x
  • Country ranking ?

    143
  • Producer ranking ?

    2
  • Decanting time

    10min
  • When to drink

    now
  • Food Pairing

    Enjoy without food

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Bollinger is to auction a 102-year-old bottle of 1914 Champagne at Sotheby’s in New York, part of a 600-strong collection of vintage cuvées discovered in a secret room within its labyrinth of cellars.

In 2010 Bollinger staff were clearing out their cellars in Aÿ when a rack of wines was removed from a darkened arch. Behind it the team was astonished to find a hidden room which had remained untouched and hidden for decades, containing around 600 cuvées. The youngest was from the 1939 vintage, the beginning of World War II, and the oldest from 1830.

It is believed that the bottles were stashed in secret at the beginning of World War II to avoid German pillaging, with the location, for whatever reason, never passed on to future staff.

This bottle of 1914 Bollinger was among the wines discovered, and will go on sale at Sotheby’s finest and rarest auction in New York on 19 November, with bids starting at US$10,000. It will be the first time any of the bottles discovered in 2010 have been made available to an auction in the US.

Historically, the 1914 vintage is significant as it was the year that World War I was declared by Germany. By the September harvest in September, many men were already on the battlefields, leaving the women to tend harvest and vinify the wines.

According to Bloomberg, the winning bidder will also will win a trip to the Champagne house’s cellars to visit its Galerie 1829 Champagne library, which contains many of the rare bottles, a private tasting of the 1914 vintage with Bollinger Cellar Master Gilles Descôtes and dinner with the president of Champagne Bollinger, Jérôme Philipon.

 

The sale was the house’s last fine wine auction of the year in New York and the combination of rare Bollinger and a wide array of fine Burgundies saw the sale realise $3.8 million, driving Sotheby’s New York sales’ total for the year to $34m – the second highest figure in the house’s history since it began wine sales in the city.

Highlights of the Bollinger consignment included the bottle of the 1914, which also included a visit to the estate, which went for $12,250; a Jeroboam of 1979 RD for $6,738 and three bottles of 1973 ‘Année Rare’ went for $5,145.

Jerome Philipon, president of Champagne Bollinger, stated: “I am absolutely thrilled with the results from our first-ever US auction – and in fact our first auction in the world. The main takeaway for me is that all of the wines – from the non-vintage to the vintage to the historic vintages – surpassed estimations. This shows the strength of the Bollinger brand across all Champagne cuvée categories.”

The best-selling lot of the night was a 12-bottle case of 1966 Chambertin from Armand Rousseau which realised $58,800 (against a high estimate of $35,000); another full case of 1965 Romanée-Conti from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti made $42,875 while a six-bottle case of 1999 La Tâche went for $26,950. A magnum of Henri Jayer 1985 Vosne Romanée Cros Parantoux sold for $21,000.

 

Several lots were also sold for the benefit of the new Cité du Vin in Bordeaux.

They included a five-litre bottle of 2000 Mouton Rothschild and a trip to the estate which went for $20,000, while a six-litre bottle of 1999 Pétrus and lunch with the Moueix family made $32,000.

Meanwhile, a magnum of 1961 Haut-Brion made $6,000 and another magnum of 1947 Cheval Blanc realised $32,000.

Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Wine, commented: “It was an honour to offer the first wines ever released for auction direct from the cellars of Champagne Bollinger. We saw strong demand from champagne lovers, who will now enjoy these wines that are in perfect condition. The sale included 202 lots of wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti which saw equally strong demand, selling for an average 142% of the low estimate and totaling $1.7 million, with an average bottle price of $2,173. Further highlights included a full original case of Chambertin, Rousseau 1966 which brought close to $60,000.

“We were also delighted to raise funds for the American Friends of the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, through visits to both Château Mouton Rothschild and Pétrus. This sale closes our year in New York with sales of $34 million, the second highest total in the 23 years that we have been selling wine at auction in the United States. As a result, we are looking forward to the 2017 New York sales season which starts in February.”

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The Story

The underground world of the House’s cellars reveals the full importance of time at Bollinger’s. After primary fermentation in small stainless steel or wooden casks the wine is bottled in the spring and taken down to rest in the pervading silence of the chalk cellars; Special Cuvée champagne will remain there for at least three years and vintage cuvees for much longer. It is this long period of rest that develops the extraordinarily delicate aromas of the wine and gives the bubbles their smooth texture.

Each year, some of the very best wines are added to the House’s exceptional collection of 700,000 reserve magnums which are kept for blending Special Cuvée. Stoppered with natural corks during a light secondary fermentation, these magnums enable each wine, from every cru and every plot, to reveal the infinite subtlety of their bouquet and to develop their full complexity while being protected from oxidation. This is a luxury that gives Bollinger the opportunity of letting wines mature over many years before being used. The art of using reserve wines has reached absolute perfection!

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Wine Information

The final wine in our tasting was from 1914. “This was harvested by women and children,” Descôtes said, as the men of Ay had been mobilized for the start of World War I. The wine was amazingly fresh, like a fine Sauternes with a slight effervescence. (Champagne was sweeter back then.) More than any particular flavor, I tasted the anticipation and dread of a doomed generation, from a time when the Marne was still a river and not yet a battle, when cemeteries did not yet welcome visitors to Champagne along the road from Paris.

Wine gets lost down here, too. Six years ago, in a little nook off a cranny in a forgotten corner, a Bollinger worker clearing away several racks of empty bottles discovered that they had been concealing a stash of nearly 600 bottles and magnums, with corks in varying stages of decay. When Bollinger officials matched the codes painted on the shelves and bottles with the company’s records, they realized they had treasure, including 54 bottles from the 1830 vintage, the winery’s first, and several vintages from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

 

We don’t know when they were put there,” says Jérôme Philipon, Bollinger’s president. But the youngest wine was from 1928, leading some to speculate that the bottles may have been hidden to protect them from Nazi occupiers during World War II.

Of the 600 bottles, a third of them could not be identified, and many were leaking through their corks. Winery crews carefully restored as many as they could, using a laser device called an aphrometer to measure the pressure remaining in the bottles.

 

In June, Bollinger unveiled Galerie 1829, named for the year the estate was founded, to showcase those older wines that span the house’s history. Of the 54 bottles from 1830, 13 could be restored. There are now 11 left. Other bottles on display represent Bollinger’s best vintages and show the results of an eight-year effort to match company records with actual inventory and to restore and preserve damaged bottles.

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Latest Pro-tasting notes

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Written Notes

Bollinger Vintage Champagne 1914 / One of the most impressive Champagnes I've come across. The color is still light and the mousse weak. The bouquet is hardly grand with its bready, chocolaty, slightly smoky preamble. On the other hand, the accelerating, stony, and immeasurably vigorous and dryly stringent palate is out of this world.

  • 98p

Until 1962 the name Renaudin (a local winemaker) was on all labels of Bollinger. Young Josef Bollinger was a salesman from Germany who married the daughter of Champagne nobleman Villermont. 
Orange, gingery, root vegetable – radish? Still wine! Amazing impact of fruit. Hardly any oxidation and hardly any mousse but still quite amazingly lively. Dosage just 5 g/l when it was ‘refreshed’ in the 1970s. Presumably at the time, when all the men when to war, it was picked by women? Tastes almost like a liqueur. So complete. Dry finish, but so beautiful! Light smokiness. Almost incredibly, it got better in the glass. What an experience to be lucky enough to taste this wine. But how on earth does one put a drinking window on this?!

  • 100p

Budding was average to good. Flowering was long, leading to serious coulure in some places. Average date of harvest in Champagne: 28 September. The quality was excellent. Average yield of the harvest was 2,200 kg/ha – very low. Wine comprised 23 crus, including principally: Bouzy (18%), Aÿ (11%), Verzenay (9%) and Cramant (9%). Disgorged in 1969 (during the restoration campaign of Madame Bollinger’s personal wine cellar) with a dosage of just 5 g/l.
Tasted blind. Deep, deep gold. Cardamom and sweet baking spice. Floral, honeysuckle notes – typical of the vintage according to Richard Juhlin (he must be one of the few people to be able to claim familiarity with this vintage). On the palate a spice-and-toast tertiary character but the most amazing freshness and silky viscous texture caressing the mouth. No noticeable mousse. More like a sweet wine in texture though the dosage is so low. A slight mintiness. Rich but so fresh. Lavender appears from nowhere, then apricot returns – these heady waves of flavour with such concentration. As it opens up in the glass, it becomes spicier still. Unspittable deliciousness. (JH)

  • 100p
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Information

Origin

Ay, Champagne

Vintage Quality

Excellent

Value For Money

Very good

Investment potential

Good

Fake factory

Be Cautious

Glass time

15min

Drinking temperature

8

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Vins Clairs Cramant Vinifié en Fût

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