James Bond understood the importance of vintage when it came to Champagne. When thugs drag off Honey Ryder in 1962’s Dr. No, he brandishes a bottle to defend her. Warned by the title character that he’s grabbed a Dom Pérignon 1955 and “it would be a pity to waste it,” 007 coolly counters “I prefer the ’53 myself.”
Even under duress, it’s important to keep your vintages straight. The best come from those years when already glamorous Champagnes reach their zenith of seduction. The year 2002 is one of those. We are now enjoying the fruits of the foremost vintage since 1996. This trio of 2002s, each with its own personality, would certainly fit in with Bond’s lofty preferences: Moët & Chandon’s Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 2002 (Wine Spectator-rated 95, $160), Piper-Heidsieck’s Brut Champagne Rare 2002 (95, $275) and Bollinger’s Brut Rosé Champagne La Grande Année 2002 (94, $230).
The Dom Pérignon comes swathed in haute couture. It’s all about elegance and attention to detail, with its smoky richness and fine-grained texture. And that’s only a backdrop for the layers of biscuit, candied lemon peel, coffee liqueur, chamomile, pine and crystallized honey to come. Choosing roughly equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from grand cru vineyards, DP’s chef de cave Richard Geoffroy took full advantage of the flavor maturity in the ripe grapes and the powerful profile of the vintage.
The classy Piper-Heidsieck Rare is a mosaic of textures. It shows red berry and graphite flavors and a firm structure, with honey, toast and seashore notes. Silkiness completes the picture. While the grape blend is dominated by Pinot Noir (70 percent), chef de cave Régis Camus stresses the importance of Chardonnay (30 percent) sourced from specific crus when it comes to elaborating a Rare vintage. “Our quest is always for Chardonnays [that] are mineral in style.”
With its deep rose hue the Bollinger is dressed up to celebrate. With a sense of balance and seamless integration, the wine delivers juicy fruit flavors of ripe black cherry, pomegranate and cassis that are fresh and vibrant. The finish is long and lightly spiced. Bollinger ferments the base wines in neutral oak barrels, adding 7 to 8 percent red Pinot Noir from its tiny La Côte aux Enfants vineyard located behind the firm’s offices. It’s aged on the lees a minimum of six years.
You needn’t wait until your dining with a super villain, however. Popping the cork on any one of these Champagnes from the glorious 2002 vintage is sure to enhance any situation. But even Bond would find it difficult choosing just one.