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Blue-Chip Bubbly

Ring in the millennium with these five prestige champagnes (if you can find them)
Jim Gordon
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 1)

While the eve of the third millennium is a great time to uncork a bottle of fine Champagne, it's not a great time to go shopping for it. Importers and wholesalers believe that even if the supply of regular nonvintage Champagne holds out through December 31, the prestige cuvées will probably be out of stock in at least some areas. The message to consumers is simple: act fast if you want to be toasting in the new era with Dom, Cristal or one of the other blue chips.

If you don't see what you want in a wine shop, ask a clerk or the store manager. Some retailers are keeping the best wine out of sight to save it for their most serious customers. By asking, you may convince them you're serious, too.


You could live a long and happy life if you knew only one name in Champagne: Bollinger. This staunchly traditional, family-owned firm consistently makes one of the best nonvintage Champagnes, Bollinger Special Cuvee, and knockout vintage wines led by the Bollinger Grand Année.

Strictly speaking, Bollinger doesn't make a prestige cuvée. Bollinger R.D. belongs in this category not because of its marketing goals or expensive bottle but because of the quality and unique character of the wine inside the bottle. (R.D. stands for "recently disgorged," meaning it was shipped to the United States in the past six months.) Ghislaine de Montgolfier, Bollinger's president and a great-grandson of founder Jacques Bollinger, says a bottle of R.D. is simply a bottle of Grand Année that has aged several years longer in Bollinger's cellars, gaining more character and more maturity before it's sold.

Bollinger, like Roederer, owns a large percentage of the vineyards from which it sources its grapes and thus controls the quality of its wines from the ground up. Bollinger, like Krug, still uses wooden casks to ferment its base wines, lending more complexity of taste and a more traditional style of Champagne. The predominance of Pinot Noir (65 to 75 percent, with the remainder being Chardonnay) in R.D. also helps give it an authentic, reserved character.

While bottles sold as Grand Année are released only after they have been aged a minimum of five years, bottles sold as R.D. are aged eight to 25 years before they are deemed drinkable. During the aging period, the wine and its lees (sediment left over from the secondary fermentation that makes the bubbles) age together in individual bottles. The subtle interaction between the lees and the wine slowly adds more intriguing, toasty flavors to the wine, while effectively preserving its crisp texture and freshness.

Very dry in style, R.D. relies on maturity rather than sweetness to flesh out its flavors. The 1985 ($135) combines smoky, toasted almond aromas with a honeyed fruit flavor and extra long finish. Bollinger makes a concentrated effort to get R.D. bottles to consumers in perfect condition through an ordering system called the R.D. Circle. In this system, consumers place orders through their retailers and Bollinger then disgorges and ships the wine. Through this system, older vintages such as 1982, 1979 and 1975 are also available.


Dom Perignon is the only wine with near-universal name recognition. Pizza parlors with five-item wine lists sell Dom Perignon. Michelin three-star restaurants in Paris keep great old vintages in their cellars. And virtually every wine shop in America has Dom Perignon on display.

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