Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Today in Champagne – Pol Roger

Pol Roger were my generous hosts today. I’ve never before visited the cellars, which gleam impressively with stainless steel. Wine-making is reductive and squeaky clean, only the first pressing is used and a full malo-lactic is done on all the wine. There’s not a barrel in sight. The quality of the wine and thus the blend for any of their special cuvées is only decided once the vins clairs are finished.

Brut Reserve is, of course, the house’s chief standard-bearer, an elegant blend, aged four years on lees, of a third each of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. I love its focus and purity of fruit, with a very slightly spicy Meunier twist. ‘Pure’ Extra Brut, the same blend, with an extra year aging on lees is much more austere, but also more expressively – and spicily aromatic. The deliciously fruity 2004 Rosé, rich structured 2000 Vintage and sublime, elegant, but very richly complex Cuvée Winston Churchill 1999 all follow the same path of superb balance and great purity of fruit, but the real star for me – by a mile – is the 2002 Blanc de Blancs, which will be launched in the UK next month. What a wine!  It combines yet more richness, with a superb depth of almost exotic fruit, but overwhelmingly white and yellow peach. Soft and creamy, it has extraordinary length and not a trace of the chalky austerity of lesser Blanc de Blancs.

During a tour of some of the vineyards with Hubert de Billy, I was able to see a new Coquard PAI tilting press at work, which as the blurb says, enables a high grape volume to be press with a high pressing surface area. A cycle lasts around four hours. I think the model we saw was the 4000kg – which, I gather costs a cool €120,000.

I asked Hubert about overall production costs in Champagne. As a rough guide, he estimates €5-6 for a bottom of the range wine that includes second-pressing juice, to €20 for a top quality wine from Grand Cru grapes. The price of grapes is around €5.60/kg for Grand Cru quality – and a bottle requires 1.5kg.  Vineyard land rarely comes on the market but Grand Cru sites in Oger changed hands this summer for €1.6 to €1.8 million.

Beware cheap champagne!

Comments are closed.