The full-court press of the holidays is upon us! By the time the end of last week rolled around just about everybody needed a little pick-me-up. I was happy to celebrate our hard work an add a bit of excitement to our usual Friday staff tasting by popping the cork on some bubbles.
The unquestionable star of the night was Bollinger's 1999 Grande Annee. This is an amazing bottle of wine - the one that everyone was talking about Saturday morning. Rich and thunderous with a fantastic foundation of dark and sweet notes, baking spices, and the trademark "Bolli" cookie dough provide a solid core around which shavings of citrus added high notes and balancing accents. The concentration and length... nothing short of amazing.
For those of you who have never had vintage Bollinger, this is the perfect moment to indulge - with the party season beginning, I can't think of an under-$100 bottle of vintage Champagne that offers the finely detailed exuberance and pure hedonism of the Grande Annee.
This was hardly the first time we've taken serious notice of Bollinger. We hosted a blind tasting last year at Crush where my GM Tom Stephenson and several other top NY sommeliers picked Bollinger Grand Annee as the best of 12 "tete de cuvee" champagnes including some familiar names that will remain anonymous to protect the innocent!
While Bollinger is certainly a "Grande Marque" house, they hardly fit the mold of a large negociant. While many Champagne houses focus on Chardonnay as the foundation for their wines, Bollinger highlights the richness and depth attainable by incorporating a large percentage of top-quality Pinot Noir - the 1999 Grande Annee is 63% Pinot Noir.
Bollinger also owns nearly 150 hectacres of vines - including two legendary vineyards that were never affected by the phylloxera epidemic of the 19th Century. It is from these miraculous vineyards that the house produces a few thousand bottles of the rare and collectible "Vieilles Vignes Francaises" - a 100% Pinot Noir "blanc de noirs" produced only in top years, which we have as well!
These extensive vineyard holdings also mean the Maison is able to supply themselves with the great majority of the grapes they need. This gives the house a tremendous amount of quality control and you can taste it, even at the level of their basic non-vintage wine, the "Special Cuvee." (Which we also have in-stock at the sharp holiday sale price of $38.95.)
While many houses take a systematic approach to winemaking, Bollinger's style is more free-form, based on the conditions of the vintage and how the wines develop in bottle. Their wines are only disgorged just before the bottle is ready to leave the estate.
While this enriches the wine and can add to the bottle's depth and complexity, it also means that each bottle is truly unique - especially those from the same vintage that are disgorged at different times. Though this can be perplexing for those out to quantify every individual experience - a fool's quest anyway - those more concerned about the moment with the bottle itself, the added level of attention to detail can pay off in spades.
Our history with the Grande Annee is proof positive. Time and time again, the distinctive richness and opulent, forward style has proven to be simply irresistible...