Bollinger's Brut Grande Année 1995

If you think a wine's first duty is to be red or that Champagne is all fluff, only to be poured for a toast or celebration, Bollinger's Brut Grande Anné 1995 should convince you that color isn't everything. Made predominately from Pinot Noir, this bubbly is a serious wine that just happens to come from Champagne.

The Grande Annèe 1995 ($90) displays all the hallmarks of a great vintage Champagne. A pale golden hue belies its power, unyielding in youth, with class and complexity and the ability to stand up to any food you would match with red Burgundy. The initial fermentation takes place in neutral oak barrels (uncommon for Champagne, where this process is usually achieved in stainless steel). The result is pronounced grain and coconut flavors. Citrus notes complete the flavor spectrum, adding complexity and freshness. After seven years of aging, it can be enjoyed now, but its muscular structure will let it develop over the next 10 to 20 years.

The Champagne's body and power is attributable to the high percentage of Pinot Noir (63 percent), with Chardonnay making up the balance. The Pinot Noir hails from some of the best villages for the grape: Ay¨, Bouzy and Verzenay, all rated grand cru. Eighty-two percent of the blend consists of vineyards rated grand cru. The remainder is rated premier cru.

In blind tastings of more than 130 Champagnes from 1995 to date, conducted for Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication, Bollinger's Grande Annèe ranks number one. That's high praise, but no surprise given Bollinger's commitment to quality. Ghislain de Montgolfier, the firm's president, states that Bollinger focuses on making wine rather than promoting an image. In 1992, the house developed a Charter of Ethics and Quality outlining its production techniques (see Web site). Bollinger's 378 acres of estate vineyards account for two-thirds of its grape supply.

A family-owned Champagne house, Bollinger produces 165,000 cases a year. It also makes a nonvintage Special Cuvée, an ultra-aged R.D. Grande Année Rosé and a limited-production Blanc de Noirs called Vieilles Vignes FranÁaises made from ungrafted (pre-phylloxera) Pinot Noir vines.

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