This Ay-based negociant has the considerable advantage over many other houses of owning 150 ha of its own vines (providing two-thirds of its supplies) and therefore being able to rely on a core of first-class raw materials on which to build its wines, especially the reserves (stored painstakingly in magnums under cork) and the top cuveés.
Bollinger’s “Charter of Ethics and Quality” was also designed to underline its commitment to best practices at a time when other so-called Grand Marque houses were transparently unable to do so; this charter is now alluded to on the back labels. Special Cuveé is the name of the Brut non-vintage, a pure and forthright wine of reliable depth and some complexity (half the component wines are oak-fermented). The vintage Grande Anneé, the RD (Recemment Degorge) series, and the rare Vielle Vignes Françaises, based on two small parcels of ungrafted vines at Ay, are all among the region’s summits.
The style in these wines is deep, dark, sober and serious. Not necessarily austere: there is too much Pinot-built power and push for that, and indeed in youth the wines can be off-puttingly massive, jangling, and unresolved. They are, though, concentrated at all times, making little concessions to the timid drinker, and age magnificently towards an articulate and finely detailed maturity. They are also laudably subversive of the concept of the brand, in that everything in the range (and not simply the RD, which is the same as the Grande Anneé but given extra years on yeast) remains undisgorged until around three months before dispatch.
Needless to say, this leads to ‘lack of consistency’- something that makes brand builders knees knock. Bollinger’s Champagnes, in other words, do not always taste exactly the same as their putative brand “prototype” because the taste of the champagne depends on when it was disgorged. I welcome this, since there does not seem to be a standardized and predictable ‘moment of perfection’ to disgorge a particular Champagne, and in any case the strategy of serial disgorgement reflects the living, changing nature of wine, a product of agriculture rather than industry. When you taste a great Bollinger, such as the RD 1985 tasted in 2002, you will find such a wealth of allusions to the natural world and such craft and nuance in its layered flavours that to harp about apparent differences with previous releases seems misguided.
Andrew Jefford- The New France