Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

What I learned today at Bollinger (in no particular order)

The 2012 harvest is small but genuinely very good indeed. Sugar levels approach 11% potential, pH is low and acid fairly high. Mathieu Kauffmann, Bollinger’s Cellar Master believes that it will be on a par with 2002, though with slightly higher acidity, and that most houses will declare a vintage.  The flowering was drawn out from the first of June to the first of July. There is a lot of millerandage, but as I was able to taste for myself, the small seedless berries are fully ripe.

Organic growers had a very different experience – regular rains washed off Bordeaux mixture used to treat mildew and sulphur to treat oidium and they were left with little or no crop.

The juice with highest sugar and lowest pH is the cuvée (first pressing). The pH rises by as much as 0.2 with the second pressing as more elements such as Potassium are released into the juice.  This was apparent even on tasting the freshly pressed juice. The secret of freshness in the wine is therefore to use as much first press juice as possible. With this, Bollinger still feel able to do a full malo-lactic fermentation.

The new shaped bottle, released earlier this summer is based on an old bottle found by Mathieu in the cellars. It is modelled on a magnum. It has a wider body and narrower neck – with a 26mm ring. The bottling line had to be adapted to take it, but it offers not only an ‘aesthetic appeal’ but better aging capability with a much reduced cork size.

The secret of Bollinger lies in the magnums of special reserve wine bottled directly from the barrique, with a dosage of 6g/l sugar to give a very modest pressure of CO2 – ‘Quart de mousse’. The wine aged between 5 and 15 years represents 5 to 10% of the Special Cuvée.

A riddler can turn 50,000 bottles a day.

SO2  levels have been gradually reduced to around 50g/l  and Bollinger is probably the only Champagne house not to sulphite the final liqueur d’expedition. A full malo also makes a lower level of sulphur feasible.

The wine is better than ever. In particular, I was privileged to be able to taste the 2004 Grande Année ( a bottle disgorged in July) – which is yet to be released. Fleetingly reductive, the familiar brioche –like oxidative richness soon asserted itself. The fruit is markedly citrus (much more than the fabulous 2002) with lemon and grapefruit to the fore. Grapefruit is particularly marked in the mouth, with just a hint of pithy bitterness. It has lots of fruit, maybe even more in the mid palate than 2002, but is rather shorter. It will be all too easy to enjoy as soon as it is released.


Comments are closed.