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Bollinger – Decanter Fine Wine Encounter masterclass 2008

Bouchard Père et FilsPaul Jaboulet Aîné ‘Can you think of a more glamorous way of starting a Sunday morning?’, Decanter’s publishing director Sarah Kemp asked, as she took her seat on the podium alongside Ghislain de Montgolfier, the chairman of Champagne Bollinger.

De Montgolfier acknowledged openly that the business of tasting and assessing Bollinger is half wine connoisseurship – and half fashion.

‘We have to deal with all the issues of fashion around Bollinger,’ he said. ‘I’m not so involved with the glamour side, the showing off. I’m far happier with connoisseurs.’

After this subtle compliment to the 100-strong audience in front of him, he got down to the serious business of tasting some of the finest – and longest-lived – Champagnes in the world.

Highlight of the day: the Grande Année Rosé 1996. A fabulous, mature, full-bodied, complex wine. Impossible to spit out, and equally impossible to drink without thinking of long, lazy summer days

Surprise of the Day: the Bollinger chairman’s description of the Grand Annee 1999: ‘It is a wine with la bonne fesse’ – literally, good buttocks.

Best quote from a presenter: ‘I am a dog, with the nose of a dog. I am very proud of it. The first thing I think is, ‘Is it ours?’. If it is not Bollinger, it’s not my taste.’


Bollinger Special Cuvée

‘This is the most difficult wine to keep consistent every year – as no year is the same’. 60% Pinot, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. It has a biscuity nose and superb effervescent mousse, then delicious acid balance and apples, pears and white flowers up front. Full-bodied, strong and light

Bollinger Rosé

Full bodied, sweet floral flavours on a bed of soft but present acids. They add around 5% red wine to get the perfect colour, which, de Montgolfier said, should be ‘somewhere between onion skin and a partridge eye.’

Bollinger La Grande Année 1999

1999 was ‘quite a good year.’ The Pinot Noir / Chardonnay mix is 63% / 37% on this wine, which de Montgolfier described thus: ‘At first we called this a feminine wine. Now I realise that feminine means “strong”.’ A wine that still has 10 years age ahead of it, it has wonderful hazelnut flavours with persistent length and finesse and a dry, acidic finish. ‘This is a wonderful tall girl with great character. She looks sweet but she is very strong.’

Bollinger La Grande Année 1995

A nose redolent of wild mushrooms in early autumn, hazelnuts and a sweetish tinge of marzipan. Glorious Bollinger palate, with the same nuts and sweetness and lovely gentle mousse. Persistent length, strong acids. Beautiful balance

Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 1999

Sarah Kemp: ‘Is this colour and English or a French partridge eye?’

De Montgolfier: ‘If she is lovely, she has to be English.’

This rosé has all the freshness of summer with flavours of strawberry and raspberry with hints of their leaves. ‘It reminds me of Debussy,’ as one audience member says.

Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 1996

After a lack of water in the spring, September was ‘capricious – good and not so good’. Sarah Kemp described this 73%/27% Pinot/Chardonnay blend as a wine in its ‘wonderful middle age’. An intoxicating nose of white flowers and a palate which starts gently and aromatically but shows an intense and gloriously round core. De Montgolfier: ‘Delicious. After 12 years, the Pinot is coming in.’

Bollinger RD 1997

The RD (“recently disgorged”) is a Grand Annee that has matured in the Bollinger cellars for up to 20 years. This £150 wine (65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay) is sumptuous, full bodied, intense and with a superb palate of biscuit and yeast, vibrant acid, honey and citrus fruit.

Bollinger RD 1976

De Montgolfier reminded us of the long, hot summer of 1976. Thirty-two years later we were stunned by this full-bodied, delicate but assertive, floral wine with intense, sweet, spicy fruit and a very attractive nutty acidity. Delicous.

Adam Lechmere

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