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Bollinger wrestles to contain ‘opulence’ of La Grande Année 2015

The Champagne house launched La Grande Année 2015 in Paris this week, saying the wine is the result of a “very special and challenging vintage”.

Such is the power and generosity of the Pinot Noir from the 2015 vintage that Bollinger’s La Grande Année 2015 includes 40% Chardonnay, the highest amount ever used in La Grande Année blend, in order to tame the Pinot.

The hottest ever vintage in Champagne from bud break to harvest (even exceeding 2003 and 1976) and one of the driest on record, 2015 has been described by the house as “a very special and challenging vintage”.

Speaking just after the harvest was completed, former chef de cave Gilles Descôtes said that, in terms of ripeness levels, “everything was between good and exceptional.”

“The beginning of the harvest was incredible, with an average of 10.9% for the three first days [of picking],” he said. “The end was a little bit under because of the rain we got during the second week, but we will have very little chaptalisation in 2015.”

The Paris launch of La Grande Année and La Grande Année Rosé 2015 on Monday 25 March was held in the historic surroundings Le Philanthro-Lab in the Latin quarter’s Rue de la Bûcherie, a building that housed a butcher’s shop in the 15th century and was chosen for its links to carpentry, as Bollinger’s use of oak was very much the theme of the day.

Charles-Armand de Belenet, directeur générale, Champagne Bollinger, said that one of the challenges with La Grande Année 2015 was “avoiding vegetal aromas in the finished wines”, which Bollinger managed to do in part thanks to its use of 100% oak barrel fermentation, and the selective process that followed.

“After a mild winter and a super dry year there was only sufficient water thanks to the chalky subsoils in the grand and premier cru sites used,” de Belenet said.

The Pinot Noir in the blend mainly comes from Bollinger’s own vineyards in Verzenay (26%), as well as its home base of Aÿ (20%) plus Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. Chardonnay was sourced from Chouilly and Avize.

As de Belenet noted, the wine’s forward, generously rich, almost opulent style is in complete contrast to the more austere 2014 vintage that preceded it, and as such is perhaps more recognisably Bollinger.

“It’s almost the opposite of the 2014. This is about opulence, and we had to counter that opulence from our Aÿ vineyards with more Chardonnay in the blend,” he said. “Verzenay brings the salty, iodine note on the finish. The harvest started on 7 September and ended on the 22nd when the grapes for the red wine element in LGA Rosé were picked in the La Côte aux Enfants vineyard next to the winery.”

Current Bollinger cellar master Denis Bunner says: “The appearance of the grapes and the weather in 2015 clearly point to a very promising vintage. And so we harvest, we make the wine, and then we wait seven long years. Then it is out of our hands. We relinquish our control and, today, give in to discovery. The taste is well-rooted, earthy, powerful, and concentrated. You can taste the sunshine, which is enhanced by the wood.”

For Bunner 2015 expresses “more of the soul of a Bollinger millésimé than any other year.”

Describing it as “more opulent, more powerful” wine, he said “it exalts Pinot Noir”.

The wine was served in bottle and magnum — the latter far fresher and suggesting the considerable ageing potential of the vintage — at the lunch prepared by two-star Michelin chef, Olivier Nasti, like Bunner a native of Alsace.

While as a vinous treat and a suggestion of where the 2015 may be heading with time, jeroboams of 1989 were produced alongside cheese – 28-month Comté and Tomme de Brebis — from affineur Bernard Antony to bring the meal to a vinous climax.

Priced at £175 for La Grande Année 2015 and £225 for La Grande Année Rosé 2015, the wines are available from: Berry Bros & Rudd; Amathus; Lea & Sandeman; Brunswick Fine Wines; Nickolls & Perks; Davis Bell & McCraith and BI.

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