The new Dom Pérignon 2013 is being described in some circles as ‘the last pre-climate change’ vintage. Vincent Chaperon, DP cellar master, was in London to launch the new cuvée, talk about its sheer simplicity, how he harnessed its energy and power and why there’ll be no 2014 and 2016 Dom Pérignon. Victor Smart was The Buyer’s scribe at the tasting.
“The trick seems to be not so much to amplify the energy and power of the vintage but to restrain them to keep the wine approachable,” writes Smart about Dom Pérignon 2013.
At the London launch of the 2013 vintage, just about the first thing that chef de cave Vincent Chaperon tells us is that Dom Pérignon is always “built on tension”. To seasoned tasters, that’s scarcely a surprise. But with the 2013 there is a special tension – between simplicity and complexity.
Chaperon says: “I love complexity. People say I am too intellectual, but we realise now that things in the world cannot be simplified – there is not just one solution. At Dom Pérignon we are no longer looking for simplification. Viticulture is coming back to more and more complexity.”
Yet, in his view, what’s most distinctive about his newest vintage is its sheer simplicity. The wine was disgorged in September 2021. When his team first tasted it there were gleeful cries of “it’s so easy, it’s so elegant, wow!”
“We always try to make Dom Pérignon approachable, but the 2013 is interesting because of our vintages this looks the most simple. We say that the Dom Pérignon is first of all about the harmony. But reaching this simplicity requires a lot of architecture, a lot of resources, a lot of complexity.”
Appointed as head winemaker four years ago after joining parent company Moët & Chandon 20 years earlier, Chaperon is lean, casually elegant and youthful-looking (he is in fact 46). He admits the new vintage, which we are to taste alongside the 2010 (in magnum) and much-lauded 2012, may be a bit tight coming straight out of the bottle. Maybe it’s the lovely nose on the wine or the sense of occasion, but before my first sip, my mouth actually begins to water in pure Pavlovian style. Once you’ve started tasting, the divinely soft bubbles (occasionally described as a “pinpoint mousse”) are engrossing before the notes of citrus, the tension between freshness and concentration and the depth of structure reveal themselves.
Chaperon says the qualities of the 2013 are “elegance – very simple caressing and silky”. He chooses the French word “épure” to describe it: from the attack to the finish there is a simple and precise line rather as you would see in a classical marble sculpture.
Dom Pérignon 2013 – last of the pre-climate change vintages
The new vintage is 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Chardonnay with a dosage of 5g/l. The 2013 is being described by some as “the last pre-climate change vintage”. At the outset of the year, the vineyards were subjected to a cold, wet winter, followed by an especially rainy spring. These months were followed by one of the hottest and driest summers in the last two decades. The vines were two weeks behind right from the beginning and never made up this delay. Hence, after two decades of early harvests (interrupted only by the 2004 vintage), the 2013 took us back to a late harvest.
Chaperon talks of the energy and power of the 2013. The way he describes it, the trick seems to be not so much to amplify these characteristics but to restrain them to keep the wine approachable. The precise bouquet exists in a delicate powdery aromatic braid around citrus, then a more vegetal facet and lastly, spices. One gets charmed by the creamy-caressing texture.
Under Chaperon, Dom Pérignon is now striving to make each vintage “more singular”. There won’t be a 2014 or 2016 vintage – after a lot of debate it was agreed the latter was pretty good but, ultimately, was too lean and lacked concentration. He tells The Buyer that we are “in this new world “and have to resist inertia in the company, in the team and in its outlook.
He doesn’t want to make a wine that’s “in your face” but he is eager to keep the door wide open to innovation and, one suspect, disrupt things a little. Some will prefer the well-rated 2012 to the 2013 as it presents today; this is a very different wine with more complexity. Chaperon, meanwhile, clearly has a soft-spot for the 2010 which he says is underappreciated with an entirely unexpected tropical fruitiness. But the consensus is that the 2013 is in fact unusually open for a young Dom Pérignon – and lives up to the exacting standard set for this Champagne house.
Dom Pérignon 2013: Pinot Noir 49 % / Chardonnay 51%, Dosage 5g/l, Disgorging date: September 2021. RRP £205