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Bollinger: Importance of disgorgement often underestimated in Champagne

Comparing disgorging a Champagne to a person going through a surgical procedure, Bollinger’s deputy cellar master stresses the importance of disgorgement on a Champagne’s aroma and taste profiles, leading him to conclude that “a wine starts a whole new life after disgorgement”.

Bollinger deputy cellar master Denis Bunner

Bollinger deputy cellar master Denis Bunner made the comments while hosting a masterclass in Hong Kong to launch the latest 2004 R.D.

Presenting a flight of two samples of the same 1996 R.D, with one disgorged roughly 6 months before the masterclass, and another 6 years ago in 2012, in a blind tasting, the recently disgorged wine showed more fruitiness and generosity of aromas, while the other had taken on more depth of development, toastiness and integration.

“Everyone talks about time on lees, but Madame Bollinger emphasised the role of disgorgement. Disgorgement is compared to surgery. When you go to hospital, you need a little time to recover,” Bunner explained.

R.D, which stands for recently disgorged, is generally released within six months after disgorgement.

The effects of disgorgement on a wine is so pronounced that he asserted, “the wine starts a new life after disgorgement.

Explaining further, he added that disgorgement triggers a sharp intake of oxygen, that can be “as much oxygen as 20 years of ageing in the cellar”. Therefore, Bunner, who has studied disgorgement for many years, is looking into a more gentle and positive way to control the intake of oxygen during disgorgement at Bollinger.

“I worked on the topic of disgorgement for 10 years when I was with Comité Champagne. The role of disgorgement was underestimated until now,” he stated.

Another way to manage positive oxygenation during fermentation is the use of barrels to “vaccinate the wine” against adverse oxidisation. Compared with stainless tanks, Bunner believes barrel ageing is more precise in shaping Champagne’s development.

“We ferment mostly in 228-litre barrel with an average age of 20-years-old, so it enhances the fruitiness of the wine through the barrel, which will open and ‘vaccinate’ the wine. It’s a natural phenomenon, the fact that we oxidise the phenolics means we are able to make the wine stronger, and age the wine for longer.”

The new release, 2004 R.D, has a dosage of 3 grams per litre, a decision made by the Champagne house after its cellar master and Bunner tasted different R.D expressions with one gram difference to make the final call.

The 2004 R.D was disgorged in November 2017.

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