Like all professional wine tasters, I also have a weekday where the pleasure can make room for the analytical job where the focus is primarily on handing out as fair a score as possible while my verbal description of the wine should be as accurate as can be imagined and capturing the reader’s interest. But as I wrote yesterday (see In love with a wine) wine is so much more than taste analyzes and points.
No matter how much I want to convey an objective truth, my judgments will be influenced by my emotional relationship to the wine in question. It is simply impossible to circumvent subjectivity completely as the experience of the wine is colored by my Swedish culture, my childhood memories and my own personally genetically and physiologically controlled taste preference. Most strongly, my favorites have probably been colored by great champagne experiences I have had before together with people who are important to me in spectacular memorable places in magical contexts.
When I sent yesterday’s little reflection on my love of wine, my colleagues in the Champagne Club answered in unison that the psychological pattern is amazing, similar to what arises in a love relationship between two people. I agree with single phase, but want to make the addition that the blindness of love that I described in the previous column has slightly greater consequences when you fall in love with a woman than when you fall in love with a bottle of Krug.
High scores = the strongest love ?
When you look at my scores in the Champagne Clubs Tasting Library, it’s tempting to think that the highest score has given me the strongest love. But it’s not. I have many high points that I do not have a particularly strong relationship with, but can still objectively appreciate the greatness of. At the same time, there are individual moments and bottles that have given me goosebumps and veritable wine orgasms without me picking out the 100-point card.
As you can see, as an independent expert, I have to peel away my own taste-enhancing circumstances surrounding a wine when it is judged. For that reason, do not think that I dislike falling in love with a special champagne or a specific place to drink. The whole Champagne Hiking concept is based on this desire to be able to affirm all factors that enhance or even optimize a drinking experience to perfection. It is absolutely wonderful to be expectant and prepared when you go to an incomparable place like the Grand Canyon or the Iguazu Falls with just the champagne you think will fit best there and then. To then sit completely contemplatively and take in the nature around and let yourself be engulfed by the moment with life’s bubbles swirling around the tongue and reverently soaking up its grandeur together with a perception-enhancing salon intoxication is complete happiness.
Personal love affairs
Now I thought I would be a little intimate and tell you a little about some champagnes that I have or have had a personal love affair with.
Let’s start with my first sip of mature Veuve Clicquot ‘Brut‘ at the home of some of my parents’ friends on New Year’s Eve 1972 when I was ten years old. Just like the first kiss, one never forgets the first sip of champagne which with its erotic tickling revelation to me evoked a horror-mixed delight in the exciting contrast between ripe notes of skin, cheeses, fall fruit, cellar and mushrooms together with the refreshing mineral-driven fruit, the irritating the mousse and the crunchy finish. Every time I get a bottle of “Yellow Widow” with 15 years on my neck, I am teleported back to the when the clock turned twelve in the suburban villa north of Stockholm.
Only one 100 point champagne
Unlike almost all other wine journalists, I have only awarded 100 points for a single champagne, which I therefore hold as the best I have ever drunk. I have drunk this 1928 Pol Roger ‘Grauves Blancs de Blancs’ twice. For the first time on its 72nd birthday, it was as beautiful as few but far too young for love to take hold. When four years later it suddenly reached incomparable elegance and beauty, we were met in a whirling emotional storm with the strength of a tornado. Like everyone else around the table, I cried profusely with joy and happiness. Think that a wine can evoke such feelings.
Did this unreal treasure become my great love? No, the meeting was far too perfect and too unreal. I do not even have a longing to meet again. Almost like the perfect dream of happiness or like the holiday flirtation with the most beautiful dream woman you have ever seen and never thought you would get, but still had a night of love with umed on the Mediterranean beach. Like a beautiful memory without a future, a sparkler, a painting, no nostalgia, no longing when perfection in the moment had already been achieved.
1914 Pol Roger
Even stronger is the memory of my first glass of 1914 Pol Roger with the recently deceased legend Christian Pol-Roger and my best friend Henrik. Christian Pol-Roger is one of the few people in Champagne I really came to love in an elevated friendly way. His charisma and British humor shaped by his education and by the connection to Winston Churchill are unparalleled in the Champagne world. When he took us down on a cellar walk and made us understand that in a few minutes we would be sitting in Winston Churchill’s favorite room and drinking his favorite wine in 1914 Pol Roger, the mood and expectations were built up to the breaking point. When the Dior gloved servant then opened the bottle with a faint puff and poured the golden nectar into abundant glasses, happiness was fulfilled and the unreasonably high expectations were fulfilled. Christian Pol-Roger called me a year later and told me honestly that he was disappointed that in 1914 Pol Roger only got 98 points and not 100 when I told him that it was the biggest wine experience of my life. My simple answer was;
“It was my greatest wine experience, but not my greatest wine.”
Engagements & champagne
When I look for wines I have fallen in love with, it is no wonder that some of them are linked to romantic moments with the women I have loved. I belong to a strange group of men who seem to go and get engaged every ten years. Marketta’s and my engagement champagne were pretty obvious, 1985 ‘Cuvée William Deutz Rosé’. A truly hyper-romantic champagne we only drank once before on a blushing sunset cliff in Treburden in Brittany and which was the best she has ever tasted. It was not quite as perfect in the sticky warm climate on an even more beautiful Hawaiian beach, but fantastic enough for us to meet around this rare wine a few more times in the Nordic Champagne Hiking environment.
On Hotel Splendido‘s paradise terrace with Sara in Portofino, we drank her favorite rosé Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’ from the year of birth in 1979. And on our wedding days, it was a standing feature wherever we were. Ragnis favorite is spelled ‘Belle Epoque’. I have a feeling it depends as much on the beautiful art-noveau bottle and Maison Belle Epoque’s romantic concept as on the wine itself. Hervé Deschamps chose the most suitable magnum he could find from his oenothèque to our engagement site on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. It was the first time it became a magnum as a mood enhancer and there is nothing I regret. This trio of engagement champagnes is undeniably romantic and I have a strong emotional connection to all three.
This is still not where I find my biggest champagne loves. When I open a bottle of 1982 Bonnaire, I end up in Champagne during the time when my interest took off in the late 80’s when every single meeting was as strong as fire. Bonnaire and Jacquesson came to have a special place in my heart from this time and I can not open a bottle from these two without thinking back in the footsteps of nostalgia and feel the same youthful curiosity now as then. It’s true love.
Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’, Cristal ‘Rosé’ and the vineyard wines from Selosse I am also in love with. Here it is other than specific memories that are the reason for my desire. The intensity of the most beautiful of aromas is simply irresistible and evokes a momentary passionate zest for life every time.
During Pål Allan’s and my trip around the world, some of our magical places were so colossal that the Champagne Hiking we did has come to characterize the impressions of a specific champagne so mildly that every time I open a new bottle of the same wine vintage, I end up in or I miss the hiking area as much as you can miss your girlfriend. In other words, a melancholy painful and to some extent pleasant suffering. A suffering with the hope of reunion as the unrequited love.
Every time I open a Bollinger ‘Vieilles Vignes Francaises’ I miss Patagonia so it hurts in the chest and start planning my next trip there sometime when the Corona virus has fallen into oblivion. The same is true with Cuvée Alexandra Rosé, which belongs to Milford Sound, and 1985 ‘Champagne Charlie’, which of course should be drunk in Icelandic air, or Dom Pérignon ‘P2’, which is difficult to drink without having a pleasurable dialogue with Richard Geoffroy and watching. out over some South African landscape. Oh what I miss your explanations of how the reductively roasted coffee aromas arise in P2 version Richard, but while I miss your voice I can hear it when I close my eyes and let your cuvée envelop my soul wherever I sit and ponder the depth in your bubbling creation.
Recreating champagne memories
When I now sit in front of the keyboard and let my brain recreate the photographic memories of different champagne’s aromas and flavors, it is in the end three loves that have not fallen a bit because they appeared as the top three champagnes I drank during my first five years as a champagne lover. A time of innocent enjoyment and discovery just like childhood, which has the ability to shape future experiences with boundless strength.
I am thinking of the irresistible classic troika 1976 Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’, 1975 Bollinger ‘R.D.’ and 1979 ‘La Grande Dame’ from Veuve Clicquot.
Meeting in Reims in 1986
When I became obsessed with champagne after a short meeting in Reims in 1986, there were three treasures on shelves of Systembolaget. 1980 Dom Pérignon, 1969 Alfred Gratien and 1976 Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’. As a sports teacher, I did not have the fattest of salaries, but still prioritized buying a new champagne every week and had drunk my way through the meager range in a few months. Together with some friends, we created a gourmet club where we cooked fantastic meals and drank delicious wines always with champagne in focus. We were really surprised when the cheapest in the prestigious trio Comtes de Champagne was the tastiest of all bottles available in Sweden. It was simply irresistible and dizzyingly good in an easy to understand way. For a long time, this was the tastiest champagne I drank.
It would take almost two years before it was beaten by a completely different monster. A colossal scent and taste bomb that played on completely different tones. Rich layers of chocolate, truffles, hazelnuts, leather, coffee and gunpowder smoke dominated a majestic dark fruit and at the same time the aftertaste and intensity was deep and long like a film by Roman Polanski. 1975 Bollinger ‘R.D.’ became everyone’s favorite and my mother went to the grave with that wine as her life’s greatest wine.
Bottle bought at Harrods
1979 ‘La Grande Dame’ appeared on Systembolaget’s special assortment a few years later and when I read the magazines’ taste notes I understood that this could be something in the style of Bollinger ‘RD’ When I had a bottle left 1975 Bollinger ‘RD’, bought at Harrods by filmmaker Hannes Holm, I decided and previously mentioned Henrik to bring both to try against each other during our car holiday in 1989. When we one day found a bottle of 1976 Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’ in a local wine shop in Biarritz, we understood that we together with my GIH colleague Kenneth should test this top trio against each other on a Champagne Hiking on the Atlantic cliffs. Said and done. This was actually our first half-blind tasting and it should have been as easy as possible but none of us managed to track all three. My mistake was that I was so set on Bollinger ‘R.D.’ winning that I went more on expected quality than on character and actually had 1979 La Grande Dame as the winner this magical night in the Basque Country. Here was almost the same depth of dark aromas as in R.D., but at the same time more of the charm that characterized ‘Comtes de Champagne’. More sweetness and more vanilla-draped fruit.
Since that night, I have developed a lifelong love for all three. I do not know if it would be too much of a good thing to try to set them against each other again a few decades later, but of course the thought has struck me more than once.
My encounters with 1979 ‘La Grande Dame’ and 1976 ‘Comtes de Champagne’ have been many over the years and their quality and style has been remarkably constant at world class level. They win every time they line up and every time I think at the moment that they are the world’s foremost champagne. That’s not the case with Bollinger ‘R.D.’ which has certainly always been good, but never close to the magic of the first meeting until September 2020 when Denis Bunner produced the perfect magnum and the tears of happiness returned as you probably read when this magnum became the wine of the year 2020 in Champagne Club. My biggest encounter with 1979 ‘La Grande Dame’ was on a Champagne Hiking in the mountains above Nice with some good friends and I do not think I can wait that long before I go down to the cellar and pick up my last bottle of 1979 ‘La Grande Dame’. Can she be the biggest woman in my champagne life? If you are to believe the old motto “Nomen est Omen” (the name is an omen) , it can be so.