A question of time in a bottle

Prestige name

Then, just before we went to press, Dom Pérignon’s cellar master Richard Geoffroy agreed to tell db ahead of any other drinks publication about his planned relaunch of the prestige cuvee’s Oenothèque – the name used for its late-release and recently-disgorged Champagne.

In an attempt to better highlight the benefits of extended ageing on the lees for this particular product, he will use the word plénitude, with P1 (Plénitude 1) for the initial launch of a vintage after around seven years on the lees, P2 for a further release of the Champagne from the same harvest after around 12-15 years on the lees, and then P3 for the same product after 20 years on the lees, and a total of 30 years ageing.

DP P2 1998

Dom Pérignon’s P2-1998

“Dom Pérignon has developed through plenitudes since day one, so there is nothing new, but we felt that instead of referring to oenothèque, which is the site holding the inventory, it was better to refer to plenitude,” Geoffroy explained.

Continuing, he said, “We thought it was more relevant to come up with something evoking the phenomenon of active maturation on the yeast, which is so salient and singular to Dom Pérignon.”

Further explaining his decision to rebrand Dom Pérignon’s late-release expressions of a single vintage, he pointed out that while there is “one ideal moment” to bottle a still wine, for DP, there are “no less than three moments”.

And, importantly, the Champagne does not evolve in a linear fashion, but ages in a series of stages, producing “windows of opportunity, or plenitudes” according to Geoffroy.

There are of course other examples of Champagne that demand higher prices due to extended lees contact in the cool of their houses’ cellars.

For instance, both Krug and Moët have their vintage “collections,” and Veuve Clicquot its Cave Privée, which was launched in 2010 with the 1980 vintage.

Then, in 2012, Laurent Perrier unveiled a recently-disgorged, late-release multi-vintage Champagne when it launched Grand Siècle Les Reserves to mark its bicentenary.

Containing a blend of ‘95, ’93 and ‘90 vintages kept on their lees in Laurent-Perrier’s cellars, the house suggested this may mark the start of an oenothèque equivalent from the company.

Before this though, Lanson had introduced its Extra Age Brut and Extra Age Rosé styles: multi-vintage blends aged on the lees for a minimum of five years (followed by a disgorged-to-order service for its older vintages, such as 1976, an approach now also offered by Philipponnat for its Clos des Goisses).

However, while there is undoubtedly greater emphasis on extended lees ageing for yet more rarefied and expensive prestige cuvée Champagne, these late-release expressions are encouraging professionals to ask a number of questions. In particular, bearing in mind the extra cost, what are the benefits compared to buying the product on its initial release and ageing it oneself? Furthermore, is there an optimum time Champagne should spend on its lees? Finally, what is the impact of extended lees ageing on Champagne’s life post-disgorgement?

The first question is well answered by Moët & Chandon’s chief winemaker Benoît Gouez. For him, extended lees contact brings “an extra layer of reductive aromas from the extra years on the yeast – which I often describe as brown flavours such as toast, coffee and grilled nuts”. He says: “On the palate it tends to extend the wine, give it more weight, and the longer on the yeast, the finer the bead.”

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