Bollinger La Grande Année and La Grande Année Rosé 2015 in Paris

Bollinger Grand Année Rose 2015. Champagne Bollinger

It is not every day that as a wine journalist you get to leave for an overseas trip in the morning and get back in time to sleep in your own bed.

For the launch of the Bollinger La Grande Année 2015 and its Rosé counterpart, at least the UK press contingent only had to take the Eurostar to Paris and return on the same day. It was a somewhat different story for the international press and trade, who had been flown in to the capital’s sunny pre-Easter bustle from the furthest flung corners of the globe.

The 2015 vintage had been a significant year, not least because it marked the beginning of a new sequence of vintages in which climate change had moved from spectre on the horizon to white-hot reality.

The occasion was a special lunch prepared by a two Michelin-starred Alsace chef, Olivier Nasti, to offset the two new prestige vintage cuvées against woodland-themed dishes (see below). The Paris venue, the Philanthro-Lab, is a listed historic monument, once a 15th century butcher’s shop that became the first medical school in Paris, Hotel de la Bûcherie, in the 17th century, and recently renovated to become a corporate hospitality venue. If you think that sounds a touch extravagant, Bollinger had arranged a similar event on the same evening and the following day for the trade, and the day after that, an immersive alfresco launch in a UK woodland setting complete with teepees.

Charles-Armand de Belenet. Anthony Rose

The operative theme word here is woodland, because the forest in general and wood in particular are at the heart of the Bollinger style. As the lavish pamphlet accompanying the launch states:

Champagne Bollinger’s history has always been interwoven with that of its 110 ha family-owned forest in Cuis, which stands above the maison’s 180 ha of vineyards and oak is the house’s most distinctive characteristic.”

By allowing the wine to breathe and soften, the fermentation process in oak aims to bring with it a micro-oxygenation that contributes to the hallmarks of the Bollinger house style.

After promising Bollinger’s ‘great gastronomic wine steeped in the spirit of the forest’, managing director Charles-Armand de Belenet introduced the press to Bollinger’s resident cooper, Gaël Chaunut. Showing us a variety of tools from his Aÿ workshop, the chiselled artisan treated us to a demonstration of the art of maintaining, repairing and restoring the regular percentage of Bollinger’s 4,000 casks. Most of the casks Bollinger uses come from its partner in wine, the Burgundy négociant, Domaine Chanson in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Since 2015 however, Bollinger has been using wood from the forest of Cuis, with the aim of increasing its home forest as a source of supply.

The 2015 vintage had been a significant year, not least because it marked the beginning of a new sequence of vintages in which climate change had moved from spectre on the horizon to white-hot reality. Despite a rainy August, a hot dry summer with the highest recorded levels of sunshine since 2007 led to an excellent year with compact bunches of small berries and high-ish levels of acidity, bringing ‘texture, concentration and generosity’.

A thumb-sized horseradish and carrot mini-cone canapé kicked off lunch under a canopy of 9,500 pieces of paper, apparently designed to resemble a forest. The La Grande Année 2015 was then put through its paces with a medallion of venison tartare and crunchy, citrus ice disc topped with Osciètre caviar. This mouth-watering match had the gastric juices working overtime for a next course of Arctic char, cooked with beeswax, and a warm vinaigrette with honey and fir oil.

Chef Olivier Nasti. Anthony Rose

The first dish allowed La Grande Année to emerge as the star of the show. With the Arctic char, a big surprise: the same wine in magnum and yet not the same wine. In magnum format, the wine was transformed into something tighter and leaner, a greyhound puppy, neck and neck with, and set to overtake, the more obvious charms of a golden labrador retriever.

The main course of thin slivers of medium-rare roast loin of Alsace venison with a variety of purées (pine, mushroom, red fruit, white cheese and hazelnut) and a side dish of egg noodle spatzlés with fermented milk and goat’s cheese was the trumpet voluntary for the La Grande Année Rosé 2015. A fruitier, vinous champagne, whose ripe raspberry-ish fruit and the extra texture grip of tannins from the addition of red wine contrasted well with the savouriness of the game and its sauces.

A creamy sheep’s Tomme de Brebis and a nutty, 28-month aged Comté from the cheese artisan, Bernard Antony, followed, paired with a jeroboam of 35-year-old La Grande Année. The Bollinger Special Cuvée could only struggle with the final flourish: meringue shell, grilled chestnut ice cream and Mikan mandarin.

The La Grande Année 1989 was served blind and my colleague Simon Field MW upheld British honour by correctly identifying the vintage. Lunch over, the chef asked another of our group which was his favourite pairing. “The cheese course,” he blurted. Cue Bateman-cartoon consternation on the face of Monsieur Nasti, who, for one brief moment, was indeed no more Mr Nice Guy. A potential diplomatic incident was defused however when it emerged that the editor had not meant in any shape or form to denigrate any of Monsieur Nasti’s carefully considered pairings, but, rather, that the pairing of the mature Comté with the La Grande Année 1989, had been a triomphe.

La Grande Année 2015 is available for purchase from fine wine merchants and the La Grande Année Rosé 2015 will be released later. The wines are imported and sold in the UK through Mentzendorff.

Bollinger Launch Wines

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