One of the great champagnes of the 20th century is 1990 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque. This bottle absolutely blew me away the first time I had it, which was at the private vertical tasting Dom Pérignon held at Crush. Everyone agreed - even among other exceptional bottles, the 1990 Oenothèque had no peers. Though we also had to admit that the 1990 Rosé, served from magnum, was also outstanding - further testimony of the greatness of the 1990 vintage.
"Brothers, brothers, come quickly for I am seeing stars!"-Dom Pérignon, 1690
Richard Geoffroy, the chef de cave and genius behind the wines of Dom Pérignon, told me that of all the bottles buried in their historic cellar, he chooses to pour the 1990 Oenothèque from magnum whenever a "VVIP" pays a visit. During my visit to the chateau this summer, Richard and I tasted most of the legendary vintages from 1959 to present, and the 1990 Oenothèque went toe-to-toe with all the greats. In my opinion, only the 1962 and the 1966 were qualitative equivalents to the 1990, and these vintages are fetching well over a $1,000 if you can find them! I believe the 1990 Oenothèque, while already great, will continue to evolve further into Champagne's hall of fame. Also considering that at Christie's last auction, held in New York earlier in the month, this wine broke through the $300 mark, this is clearly a wine whose future promise doubles as a great investment and as a truly hedonistic drinking experience.
No one has tasted the Champagne more than Monsieur Geoffroy himself, so I share with you his personal tasting notes:
At 16 years young, this bottle is just beginning to reveal intense aromas of "toast, hazelnuts, chocolate, roasted coffee and woody spice." On the palate, the wine unleashes a "bracing freshness" infused with "candied citrus peel." It is at once "rich but not opulent, precise and persistent" with an amazing length. While this wine is just entering its sweet spot, it will only enrich itself in the decades to come.
Crush Wine & Spirits
The Oenothèque Story
Keep in mind that the Oenothèque bottlings are a truly different animal than original release Dom Pérignon. (To highlight this fact, the Oenothèque sports a sleek black label, while the latter carries the classic green shield.)
The Oenothèques are wines that rested for additional years on their lees in bottle in the cellars of Dom Pérignon. Here's how it works: In any given vintage, a number of bottles are held back and stored in a special part of the cellar, where they are monitored by the chef de cave as they mature.
When a vintage proves to be truly outstanding, and the wines mature into something beyond belief, a miniscule number may be released into the market with the Oenothèque label. What vintages are released, and when they are released, is decided entirely by the chef de cave. This is an art, not a science.
That said, Monsieur Geoffroy has made it known that the 1990 vintage has clearly earned its place as one of the greatest Oenothèques ever produced.
The Story of Dom Pérignon
Not very long after the coronation of Louis XIV, a young Benedictine monk was appointed chef de cave at the Abbey of Hautvillers. This holy man proved to be a great innovator, and though the legend differs depending on who's telling the story, there is little doubt that under this man's guidance, the sparkling wines we recognize today as champagne were developed. His name, of course, was Dom Pierre Pérignon.
The vineyards owned by the abbey were bought by Moët in 1816. In the 20th century, under the tutelage of another famous name in Burgundy, Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the champagne house decided to launch a luxury bottling to be made using only the finest fruit from the greatest vineyards in only the best vintages (no more than 6 vintages are made every decade). To honor the man who started it all, they chose to name this bottling Dom Pérignon. The first vintage, 1921, was not released until 1936. In the 85 years since the inaugural vintage, the wines of Dom Pérignon have consistently proven their greatness, age-worthiness, and status among collectors. Dom Pierre Pérignon would be proud.
I'd like to acknowledge Maggie McNie's wonderful book Champagne for providing much of the historical information.