To see the poster of a James Bond film in French language and that too with a bottle of Champagne of the house I was visiting was a typical Bond like start to my visit to maison Bollinger. And sure enough, it proceeded with the glamour element associated with the suave fictional spy! So what exactly spurs a well recognised Champagne house to align with a famous film franchise? That Britain happens to be the largest consumer of Champagne in the world is one consideration, but according to Matthieu Kaufmann (then Chef de Cave at Bollinger), it is the long standing association of Bollinger with the British starting with the conferring of the Royal warrant on the brand in 1884 and of course the universal appeal that James Bond has when it comes to the best in taste and style!
But there is more to Bollinger than just Bond. Established in 1829 at Aÿ, Champagne, this house is known for its heavy inclination towards the Pinot Noir grape varietal as also for its consistency of wine style over the centuries, that is facilitated by sourcing 60 % of grapes from its own vineyards and the rest from trustworthy growers since long back. Another major contributor to this consistency is its Reserve wines sourced entirely from Grands Crus and Premiers Crus vineyards amounting to around 6,00,000 magnum bottles at a given time that are aged from 5-15 years, and used to blend the annual releases.
Our visit started from the labyrinthine cellars located under their office space and two adjoining small vineyards that produce their famous pre-phylloxera (a pest that destroyed vineyards across Europe in late nineteenth century) era wine. The cellars understandably were quite cold, full of ageing magnum bottles of reserve wines covered with thick mold and bottles that were in the process of riddling. Christian Dennis, our host for the afternoon informed us that these cellars having centuries old mold on the roof and walls, provide optimum environment for the wines to mature by maintaining the right temperature and humidity levels, and we couldn’t agree more.
From the cellars, we went to the house Cooperage where a dedicated Cooper maintains 3000 odd barrels for fermenting/ ageing wines and to the winery where we could get an insight into the intricacies of wine-making in barrels as well as steel tanks. Coming to the wines, Bollinger has an interesting portfolio with each wine groomed on the premise of a distinct USP. The portfolio is described towards the end of this post.
As we finished with the visits, it was dusk, and time for our rendezvous with the man behind crafting the wines, Mathieu Kauffmann. Christian escorted us to the iconic house of Madame Lily Bollinger, the most popular figure of the house till date, who was charge d’affaires from 1941 to 1977. The first Champagne of the day, Bollinger Rosé was poured soon enough with Mathieu Kauffmann arriving simultaneously. In-depth discussions followed with lots of technical inquisitiveness on our part, and continued at the dining table where a meticulously paired fare awaited us:
Homard Bleu à la Truffe d’Été
(Blue Lobster with Summer truffle)
Bollinger Special Cuvée
Light gold with fine bubbles. Complex aromas of ripe fruits and roasted apple compote. A good structure, length and liveliness on the palate.
Pièce de Veau jus à la Noisette
(Piece of Veal in Hazelnut juice)
Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2004
Salmon pink with orange highlights. Fruity, spicy and nutty on the nose. Surprisingly vinous on the palate accompanied by a delightful freshness.
Comté de Réserve Franche Comté
(A hard cheese from the Franche Comté region in eastern France)
Bollinger La Grande Année 2002
Antique gold colour with aromas of rhubarb, stone fruits and spice. Well structured on the palate with a long finish.
Déclinaison de Verrines aux Fruits rouges
(Red fruits served in tilting glasses).
Light pink with bronze tints. Aromas of red currant, cherry and wild strawberry. Pleasant tannins and fruity with lots of berries on the palate.
Around dinner, Mathieu highlighted the USPs of the wines in tandem with the sips relished, that are described below. As we bade adieu, he also presented to us a wonderful book charting the history of the House and loads of information on specific wines for posterity.
The bubbles of the effervescent rendezvous continue to permeate our minds ever since.
The Bollinger Portfolio
Bollinger Special Cuvée
About the wine
To sustain its USP, this wine has the major assemblage as Reserve wines. 85% of the wine is from Grands/Premiers Crus and it is aged twice as long as stipulated by the Champagne Appellation (i.e. 30 months as compared to 15). The grape constitution in the blend is 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier.
(Special Cuvée retails in New Delhi at Rs. 6380.00)
USP: The tinting red component comes entirely from Grands Crus hence making for a complex character.
About the wine: This Rosé is created by blending the Special Cuvée with powerful red wine from plots in Grands Crus. The blend is 62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier.
Bollinger La Grande Année Brut/ Rosé
- Fermentation entirely in barrels, promoting micro-oxygenation and therefore the ageing potential.
- James Bond’s wine ( Vintage 1999 featured in Quantum of Solace and 2002 in Skyfall)
About the wine: The vintage champagne from the house, La Grande Année is produced 100% from grapes sourced from Grands and Premiers Cru vineyards. This wine too is aged in the cellars twice as long than required by regulation. It is riddled and disgorged entirely by hand and sealed with natural cork. The Rosé version is blended with red wine from the Côte aux Enfants parcel (see below) reserved exclusively for this wine.
La Grande Année Brut- 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
La Grande Année Rosé- 68% Pinot Noir, 32 % Chardonnay
(La Grande Année Brut 1998 retails in New Delhi at Rs.17900.00)
Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants
USP: A Still Red wine from Champagne region produced from a small plot of less than one hectare that is entirely planted with Pinot Noir
About the wine: Legend has it that the origin of the Land’s name comes from its steep slopes where only children could work in older days. These slopes have excellent exposure to Sun resulting in the grapes ripening sufficiently for red wine production, which is unique for the cold region that Champagne is. It is a 100% Pinot Noir based wine that is appreciated for its closeness to the Burgundy style, yet maintaining a distinct identity.
- Prestige Cuvée of the house reserved for exceptional vintage years.
- James Bond’s favorite wine (Moonraker, Octopussy, The Living Daylights, License to Kill).
About the Wine:The jewel in Bollinger’s crown, this wine , apart from having most of the attributes similar to the Grande Année above. In addition, it is aged thrice as long and is administered a very low dosage to make it Extra Brut. Further, it has the disgorgement date set close to the release, to give the consumer choice of choosing between the freshness and liveliness or for maturing the wine more for extra complexity.
Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises
USP: Wine from two attached small vineyards to the house and a walled vineyard called Le Clos des Chaudes Terres literally meaning “The closed vineyard with hot earth” (emphasizing on its warm aspect for grapes ripening. that have ungrafted vines from the pre-phylloxera era. All of these are Grands Crus.
About the wine: The only wine that can provide a taste of the pre phylloxera era, it is cultivated using the traditional method called “en foule” or “in shoals” implying the shallow depth. It is because, two of the vineyards are situated right on top of the cellars and this is believed to be the reason that the deadly pest that affected all vineyards across Europe, miraculously spared these two. The wine itself is a Blanc de Noirs with the other virtues similar to La Grande Année.
La Grande Année 2002 Limited Edition to celebrate 50 years of Bond-Bollinger Partnership
(Content Courtesy: www.jamesbondlifestyle.com)
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of 007’s appearance on screen and the Bollinger / James Bond partnership, Champagne Bollinger launched a limited edition special presentation box. The box includes a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Année 2002. The presentation box, in the shape of a Walther PPK silencer, opens by aligning the three figures 007 and by clicking on the gun logo button, revealing a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Année 2002, the most exceptional vintage in the last decade according to Bollinger.
The bottle, adorned in shiny black and hot stamped silver, is a collector’s item in itself, an elegant celebration of the 50th anniversary of James Bond on screen. The guilloche pattern on the label and the cap is repeated on the box, a veiled reference to the grip of the pistol.