (71% Grand Crus and 29% Premier Crus).  The R.D. stands for “Récemment Dégorgé” (recently disgorged in English.)  This means that this champagne aged on its deliciously decomposing yeasty lees until April 25, 2016 when it was finally poured off the stuff.  The resulting sparkling wine is a saturated pale gold with a deep, complex, harmonious and enchanting bouquet featuring notes of toast, autolysis, herbs and sweet spices.  It’s grippy in the mouth and persists richly for a long time.

Champagne Bollinger R.D. 1976, Magnum (priceless, score 93) was the generous gift of tasting participant Michael Barnstijn.  From a searingly hot summer, the wine was amber-tinged gold in colour with a still-vigorous mousse.  The nose was a harmony of autolysis, ginger, toasted nuts and buttered brioche.  In the mouth it was oxidative but not oxidized with autolytic flavours, a chalky grip and a very long finish.

Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants 2013 Côteaux Champenois ($115, score 90) is a still 100% pinot noir from Aÿ.  It’s aged for eight months in small three to ten year old barrels.  This specimen was a medium pale purple-tinged cherry colour.  The intense nose featured sweet ripe red berry fruit with a cola/root beer note.  In the mouth it’s fresh with velvet grip framing bone-dry sour cherry and cranberry flavours through a long finish. 

[For more information about Champagne Bollinger contact Ian L. Hanna at ianhanna@winetrader.ca]

 

 

 

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About iwolkoff

Irvin Wolkoff is a psychiatrist and wine journalist who has been a wine enthusiast and collector since his university days.
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