Wine trade lunches are not what they used to be. The digital world has made the working day that more urgent for everyone, and the wine trade is no exception.
This, combined with the popularity of social media means there is no longer any comfortable long and lazy lunch place to hide, and if you dare to delve into this indulgent world before you know it you’re ‘papped’ at 4pm in a Michelin-starred restaurant on a Tuesday afternoon devouring some delectable petits fours. Shame on you!
Well, don't judge me, but there was no shame on my part when I attended The Bollinger Lunch last week. This is my exception to the long lunch rule, and so too it seemed to be for other conscientious wine writers, including Jo! ;)
On a sunny May day last week, a group of wine press gathered in London's Beaumont Hotel at the Colony Grill Room's private room greeted by the house's president Jérôme Philipon and with a glass of Special Cuvée, Champagne Bollinger’s Brut NV. The lunch in general though focussed on Bollinger’s vintage cuvée La Grande Année (formerly Grande Année), the most recent release of which was 2007 and the oldest we tasted at lunch was from 1989 (the label of which I LOVE, by the by).
Kicking off with two 2007 wines, one from bottle and the other from magnum, Gilles Descôtes, the house's chef du cave explained: “2007 was exceptional because it blossomed very early and we were expecting the harvest to be early too. In the end we had 9.7% natural sugar, which is a lot higher than is typical in Champagne." He concluded by saying even though 2007 is not a widely declared vintage in the region, "2007 really matches the Bollinger style so we believe it was a good choice to declare vintage in this year.”
Here's how the wines fared, and as you will see, it really was worthy of being the annual wine trade lunch exception. I haven't asked her yet, but I'm sure Jo would agree!
La Grande Année 2007 by bottle
Vibrant with buttered toast and apricot jam, waxy with apples. Quite tight on the palate, needs time in the glass to open out or even better, time in the cellar to age further, this beauty has some way to go. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay from 91% Grands Crus and 9% Premiers Crus sites. Dosage 7g/l. Disgorged June 2016.
La Grande Année 2007 by magnum
Nutty, rich and with good baked apple and developed notes. Lovely tropical fruit with a touch of honey and gingerbread spice. Deep but fresh too.
Disgorged October 2016.
Grand Année 1992
After discovering that the initial bottles of this went astray with the courier - to London via Korea - and that Gilles kindly dipped into his personal cellar to ensure we had the 1992 that was planned (so kind!!), Gilles advised it consisted of fruit from 23 different villages. In contrast with LGA 2007 which used wines from 14 villages, we were told that Bollinger is now deliberatley using fewer villages in its LGA wines, believing this will increase quality. 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, with 6 g/l dosage (which is very low for that era).
This was an absolute delight, still remarkably fresh with dense baked apple fruit, crunchy freshness, well defined bubbles and beautiful balance of minerality and waxiness, as well as a very long finish. It was a terrific match with our chicken and fondant potato main course.
Grande Année 1989
There was a little bottle variation on this as it came around. Some being a little mushroomy and others a little closed. Nevertheless, it really came into its own on the palate with the 24 month-aged Comté revelaing a strong buttery richness and a delicious (dry) caramelised nut flavour. 61% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay with 6 g/l sugar. It was disgorged in 2016.