Bollinger’s new Champagne: the story in fullBy Patrick Schmitt
We reveal the full story behind Bollinger’s first new permanent addition to its Champagne range since 2008, including the fact it came from a contest.
According to the maison’s managing director, Charles–Armand de Belenet, the latest expression from the Champagne producer, called Bollinger PN, hailed from a winemaker’s competition comprising a range of base wines from the 2015 vintage, spearheaded by the cellar master, Gilles Descôtes.
“Gilles Descôtes had a crazy idea in 2015: he organised a contest for the wine committee team to produce the best Pinot Noir, with the winner becoming a new cuvée,” recorded de Belenet.
With three full time winemakers at Bollinger, there was a blind tasting of a triumvirate of base wine blends, with the top-performer being a pure Pinot Noir from the grand cru village of Verzenay combined with 20% reserve wine stored in magnum from Bollinger’s cellar.
And the person who crafted it was the man who instigated the contest: chef de cave Gilles Descôtes.
This winning blend explains the code name on the front of the bottle: PNVZ15, referencing the fact this new Bollinger cuvée is a Pinot Noir from the cru of Verzenay in the 2015 vintage.
But, due to the inclusion of 20% reserve wine, which has been aged in magnum, with the oldest being from the 2009 harvest, this just-launched Bollinger expression is not a vintage Champagne.
It is, however, a pure Pinot Noir fizz – otherwise known as a blanc de noirs, even though it doesn’t say this on the label.
And, future expressions of the cuvée will always be pure Pinots, focused on a particular village in Champagne.
Two key elements inspired Bollinger to launch this pure Pinot Noir Champagne, which is the first permanent addition to the range since Bollinger Rosé was launched back in 2008.
The first was its longstanding focus on the Pinot Noir grape: Bollinger is based in Champagne’s Pinot heartland, Aÿ, and the producer has a minimum of 60% Pinot in all its expressions, including its Brut NV, Special Cuvée.
The other was the fact that the only 100% Pinot in the Bollinger range was its Vieilles Vignes Françaises, a vintage Champagne from a tiny special pair of parcels where the vines are planted without rootstocks (something extremely rare in Europe since the arrival of the root-eating phylloxera bug in the late nineteenth century, which forced vignerons to replant on phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks).
With this small production Champagne retailing for more than £600 a bottle, it was understandably felt that the house needed a pure Pinot expression at a more accessible price – and, since db first broke news of the new cuvée, we have been told that Bollinger PN will retail for £80 in the UK.
“The starting point was to create a little brother of Vieilles Vignes Françaises, because the quantity is very limited and the price is very high,” said de Belenet.
“We needed something accessible in quantity for global distribution, and accessible in price for Champagne lovers,” he added.
“The brief was to be 100% Pinot Noir, and to be non-vintage to have enough volume to be a permanent addition in the range,” he continued, before stating, “And it had to be fully enjoyable right now.”
Future releases in the PN range will follow the same philosophy set by Gilles using the 2015 base wines – after each harvest there will be a blind tasting contest for the best expression of Pinot Noir.
This means that the 2016 version “could be from the same cru or another village,” said de Belenet.
It’s also worth noting a few further aspects to the inaugural release, which goes on sale next week.
It employs 80% grapes from Bollinger’s own vineyards, which now amount to 178 hectares (increasing at a rate of 2-4ha annually), and the 2015 base wine has been 50% vinified in barrels (compared to 15% for Bollinger Special Cuvée).
As mentioned above, PNVZ15 contains 20% reserve wine that has been aged in Bollinger’s cellars in magnums – a practice unique to the house – which is higher than the Special Cuvée NV, which uses 5% of this component.
The launch expression was disgorged in November 2019 and given a dosage of 7 g/l, meaning that it has spent four years ageing in contact with the wine’s lees.
Although de Belenet did not want to reveal production figures for the new Champagne to db, he did say that the pure Pinot cuvée was the same size as Bollinger Grand Année – the vintage prestige cuvée expression from the house.
Meanwhile, the follow-up version of Bollinger’s new PN range will be unveiled at the beginning of next year, and will come in the same black bottle with black label.
Finally, in terms of style, this year’s release was described as an “aromatic bomb” by de Belenet.
Having tasted the wine it is certainly overtly fruity, with layers of fresh to dried apple flavours, with a persistent salty and chalky finish.
“It’s all about accessible pleasure,” summed up de Belenet.
First edition of Bollinger PN: the facts
- Name: PN VZ15
- Grape: 100% Pinot Noir
- Main origin: Verzenay
- Other villages: Aÿ, Bouzy and Tauxières
- Base vintage: 2015
- Reserve wine: 20% (stored in magnum)
- Oldest reserve wine: 2009
- Disgorgement date: November 2019
- Time on lees: 4 years
- Dosage: 7 g/l
- Price: £80 (RRP in UK)