Four extraordinary Champagnes
Billecart-Salmon, Les Rendez-vous de Billecart-Salmon N°4 Chardonnay Extra Brut £140, coming soon
I tasted the two Billecart-Salmon Rendez-vous wines in this week’s Wednesday Wines article, one after the other. I cannot underline enough just how invigorating and exciting they are. They are entirely different in their recipe and source material but incredibly similar in energy, vivacity and elite Billecart construction standards. N°4 is made from 100% Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage harvested from the Côtes de Blancs Grand Cru, Mesnil-sur-Oger. It is as finely hewn and delicately chiselled as can be with ravishing energy and direction, but it doesn’t claw at the palate or leave one with any traces of rawness or astringency. This tightrope walk between blushingly beautiful white florals, subtle and yet pristine lemon pith and gleamingly bright chalky terroir is sublime. This is a perfect example of a top-flight Chardonnay that is drinking beautifully on release, and yet it shows crackling electricity the length of the palate. It is sheer heaven.
Billecart-Salmon Les Rendez-vous de Billecart-Salmon Cinq Pinot Noir Extra Brut £140, coming soon
By contrast, Numéro Cinq draws its resources solely from Montagne de Reims and the heroic Pinot Noir villages of Verzenay, Ambonnay, Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Verzy. While I was expecting a bolder and more structured wine than N°4, given the red grape involved, this wine is identically shaped to its Chardonnay sibling. Granted, the perfume is more exotic, red-fruit-kissed and heady, as one would expect, but the shape, size, timbre and energy in this thrilling wine sticks to the Billecart model, and it makes Numéro Cinq utterly mesmerising. Bright, frisky and titillating on the front of the palate and silky, Pinot-tinged and fleetingly indulgent thereafter, the finish is dramatic and gleamingly bright, and I could not dislodge the image that N°4 is the precise mirror image, or photographic negative, of Numéro Cinq. I urge you to track these wines down when they are released for sale because there is serious fun to be had here. Usually, I watch sports urging one side to win the match, but with these two, the only fair score is a perfectly balanced draw.
2008 Bollinger, R.D. Extra Brut £290, www.thefinestbubble.com; £295, www.ewwines.co.uk; £2500 in bond per 12 bottles, www.farrvintners.com
’08 R.D. is made from 71% Pinot Noir and 29% Chardonnay, from 18 different Crus, with the most important being Aÿ and Verzenay for Pinot and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Cramant for Chardonnay. This wine is 100% barrel-fermented, and the dosage is an unusually keen 3g/L. Disgorged in October 2022, it was released earlier this year, and I had the occasion to taste it for the first time this week. As every reader of this website knows, I am a huge R.D. fan, and this 2008 release is as delicious as the finest wines that have worn this famous label. We have waited two years since the 2007 vintage release in March 2021, and this extra delay (or extra ageing) has benefitted this stellar wine. It is sensationally impactful on the nose and palate, and this shock of flavour and grandeur might put you on the back foot, but it is glorious, layered, all-enveloping and succulent. In fact, it draws you in making you feel welcome. Granted, the acidity is pristine, and this crystalline edge perfectly matches the fruit exuberance, and it doesn’t interfere with the avalanche of flavour. Instead, it carefully warns the drinker that even though this wine is, numerically, 15 years old, age is an abstract construct for R.D. I have a feeling that this is an ageless wine that will stubbornly refuse to grow old while at the same time presenting a stunning fanfare of joyous flavours whether you uncork a bottle today, in ten, twenty or even thirty years. One never wants an icon wine, particularly one that I have invested so much time in following, ever to drop the ball, but every time a new vintage appears, my nerves kick in, and I fear the worst. Of course, 2008 is a superb vintage, so this wine stood a good chance of fulfilling its brief, but how it stepped up to this mind-blowing level of excellence is beyond me. I take my hat off to 2008 R.D.
If you want to read more about Bollinger, a vertical of R.D., and an ancient collection of older vintages, follow this link.
2009 Dom Pérignon, Rosé Vintage £360, www.thefinestbubble.com; £260 in bond per bottle, www.laywheeler.com, www.goedhuis.com
Released with 14 years of age under its belt, this is an astounding new sparkler from DP. Made from 56% Pinot Noir (with a 13% red wine addition) and 44% Chardonnay, this is a heady, rich, indulgent wine that is drinking from the off. The colour is coral, not rosé, and this amber-tinged hue hints at the multiplicity of flavours on the palate, which dwell on the dried apricot, savoury spice and chypre side of the fence. This is not a particularly fizzy wine, making it more vinous with a distinctly mature feel. These characteristics move it from aperitif or starters duties deeply into the main course zone. Instead of coming at ’09 DP Rosé from a classical Rosé Champagne standpoint, which might be confusing, if you approach this wine from a venerable, cool climate, Pinot Noir-driven direction, you will look at it in a new light. This is certainly unlike any other rosé I have tasted. While it kept me guessing, I am sure Dom Pérignon fans will scramble to taste a forward, massively complex vintage that is as far removed from the introverted 2008 vintage as possible!