The new vintage of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is always a hotly-anticipated release and 2009 vintage is no exception. Hubert de Billy, 5th generation family member and director of Champagne Pol Roger, explains to Anne Krebiehl MW the thinking behind the new wine, and how if 2008 was aimed at collectors then 2009 is aimed at drinkers. De Billy says that the House still tries to anticipate what Churchill would have said on each new release to keep it true to form – “Burgundy with bubbles” effectively – and how the wine is all about Pinot Noir and long ageing. In her tasting notes Krebiehl describes the wine as having “opulence and freshness that destines it to be a party wine.” Looks like it’s all round to Anne’s place!
The relationship between Champagne Pol Roger and Sir Winston Churchill was a special one – so such so that he drank an estimated 42,000 bottles of it in his lifetime. Pol even produced a bespoke pint format so an entire bottle would fit into Churchill’s tankard.
Hubert de Billy, 5th generation family member and director of Champagne Pol Roger, was in an ebullient mood for the launch of the 2009 vintage of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. Speaking at the event, held at a Mayfair gallery, he said: “2009 is a great vintage, very drinkable, strong, powerful. If 2008 was a vintage for collectors, 2009 is a vintage for drinkers. It’s so that the people who want to age 2008 have something decent to drink,” he suggested with a wink. He noted that it was the great August that made all the difference to 2009 which had started off rather cool and damp.
Pol Roger’s top cuvée of course is the house’s enduring homage to their most famous client. Sir Winston Churchill, noted James Simpson MW, managing director of Pol Roger Ltd., only ever drank vintage Pol Roger. He had been drinking this brand since 1908 and it is estimated that he drank 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger in his lifetime. It was not until November 1944 that he met Odette Pol-Roger at a dinner given at the British Embassy in Paris where they enjoyed the 1928 vintage of Pol Roger and started their friendship, which they cemented over the coming years.
Correspondence from December 1944 reveals that Churchill was offered 20 dozen bottles of that very vintage at a special price. Simpson followed this with a fitting anecdote of the inveterate bon viveur. After the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Churchill was to meet a Saudi Arabian prince who had stipulated that no alcohol be consumed. Churchill responded that his culture viewed smoking cigars and drinking alcohol as a “sacred right” before, during and after a meal. Pol Roger produced the first ever Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill ten years after his death with the 1975 vintage which was first released in 1984 in magnums only. The 2009 vintage is the 18thCuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
De Billy told The Buyer that Winston Churchill was far more than a name or a memory: “Churchill for us is a great inspiration. He is a kind of motto. We always think ‘what would he say to this wine and would it appeal to his palate?’ We do our best to follow this way of thinking.”
“Churchill was drinking Champagne with his meals. Before the meal whisky, Cognac afterwards, but Champagne always with the meal. It’s like a Burgundy with bubbles, that is what we are looking for. Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is mostly Pinot Noir with a slight addition of Chardonnay. I always say that Pinot Noir is like the bones, the structure, Chardonnay is more like make-up – not to conceal but to make it even more beautiful. Churchill is all about Pinot Noir and long ageing.”
Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2009
The nose, with a scent of Red Delicious apple and fresh Viennoiserie, is immediately open and opulent. The palate aligns a lemon and red apple-flavoured richness, also recalling freshly baked rye crumb, with a vivid briskness and creamy texture. A certain mellowness has an energetic bounce and finishes with more of that Red Delicious creaminess. In a way, its very opulence and freshness destines it to be a party wine – Churchill’s own habit of drinking this at the table notwithstanding.