If James Bond liked his martinis shaken, he also had a thing for the bubbly, particularly the world’s most recognized luxury champagne brand, Dom Pérignon. The iconic bottle appears in eight Bond films and in one of Ian Fleming’s books.
We put our martinis aside for a second for the chance to taste one of Bond’s other go-to tipples, three vintages to be exact. Dom Pérignon’s Brand Ambassador, Stanislas Rocoffort de Vinnière took us through the history, complexities and exquisiteness of the champagne, which was founded by the 17th Century Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, who some say is the founder of bubbly wine, a claim disputed by others.
Whether he is or isn’t the father of sparkling wines, the monks legend lives on, from the Court of Versailles to 007’s hotel room, and his processes have been refined over the centuries.
To make a fabulous champagne, according to Stanislas, three things are required:
1. a great vintage: logically, if you want good wine, you have to start with good grapes. That’s why Dom Pérignon doesn’t produce Champagne every year - some years the grapes just aren’t great
2. blending: this is where the artistry comes in. Master blenders must taste the wine that results from the harvest and guess what it will taste like after the sugar and yeast are added, the bubbles appear and aging
3. aging: Dom Pérignon wines age for nine years in their bottles.
Back in the day, aging could be a problem as the more the wine sat in the bottle, the more bubbles it produced and the more pressure was put on the glass. It’s said that about half of the bottles in Champagne used to explode due to this natural process. Today, Stanislas figures it’s about one in 100,000 bottles that suffers this fate.
Of those Dom Pérignon bottles that did not explode, we were able to taste three, including one that is becoming relatively rare. Although all three were delicious - we could certainly appreciate the refinement of each wine - we’re not going to feign champagne expertise and say that we could pick out all of the odors and flavours, so we’ll defer to Stanislas and his brand.
First, we tried the current vintage, Dom Pérignon 2004. 2004 was a pretty good year for the grapes of Champagne as the weeks before the harvest were dry and hot and the maison is happy with the result for its “ease and generosity”. The nose gives “aromas of almond and powdered cocoa” and the palette gives a “precision” that is “extreme, dark and chiseled.” We noticed that it was a rather pleasant wine, accessible but still with a fair amount of complexity, and that it was long on the palettle.
Next we tried the 2002 to taste the difference in the wine from year to year. A little more aging brings more intensity and the 2002 millésime was “mineral and fresh on the nose with a faint smoky note”.
The jewel of the tasting was the 1996 Rosé, a wine that Stanislas said can no longer be found in the cellars of Champagne, only at the boutiques and collectors around the world that have bought it. So the tasting was even a treat for him. The harvest that year was late and the wine is made with very rip grapes. Stanislas started throwing out all kinds of notes - toasted cereal, brioche, apricots; when the glass warms a bit he got leather and earthy notes. On the palette, oranges confits and hints of red fruits all while maintaining its freshness.
Despite the fact that all three champagnes lived up to the legend of Dom Pérignon, we still think that a Craft Gin Club Membership, at £40 with all of its cocktail possibilities, is a better value. The current 2004 champagne starts at £126 while we found the 1996 Rosé at £285 on the Whisky Exchange.