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Bollinger Treasures

by Richard Juhlin

During a couple of rainy days at the end of June, we were a small select group of international champagne journalists who was invited to Bollinger to take part in something quite unique. The first night I ended up alone in an old nostalgia awakening restaurant in Reims overlooking the park where my interest in champagne started with a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvée 30 years ago. I sat there and dreamed myself away over a bottle of Echezeaux accompanied by foie gras and entrecote while the rain flooded the streets outside.

The next morning we were picked up and driven to Aÿ. I sat myself next to my former mentor and motivator, the ever-vital and elegant queen of champagne - Serena Sutcliffe. Between us we shared what life brought us during the last 10 years. We certainly agreed that this would be mightily exciting because she, in recent years and I never, had tasted any old wines at all from Bollinger in the house's auspices.

Over the last three years, the house has secretly pursued a gigantic inventory of every corner in the cellars. It was decided back in 2010, when they found a forgotten cellar with extremely old bottles, to renovate every single bottle in the form of disgorging and cork replacements, etc. The modern technology of laser aphrometer designed to measure the pressure in the bottles without opening them has been the key to success at work.

 In the forgotten cellar behind huge amounts of empty bottles they succeeded to find vintages down to the historical inception in 1830 from the foundation of the house in 1829. At the end of this fantastic project they had secured 4,000 bottles. Most bottles were disgorged a la Volée and tasted separately. Bollinger have now created two unique vinoteque galleries - 1829 and La Réserve. The new chef de caves Gilles Descôtes, who led the project, showed us around in the two very impressive cellars. The cellar La Réserve shows something even more unique. Because Bollinger is making its standard cuvée from the amazing collection of reserve wines, stored in magnums under light pressure, they have separate crus in a gigantic amount of vintages to follow. The entire 3000 magnum´s are located in the beautiful and by artist´s ornamented cellar aisle. It was with a slight weakness in the knees of anticipation we sat down at the table to get a taste of what the cellars had to offer. We would never had expected that we would get to taste the top wines Bollinger ever made. To get them served in the best condition made of course the experience even more magical. Here are my tasting notes from the historic tasting in Aÿ.

 

2002 Bollinger Verzenay Réserve 90 92

100 % PN  Reserve wines stored in magnums with half the amount of carbonic. Brilliant, clean and typical of the village with a spiciness and blood orange notes reminiscent of R.Lalou from the same year for obvious terroir reasons. Deep, soft, long and intensely expressive already in the young phase the wine is in now.

 

1999 Bollinger Verzenay Réserve 91 92

100% PN  Large, smoky and roasted bouquet with an acidity that made me believe it was the 1996 in the blind tasting. Strong minerality and depth in the aromas with a dry reverberation.

 

1992 Bollinger Verzenay Réserve 90 91

100% PN Developed style with hints of pepper, motor oil and white Burgundy. Strong body structure with mandarin and cream in the finish.

 

1985 Bollinger Verzenay Réserve 93 93

100% PN Depth and majestically aged. Again with notes of engine oil, pepper and mandarin. Rich oily texture and a sleek maturity disguise.

 

1969 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises  Collection 99 99

100% PN  I just needed to dip my nose for a second before I realized what wine it was. Here you are met by a blast of smells with an equally unmistakable as indescribable crystal clear identity. The volume is huge, but the wine is extremely fresh and acidic thanks to vintage. The aromatic spectrum is ranging from jasmine, passion fruit, sea buckthorn, licorice toffee, black olives, tar and charcoal grilled meat. A perfect bottle from the debut year.

 

1952 Bollinger RD Collection         97 97

75% PN, 25% CH  Disgorged for Madame Bollinger´s private cellar in 1969 with 11 grams of sugar. A great depth and at the same time vitality charming with a creamy silkiness. Notes of freshly baked bread, dried fruits and caramel confide the chord.

 

1945 Bollinger Collection   97 97

75% PN 25% CH  Disgorged for Madame Bollinger´s private cellar in 1969. Not as dark and truffle-scented as bottles I previously encountered on the open market. There is a depth and a classic tight construction with a dry basis. Minerals, smoke and spicy funds dominate the overall impression.

 

1937 Bollinger Collection   99 99

75% PN, 25% CH Disgorged for Madame Bollinger´s private cellar in 1969. Fantastic and impressive with juicy nectar notes, oily texture and a quite vibrant color and mousse. Young style with deep concentration and voluptuous overtones. A wonderful beauty filled with the most you can associate to in a champagne.

 

1924 Bollinger Collection  96 96

80% PN, 20% CH Disgorged for Madame Bollinger´s private cellar in 1969. I had never before beheld a 1924, so it was no wonder I guessed on a 1929 when we got to try the delightful treasures directly at the house in Ay. Something lighter than the greatest vintages of Bollinger but still mightily impressive. Hazelnut notes, popcorn, mango, passion fruit and butterscotch take turns on leading the aroma spectrum into a long fresh aftertaste.

 

1914 Bollinger Collection   99 99

75% PN, 25% CH Disgorged for Madame Bollinger´s private cellar in 1969 and now in perfect condition at Bollinger. Made from across 23 crus with Bouzy as a main component of 18%. A startling bouquet. Golden light color and a long majestic taste that lasted for hours. Most impressive is the incredibly intense scent which in its complex creation contains diverse and at the same time nicely orchestrated ingredients such as; cardamom, lavender, lilac, vanilla, orange blossom, bergamot, Chinese tea and mandarin. Well thickened fat and at the same time a youthful champion. Probably the house's most outstanding vintage.

 

1830 Bollinger Collection 88 88

80% PN, 20% CH Disgorged 2016 without carbonic pressure and without any dosage. The first vintage Bollinger ever made and obviously a historical great experience to taste one of the 13 bottles that survived in good condition. However, I must point out that, considered objectively, that this wine appeared as the worst bottle the house picked up from the collection in June, 2016. Youthful color even though the bubbles were missing. Oxidative on the nose with great similarities with wine jaune or the finest sherry. Almonds, fallen fruit, figs, dates, and a fiercely refreshing acidity. Clean, very long and holds nicely in the glass. Lovely wine in its almost 200-year-developed style.

 

 

1973 Bollinger RD (Jeroboam) I have always been very fond of Bollinger 1973 a in any form. The Grande Année bottles are a little lax now and it is the same with the first RD renditions. On Magnum they are deep and nutty, but on Jeroboam ridiculously youthful with floral notes, metal, acacia and freshly laundered sheets. Maybe not in the most impressive phase, but still my favorite size right now.

 

What did I miss exceedingly from the most prominent the house ever made?

1966 Bollinger (Magnum) 98 98 It was a long time ago since I tasted this revelation, but I assume that it must be in a fantastic shape still.

 

1975 Bollinger RD    97 97 My first great love in Champagne. This is where I realized how great Pinot Noir could taste in a champagne. Hazelnut notes, the mushrooms and the deep dark cocoa note, I will forever remember.

 

1988 Bollinger RD Jeroboam 97 97 Unpleasant that you have to drink it on Jeroboam to get the full impact. It has a fragrant acacia elegance and a marked mineral, almost metallic purity in the acid-based backbone. In between, there flows volatile ethereal perfumes and lifts the wine to sensual highlights.

 

1996 Bollinger RD (Magnum)         96 97 It took many years before I completely embraced the grandeur of this magnificent vintage. Today only a couple of years is missing on a Magnum for full bloom in a rich flowing style.

 

1970 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises 99 99  The most grand and monumental of all vintages of this wine. Almost viscous and colossally dark both in wine as in the aromatic. Surreal concentrated.

 

1979 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes 99 99 Completely different style than the 1970 with fresh floral and nutty classic appropriations complemented by peach driven fruit. The most elegant edition of this wine along with the debut vintage of 69.

 

1996 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises 97 99 A little less impressive lately, but trust me, it will come back within 5-6 years!

 

There you go. There we have the essence of almost two hundred years of wine history of absolute world class.

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