Champagne Hiking – ’12 Bollinger ‘La Grande Année’

Picture of Richard Juhlin

Richard Juhlin

M E A N W H I L E by T H E O C E A N Bubbles & Claret

2012 Bollinger ’La Grande Année’ | 92[95]p 

RICHARD JUHLIN TASTING NOTE ’As you know, I love the magical moment when I get the chance, as the first wine writer, to release the cork of the latest vintage of Bollinger ’La Grande Année’. We have been spoiled by a trend where these beauties were released later and later. In other words, more drinkable and mature than before. The latest already legendary vintage 2008 was admittedly extremely youthful at the launch despite its high actual age. Since neither 2009, 2010 nor 2011 was considered to be a big year at the discerning Aÿ house, 2012 is thus released at the age of 7.5. It should probably be a good age to drink a wine made in a consciously oxidative style on old oak barrels, but despite its great wealth and delicious aromatic profile I advise you to put every bottle in the cellar between 5-10 years for the greatest possible enjoyment. The wine is made from 21 villages with Aÿ and Verzenay in the driver’s seat backed by elegance from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oiry. The wine is characterized by vitality and energy more than depth at present. The color has a brilliant golden luster and the mousse is almost tempting in its resilient youthfulness. The scent is beautifully house-dominated by apricot, almond, hazelnut and smoky sophisticated intensity as from a freshly lit outdoor fire. The attack is stunningly intense and the weight in the oral cavity leaves nothing to be desired. Resilient energy and fullness are combined with greatness, but the aftertaste is still a little too simple for one-track healthy. Here I wait for the final acids to be joined by deeper greasy layers with more substance. Anyone who has patience will be rewarded with tantalizing flavors and chocolate-saturated complexity and an added exoticism of honeysuckle in the wine bouquet.’

RJ ON BOLLINGER Joseph Bollinger was the German from Würtemberg who founded this ancient house in 1829. The French called him simply “Jacques.” The firm’s large estates in the best Pinot villages were bought by his sons Georges and Joseph, and in 1918 it was time for the next Jacques to take over the property. He became the mayor of Aÿ, but died during the German occupation at the age of forty-seven. The most colorful person in the history of the house is his widow, Lily Bollinger, who kept a watchful eye on every bunch of grapes by cycling through the vineyards regularly. Her rigorous demands for quality still run through the house to this day. Now Bollinger is run by Jérôme Philipon, who control over 144 hectares, providing 70 percent of the grape supply. The winemaker today is Gilles Descôtes. Besides the house’s exceptional vineyards, they also use very expensive vinification methods. All the vintage wines are fermented in small, aged oak barrels and are never filtered. Malolactic fermentation—which would probably take place very late in the process—is not encouraged either. The reserve wines are stored at low pressure in magnums. Bollinger make the heaviest and most full-bodied champagnes of any house, and their wines always have a smoky and hazelnut-y complexity that is very hard to beat. The vintage wines are among the very best, but the question is whether the rare and fantastic Vieilles Vignes Françaises, made with grapes from non-grafted Pinot vines, can reach even greater heights. All wines highly recomended.

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