Champagne Pol Roger 1914: What makes a Luxury Wine...Extraordinary?

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) At first, you may say that a champagne is extraordinary because the taste of this luxury wine is just...extraordinary. "Taste is the one sense that brings the greatest enjoyment" great food-lover Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said. But Taste is very relative, controlled by the cerebral cortex and strongly influenced by culture. Therefore, taste varies enormously from each person. On the day I tasted Pol Roger 1914 with champagne experts, we all shared the same enthusiasm: " It's fresh, elegant, intense with delicate bubbles. How can it be so lively after 97 years?. This champagne is really extraordinary."

What makes this champagne so lively is not only its taste. Hubert de Billy, from the owning family, made it lively when he explained that "it was disgorged in 1934 and that it can age for long years still." Yes, you read it right, this champagne was disgorged around 80 years ago and does not go into this fashionable category of RD champagnes (RD meaning Recently Disgorged) that we can find now on the market. This is an OD Champagne (OD does not mean "Oh my Dear" even if Winston Churchill could have said so if he had put his nose in the glass but OD would mean literally Old Disgorgement). In fact, tasting a RD 100 years old champagne is by itself unique but tasting a 100 years old champagne disgorged in 1934 makes the experience even more extraordinary.

How can Pol Roger still have these old vintages in their cellar?

"After 1924, the economy in Champagne was much better" commented Hubert de Billy. "Pol Roger developped its business and in 1934 we opened our new celliers at 34 Avenue de Champagne, still a landmark building in the town. It was the right time to disgorge these bottles and stock them. Most of our current business being based on selling the more recent champagnes, we took the opportunity to cellar these 1914 bottles."

Even for experts, guessing the vintage and disgorgement year for this bottle would have been simply impossible. The champagne was so fresh, vibrant and lively. We could easily feel the power of chardonnay grapes in this champagne, maybe sourced from vineyards around Epernay (Chouilly...). But nobody knows exactly and who cares as long as the champagne is superb...In fact, secrets kept in this bottle made the champagne even more extraordinary.

Even with a little knowledge of history, we all know that 1914 was the beginning of the first world war. So we can easily understand that making champagne during this period was complicated. "Maurice Pol Roger, mayor of the city of Epernay at this time, was looking for opportunities to develop the economic situation of his town. Men had to go to war and Maurice said to the women to go and harvest. The town decided to print bank notes in order to pay for each volume of grapes harvested.." said Hubert de Billy.

This is the end of the story and, at this stage, you may have the anwer to the question asked at the beginning of this article. Like it says on each bottle of Chateau Gruaud Larose "Le Vin des Rois, Le Roi des Vins", Pol Roger 1914's label should mention “Harvested to the sound of guns. To be drunk to the sound of Trumpets”. On the other day, there were not only trumpets but a full orchestra playing a symphony. In our glass, aeration made this wine even more complex in terms of aromas and intense on the palate. The champagne, by itself, was superb. Superb but the rest made it just....extraordinary.(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


2010 Northern Rhône Wine: « After the Exuberance of the grape varieties in 2009 wines, welcome to the Exuberance of the soils in 2010»

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) A recent tasting of 2010 Northern Rhone wines at Maison M.Chapoutier was an excellent opportunity for Michel Chapoutier to give his first impressions on the quality of this vintage for each appellation. Before considering any specific appellation, he first declared: « After the exuberance of the grape varieties in 2009 wines, welcome to the exuberance of the soils in 2010. In the 2010 vintage, wines deliver a magnificent definition, with minerality, elegance and a great tension.» Here is a summary of his comments on each appellation.

Appellation Cote-Rotie 2010 « The flowering was less generous than in 2009 and Nature has therefore regulated the load by vine. Grapes have benefited from a remarkable natural concentration. This 2010 Mordorée shows a black colour and a complex and intense nose of ripe and fresh black fruit. Beautiful floral aromas (Violet…). Full bodied, very elegant with tanins and a great balance. Finish shows a splendid mineral tension. »

Appellation Condrieu 2010 « The flowering was generous on the viognier grapes and the very northern climate in 2010 allowed harvesting grapes with remarkable fresh aromas. Immediately we knew this vintage would deliver finesse. The result is in accordance with our expectations. The nose shows beautiful fresh aromas. Notes of exotic fruit, litchi, pineapple, but also notes of citrus fruits, green lemon and apricot. On the palate, the wine is full bodied, refreshing and delivers minerality. The structure, supported by a beautiful acidity, is well balanced. Finish is persistent and aromatic. »

Appellation Saint Joseph White 2010 « Flowering was even less generous than in 2009. We harvested beautiful grapes full of concentration and minerality. At first, the nose of this 2010 White Granit expresses power and aromatic complexity with a mix of citrus fruit, fennel and some very elegant reduction typical from granitic soils. The mouth, rich and powerful, expresses the mineral tension from granitic soil with an impressive precision. Floral, mineral notes, with fennel and anise aromas and and a beautiful "bitter almond" finish. The refreshing signature of a perfect Marsanne on Granitic soil. »

Appellation Saint Joseph Red 2010 « In 2010, Saint Joseph wines from the southern part of the district are more powerful than those from the northern part which deliver an extraordinary purity. This 2010 Les Granits delivers a nose full of black fruit with a strong mineral accent. Graphite, carbon, impression of a stone burnt by the sun. The tension on the palate, the important and delicate tannic structure as well as and the minerality from a granitic soil make this wine unique. Aromatic persistence is impressive with a full, complex and tense sensation. »

Appellation Crozes Hermitage Red 2010 « This 2010 Varonniers shows a very intense nose, with black and red fruit notes (black cherry), lovely vegetal and floral aromas (violet). The attack is massive, tanins add beautifully to the structure of the wine. Full bodied and balanced with a nice mineral tension. A finish with a great precision and some black fruit. »

Appellation Crozes Hermitage White 2010 « A first discreet nose and then an astonishing complexity for a Marsanne planted on sedimentary soil. Elegant marriage of fennel and citrus fruit (green lemon), very refreshing aromas. The palate is well balanced between fruit (pear…), nice vegetal notes (fennel, anise) and mineral tension. Finish is persistent and refreshing. »

Appellation Hermitage Red 2010 « Syrah grapes ripened very slowly, skins accumulated important quantities of polyphenols which give powerful attacks as well as structured and balanced wines. The nose of this 2010 Pavillon is complex and very intense. With aromas of black fruit, blackcurrant, blackberry and graphite, this wine shows a delicious freshness. Palate is powerful, full bodied. Beautiful tanins add to the structure of this hermitage. Finish is explosive. »

Appellation Hermitage White 2010 « Whites are very mineral, with elegant aromas of white fruits and white flowers. Always with a beautiful acidity, finesse, complexity and saline finish. A discreet nose at first for this 2010 White Ermite, then a large range of floral nuances and mineral notes but always discreet and very delicate. Complexity is such that it is difficult to name them separately. Mouthfilling, the expression of this wine is based on a delicate mineral tension. Floral and mineral notes come together to make the wine even more impressive. Aromatic persistence is impressive: fresh, with a mineral tension, the wine offers a refreshing sensation.»

Appellation Cornas 2010 « This appellation produced grapes with a beautiful maturity. These wines are both powerful and balanced. The wine shows a black and deep colour. A very complex nose with fig and fig leaves aromas. Then notes of graphit, carbon, soot. Attack is massive, with elegant and structured tanins, lovely flesh and superb mineral tension. Full bodied, the wine shows a big volume with structure and flesh. Tanins, which are still showing a little “granitic” austerity, will benefit from ageing. »

Appellation Saint Péray 2010 « The nose expresses some aromatic complexity, a mix of citrus fruit, pear, beautiful flower nuances (hawthorn), anise and a discreet and elegant reduction. Palate is generous, rich, supported by a lovely acidity and a long finish punctuated by a beautiful mineral reduction. » (More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)


2011 Resolution: Take Time to enjoy the Best Wines made on this Planet!

(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr) Yquem, Vega Sicilia, Petrus, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Egon Muller, Romanee Conti, Penfolds Grange, Sassicaia, Krug, Quinta do Noval, Dom Perignon, Margaux, Screaming Eagle, Pingus....Sometimes privileges come with age. And sometimes they come with your job!.

Travelling, meeting nice persons, tasting magnificent wines with knowledgeable people is definitely A Great Privilege. I have to admit that drinking the most fabulous wines produced on this planet is something unique. But, at the same time, I may sometimes feel frustrated not to have spent enough time to enjoy those wines. In fact, professional tastings have nothing to do with a scenario like "opening a bottle, sitting around a table with some people, having food and enjoying a glass". And for that reason, I sometimes feel that I miss a part of the experience. So, if there would be a resolution for 2011, I would go for that one: Take more time to enjoy some of the greatest wines Nature and winemakers are offering.

12 months, 365 days....2010 has given great opportunities to taste splendid wines. I say "taste" because most of the time it was during professional tastings. I would definitely sit again and enjoy the wines I particularly appreciated. Some examples?

1978 Champagne de Venoge Blanc de Blancs, with its beautiful and exhuberant truffle aromas and a definition of purity on the palate.

1999 Coteau de Vernon (Domaine Georges Vernay), for the expression of minerality, precision and elegance in Condrieu.

1900 Chateau Gruaud Larose for the perfumes, the colour and the delicate fruits. Simply unbelievable after 110 years...

2000 Littorai, a pinot Noir from Sonoma County (USA) that delivers a lovely fruit, with a great balance and a nice potential for ageing. A future US icon wine?

1990 Chateauneuf du Pape Barberac (Chapoutier) for a brilliant interpretation of Grenache in a great vintage and in a splendid appellation.

2007 Giorgio Primo which shows a great balance between structure, power and aromas. A mineral tuscan wine for great Bordeaux lovers!

1963 Quinta do Nova Nacional: Dark ruby, Sweet, spicy, tannic, silky...There is everything in this Port.

In 2011, if I could have these delicious wines once again, I would share them with some friends and take my time. I would forget about the immediate reactions I have during professional tastings: Is it really as great as we would expect? To what wine does it compare? what other vintage of this wine could it be compared to? How does it rank in this particular vintage compared to other producers? Does it exactly reveal the terroir? In fact, I should forget about all these questions that come first to my mind and which make, maybe, the experience a bit different. Difficult, in fact, to get out of this analytical aspect which is now part of myself. But, anyway, you know how difficult it is to follow the resolutions you wrote down on January 1st...So Have a great 2011! I wish you to enjoy many new unforgettable experiences and share great wines with winemakers down in their estate cellars!(More wine news on www.vitabella.fr)