Friday, 6 June 2014

Plenitudes -the cyclical expression of Dom Perignon

Richard Geoffroy is never at a loss for poetic words to mark the life of his baby from childhood through adolescence onto early manhood and, finally, the prime of life. We are of course talking about Dom Perignon, which Richard believes matures in cycles or as he now calls them, Plenitudes. Dom Perignon reaches its first peak of maturity (P1) after at least seven years on lees, the exact amount of time determined by the characteristics of that year's vintage. P2 emerges after a minimum of 12 years' maturation and P3 usually requires no less than 20 years.

Vincent Chaperon, born in 1976 into an old Libournais wine family,  is Richard's right-hand man and oenologist. A precise, cerebral fellow, Vincent was in London recently to update us on the team's thoughts about the essence of Dom Perignon, which like all true creations is rarely fixed, more often subtly evolving. Extended lees ageing though has always been fundamental to DP's singular style, as it magnifies every character, enriching and protecting it from oxydising. There is plenty of good science to support this claim, as of all the great prestige cuvees DP is the ultimate expression of reductive non-oxidative winemaking, its fruit and vinosity surging, steady and stable, on its way to a grand distinguished life in bottle:  As any greybeard will tell you, it is a mug's name to be too categoric about DP when young. " Plenitude," says Vincent," is a more important pointer to the evolving character of DP than age per se, which the Oenotheque concept (of a library wine) rather conveyed."

Cutting to the chase, we tasted first the current 2004 Dom Perignon, at this fairly early P1 stage (9 years +) .Moderately dosed at 7 g/l. its easy elegance and harmony was on full show from sight to swallow - a shimmering Welsh gold hue; driving, dynamic citrus-led character evident with a  fine paperclip of minerals  - Chardonnay for the moment seemingly in the driving seat. It's the sort of problem-free vintage that is likely to taste good always. The crop was large but the wine a success because the fruit was in excellent health and free of disease. 17.5+ just now.

Onto the 1998 Dom Perignon P2.  The '98 was a challenging harvest, particularly with the see-saw swings of an intensely hot August followed by two weeks of rain in early September: These swings requited rigorous selection of grapes and - absolutely key - a later picking date at  DP: from 21 Sept to take advantage of the returning good weather. Still, it would be idle to deny that '98 is a controversial vintage: several big guns - Bollinger (save the VV Francaises), Jacquesson, Salon and Louis Roederer generally skipped the vintage, fear of certain instabilities and some not- so-noble rot their main reasons for not declaring. But the small band of bravehearts have, for me, made exhilarating champagnes, balancing on the high wire of opulent richness and athletic acidity - Krug, Pol Roger straight vintage, La Grande Dame and of course Dom Perignon itself are favourites. Personally, I have always preferred the DP'98 to the '96 (even as Oenotheque) though the '95 may be better than both.

 The P2 1998 has a lowered dosage of 6 g/l ( the earlier cuvee had 8 or 9 g/l) and an admirable post-disgorgement ageing from April 2012. Definitely the right sort of fine tuning, delivering a colour of fine luminous gold, a steady stream of tiny bubbles and characteristics fully worthy of a second plenitude: the aromas are more intense, honeysuckle melding with yellow peach, and a poised richness and energy on the palate that is truly exciting, What I really love is that one comes face to face with the wine's complex character. The lees ageing helps of course but doesn't mask the majesty of this very fine champagne. 18.5

I would drink it now and over the next three years. To be frank, I'm not sure that the last maturing stage  of Plenitude, P3,  20 years +, really convinces me as a principle across the board. Haven't the lees really done their work after 12, maybe 15 years at the most ? Of course, as an old dog, I may well be in my dotage by the time the P3 stage finally arrives! Live for the moment and enjoy the DP 1998 P2 in the lotus days of summer and autumn till 2016/17. Salut!

Michael Edwards June 2014

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