Sunday, 13 March 2016


Yes this is Bollinger. In a way, again! But not again the usual way.

Red wine, Pinot Noir, that makes up a tiny proportion of the blend for La Grande Annee Rose. It is also released in its still expression as the wine does stand out.

For years I thought, that the essence or, if you would have it, Le Perfume, the essence, of Bollinger was its Vielles Vignes Francaise, but I wasn't willing to accept that. Somehow, I just wasn't ready or comfortable to make the comparison and the declaration.

Bollinger is one of the few houses that are horizontally consistent in style. Laurent-Perrier being another one, just for comparisons. By that I mean, that certain characteristics of its wines are always manifest in its entire range of wines with, of course, some variable in intensity. With Bollinger, La Grande Annee Rose had always thrown me off course.

So in a nutshell, the viticultural expertise and the practices of Bollinger, its vines express what I have always been saying best manifest the style of Bollinger, and that is plums. This tipple however encompasses and is the basis of Bollinger's every fizz's variable intensity. From plums to prunes, to coffee. Their red Pinot Noir is rich, big, bold, elegant and tastes and smells of backed plums on a thick crust sourdough base pastry.


At last I finally managed to taste this tipple! It had been a very long time since I had Bollinger, and if it weren't for my latest trip to Champagne the likelihood and the chance to taste or drink it on my horizon would have been very slim; not improbable though.

I realised though, that I had been very lucky! To have tasted the likes of 1990, 1995, 1996 as my first experiences of Bollinger and of Champagne, on reflection I understand that the bar had been set extremely high and so many grand and great and exquisite Champagnes had paled in comparison. Worse, and to add, was, that at the time, fortune smiled at me brilliantly with La Grande Annee having little competition and whatever there was, rang the loud bells of the likes of Cristal, Krug Grand Cuvee, Dom Perignon, La Grande Dame. 

There and then, I was right at the beginning of the new millennium and more interestingly at the rebirth of Champagne and at the rebirth of Bollinger's vintage wine from mere vintage to a cuvee de prestige. And what better harvests to mark this transition?

When at Bollinger, the grand daughter of Charles Heidsieck with a sigh commented on 1996 La Grande Annee as 'the pact between God and Bollinger'. I don't disagree.

After the 1997 vintage release, doubts have started creaping up and I had longed for the experience of 96, 95, 90 of which the most memorable was that of 95 but I was  aware that in terms of vintages my luck was running ashore. The new millennium was dawning and with it so was the global warming along with new socio-cultural trends which, as I later found out, contributed to some fundamental shifts in Champagne. 

I do need to reflect on my experiences of 02, 03, 04 in order to offer some justification.

In one of my previous entries, I mentioned the comparisons of those harvests on the backdrop of previously tasted vintages from the 90s. I must add the almost-forgotten harvest of 1992, not purely for the record but this vintage has been surprisingly important for the naughties than the sensational 95, 90, 96. 

And the 92, was the expression of Bollinger's highest low; exceptional style, ok harvest, exceptional wine but nothing divine. 

And those are the words that best describe 2005.

When I tasted 02, 04, 03, 05 my reluctant but acute disappointment had something to say. I thought, 'Something isn't right here', and my doubts were confirmed when I found out that La Grande Annee had been subjected to malolactic fermentation which made the wines rounder and slightly creamier.

I would be both unfair and unjust, if I continued to rant on with my disappointment. La Grande Annee as a wine is a style that charms many, it consumes other peoples' souls like no other Champagne does, there is something intrinsically visceral to it that binds human souls to it in an inexplicable way. Perhaps it is the viticultural androgyny that the wine manifest, being at once a fizz, and a red wine of incomporable character, depth, elegance and style and it is no wonder that in Champagne, Bollinger is one of the most respected brands.

And I don't need address again the effects of the word: BOLLINGER.