The release of a new vintage of Dom Perignon champagne is always a significant event. The latest release is the 2004, which chef de cave Richard Geoffroy described as coming from an “easy and generous” vintage.
The chef de cave is the chief winemaker at a champagne house. Geoffroy said the 2004 was a sharp contrast to the 2003 vintage. The weather for the latter was “erratic”. This is a euphemism for tough, with low yields of fruit.
In 2004 Dom Perignon got an average of about 10,500kg of fruit per hectare, compared with only 3,500kg per hectare in 2003.
Dom Perignon is vintage champagne. It is only made in good years, and only 40 vintages have been produced between 1921 and 2004. Dom Perignon is the prestige end of a range of champagnes produced by Moët et Chandon, one of the world’s biggest champagne houses.
The prestige cuvee is named after Dom Pierre Perignon (1638-1715), a Benedictine monk who focused on making sparkling whites when red was the more popular drink. It is a myth that he invented champagne, but he did develop sparkling wine styles. The wine we know as champagne did not evolve into its current style until the middle of the 19th century.
Geoffroy said the weather in 2004 was “nearly perfect”. “The year rolled by effortlessly,” he said, and that year’s vintage “clearly demonstrates that ease.” The vintage’s true personality was only revealed thanks to the dry heat during the last few weeks of the growing season in August.
“The growing and fruit-ripening periods went by smoothly, with no difficulties, a phenomenon that we have rarely, if ever, seen before.” The harvest began on September 24 and the grapes displayed excellent ripeness and health, he said.
The high quality of the fruit means 2004 is a vintage to cellar. When the 2004 received an early release in London in May, wine merchants told customers to buy the 2003 to drink, but to keep the 2004 in their cellar.
Gareth Birchley of wine merchant Bordeaux Index told Decanter.com his company sold 3,000 six-bottle cases within the first few hours of the release. It was a repeat of their almost instant sell-out of the 2002 Dom Perignon rosé, released in January. The 2004 vintage sells for about GBP 475 for a six-bottle case.
The 2004 is a blend of 53 per cent pinot noir with the balance chardonnay. Dom Perignon is only made from these grape varieties. On the nose the 2004 has aromas of almonds and dried flowers. The mouth offers the sensation of a range of white fruits, zingy acidity, and chalky astringency. The texture of the champagne in one’s mouth marks this as a wine to enjoy over time.
During a lunch to release the vintage in Asia, Geoffroy spoke of this wine’s fine line between density and weightlessness. “Its precision is tactile, dark and chiselled.”
One way to think about Dom Perignon champagne is the union of yin and yang — the blending of pinot noir and chardonnay. The chardonnay provides the sensations of the front and middle palate and the pinot the middle and end palate.
The key, Geoffroy said, was in the blending. “It is about tension and harmony because Dom Perignon is the sum of many terroirs.”
Geoffroy has produced 23 vintages with Dom Perignon, which is based in the famous Avenue de Champagne, the most famous street in Epernay.
Champagnes are stored in large cellars built into the chalk rock on which the town is built. Some of those cellars extend for several kilometres, and the total length of cellars is estimated at close to 100 kilometres. Given the value of the champagne stored in these cellars, this would make the Avenue de Champagne one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. Chalk is a form of limestone and is perfect for long-term storage, vital for vintage champagnes.
Glorious mansions of Renaissance or classical architecture line the Avenue de Champagne, and include the headquarters of prestigious champagne houses like Moët et Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Mercier and De Castellane.
At the 2004 launch, Hong Kong media had the chance to taste the 1970. It is very rare to have three vintage years in a row. It has only happened three times: in 1969, 1970 and 1971; in 1998, 1999 and 2000; and in 2002, 2003, 2004.
The 1970 was elegant and still felt surprisingly young. Wine writer Serena Sutcliffe once said that with age, “Dom Pérignon takes on a totally seductive fresh-toast-and-coffee bouquet, one of the most intriguing scents in Champagne”. That is a perfect description for the 1970. A joyful experience.