Bottle size matters for Champagne

4th July, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt

Bottle shape and size has a significant effect on the style and evolution of Champagne according to some of the region’s leading houses.

Champagne bottlesIn an experiment on Monday this week, Ruinart proved that the bottle format alters the development of the Champagne through a blind tasting at the Masterpiece art fair in London.

As previously reported by the drinks business, a group of wine writers were asked to assess six Champagnes served in black ISO glasses, before it was revealed that four of the wines were identical, except for the fact they were bottled in different formats.

A half-bottle blanc de blancs NV from the house showed the developed aromas one might expect from an aged vintage Champagne, while a Jeroboam had a much younger character, including an attractive, but slightly reductive note.

The standard bottle showed an appealing richness, while the most balanced wine of the tasting was the Champagne aged in magnum.

Following this, yesterday, at a UK press lunch in London, Bollinger served its latest release: the Bollinger RD 2000, which has been bottled just in Jeroboams because the larger format was declared better at preserving freshness.

“We chose to launch the RD 2000 only in Jeroboams because it was a very warm year,” explained Gilles Descôtes, Bollinger’s new chef de cave following the departure of Mathieu Kauffmann earlier this year to join German producer Reichsrat von Buhl.

“We thought the wine was not fresh enough to make an RD, but then we realised the RD 2000 in Jeroboam was perfect… we found freshness and complexity in Jeroboam that we didn’t find in the [standard] bottle.”

Meanwhile, Descôtes stressed the beneficial properties of the new Bollinger bottle, launched last May, which has been dubbed “the mini magnum” by the house, due to its wide base and narrow neck.

Bollinger 1846

Bollinger’s new bottle dubbed the “mini magnum”

The design reduces the oxygen ingress into the Champagne, slowing the rate at which the wine evolves, explained Descôtes.

And the impact is greatest on the Bollinger NV rosé, according Andrew Hawes, managing director of Bollinger’s UK importer Mentzendorff.

“The rosé tastes significantly different in the new bottle, it has taken it more towards the reductive style, and people really like the taste of the Bollinger rosé in the 1846 bottle,” he told db.

Finally, Descôtes showed that low pH was not a prerequisite for age-worthy Champagne with a tasting of two very different vintages. One was a Bollinger RD from the extremely cool 1988 harvest, which produced wines with very high levels of acidity, and another was from the very warm 1976 vintage, which yielded wines with much lower acid levels.

Having tasted both wines it was clear that the Champagne from the warmer 1976 vintage tasted more youthful than the younger, higher acid wine from 1988.

“The capacity for ageing is not about acidity,” he concluded.

Then, speaking to db after the tasting, he said that the most important factor for creating long-lived Champagne was grape quality.

bollinger_special_cuvee_1

Bollinger’s previous standard, straight-sided bottle

“You want there to be absolutely no rot as you only need a few bad grapes to affect the ageing of the wine,” he explained.

He also said that the Champenois traditionally look at the ratio of sugar to acidity when considering the potential longevity of a wine, with a ratio of 20 believed to be “perfect” in the region.

However, the 1976 had a ratio of 26, and the 1988 had a ratio of 16, he recorded.

As a consequence, he also pointed out that the evolution of Champagne is “very unpredictable”.

Interestingly, he added that one of his favourite Champagnes was the “2003 by Bollinger” – a special and controversial vintage release from a notoriously hot harvest.

“I think this will be a good surprise for its ability to age,” he told db.

Looking ahead, he noted that the next RD release from Bollinger will be the 2002 in all formats, which will be unveiled next year.

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