It is a year since Champagne Bollinger launched the monumental La Grande Année 2008 and between that vintage and La Grande Année 2012 it has bottled no other La Grande Année wines. The 2012 more than lives up to expectations, Anne Krebiehl MW writes, with the 2012s being hedonistic from the get-go in contrast to the 2008’s understated appeal. Iconic English St JOHN Restaurant was chosen for the UK launch because of its focus on craft, simplicity and the essence of ingredients – key tenets shared with Bollinger and the construction of these stunning wines.
“As soon as we tasted through the first few barrels, we pretty much knew La Grande Année 2012 was going to be a good vintage.” Guy de Rivoire said.
The din in the foyer of the St JOHN Restaurant in Clerkenwell was almost deafening. Trade and press had gathered and Bollinger Special Cuvée was flowing. The noise immediately subsided when Trevor Gulliver, co-owner of the restaurant, banged against the banister at the dining room’s entrance with a giant soup ladle.
The crowd filed in and Charles-Armand de Belenet, Champagne Bollinger’s managing director, commented on the choice of the venue. The exquisite but no-frills ethos of St JOHN fitted the launch so well, he said, since Bollinger was all “about craftsmanship, simplicity and the essence of ingredients.”
He also noted that, due to illness, cellar master Gilles Descôtes could not be in attendance. The launch of La Grande Année 2012 comes roughly a year after the launch of the momentous 2008 and between these two vintages Bollinger bottled no other Grande Année.
The golden wine was poured as platters of pink langoustines were served. Guy de Rivoire, global sales director for Bollinger, then spoke to give a quick sketch of the year 2012 which did not have a promising start.
A very mild winter without “an inch of snow” passed only to send frost and snow in late February. 6% of the crop was lost due to frost in March which was followed by a cool and damp April and May. The summer was not much better until, so de Rivoire said, “the Champagne miracle” happened. August brought warmth and dry weather until September – it even saw temperatures of up to 37°C – and fruit was harvested between 13 September and 2 October with an average potential ABV of 10.7%. Yields were much below the average, creating concentration and richness but acidity was there alongside low pH levels.
“Exactly what we wanted,” de Rivoire smiled. “As soon as we tasted through the first few barrels, we pretty much knew it was going to be a good vintage.”
The blend of the Grande Année 2012, de Rivoire said, was “classic” with 65% of Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay sourced from 21 crus with the Pinot Noir sourced mainly from Aÿ, Verzenay, Bouzy and Verzy, the Chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Oiry and Vertus.
The Grande Année 2012 Rosé is based on the same blend, but has a 5% addition of red wine, made from Bollinger’s south-facing Côte aux Enfants Grand Cru vineyard in Aÿ. The concentration of that year resulted in an intensely coloured red wine and the dark pink tinge it gives to this Grande Année Rosé adds visual delight to its open and evident charms.
As with all Grande Année wines, both 2012s were fully fermented in oak, aged under cork and agrafe,hand-riddled and hand-disgorged in May 2019 after roughly six years on the lees. Charles-Armand de Belenet later noted that the new bottle shape, introduced for the 2008 vintage, with its super-slim and graceful neck, also meant less oxygen in the bottle, mimicking the magnum effect just a little bit.
The 2012s – in stark contrast to the understated poise of 2008 – are lush from the get-go. Both would be delicious, exquisite still wines: they have body and a three-dimensional quality that seems to maximise their unashamedly hedonistic appeal. It is their creamy mousse that lifts them onto a higher plane, carrying their indulgent richness to new heights.
My table neighbour expressed what I was thinking when he said he would have paired the wines differently: the Rosé with the sweet flesh of the langoustines and the golden white with the earthy generosity of the guinea fowl pie – but those are matters of preference and inclination. In any case, these Champagnes showed that they are fully-fleshed gastronomic wines, expressing ripeness and place, and showing off an expert choreography of textures and flavours created by foam and yeastiness, freshness and roundness – re-created in the very image of that typical Bollinger creaminess.
Bollinger La Grande Année 2012
Golden colour. The first thing to strike on the nose is a sense of mellow creaminess framed by candied lemon richness. The body seems to be a rounded mouthful of captured sunshine. The palate unites sensations of yeast and raw, all-butter shortcrust pastry with lemon rind. The texture seems fluffy, utterly creamy, conjuring images of drinking in golden tufts of cotton candy clouds drenched in sunlit warmth. The freshness is ever-present within this rounded magic, but it is so integrated and mellow that its solar brightness and the definition it gives are just all part of seamless, sun-lit beauty. Yes, of course, this will develop, but it seems utterly delicious now. More air and warmth add a butterscotch spice to the nose.
Bollinger La Grande Année 2012 Rosé
Tasted next to its golden sibling, this Rosé with its 5% addition of red Pinot Noir, adds an aromatic flourish that transforms candied lemon into blood orange. Its perfume and openness are intense, almost heady in their seductive intent. There is lovely juiciness and those Tarocco orange notes, floating on that soft, yet fresh, pillowy creaminess. As the wine breathes and warms, a little spicy steak of white pepper appears. It goes down like nectar.
Bollinger is distributed in the UK by Mentzendorff