I think Richard Geoffroy, wine maker of Dom Perignon, is the best act in the wineworld ‘hood. When he comes to London to launch new nectar, the lucky invitees dutifully report somewhere nice (the 6th floor of Claridge’s on this occasion), pens and voice apps poised. Then we zone out and I for one am left with a head full of soundbites so big Panorama need to investigate. This is not a wine tasting of the normal kind. There should be a disclaimer. Attention: champagne hypnotism you may not come back from. Tell a friend where you’re going before you leave home.
Geoffroy, as a winemaker, is simply the best there is at talking about his wines. And I think for two reasons. First, he is making wines which break with the ordinary and break their rules. He is making claims which other champagne makers and critics question or reject. That is fascinating enough. But second, he can talk, in a stream of apparent consciousness, the Joycian Ulysses of champagne, that seems intellectual (and is) but which conveys stirring emotion about the wines. Commentators sometimes miss the point of what makes (very good) wine special – the emotion it can evoke. Without that, think beverage.
The London release of Dom Pérignon P2 Rosé 1996 (RRP £820 bottle) last week was a case in point. There was little discussion in the group of what the wine tasted like. Maybe because at close quarters it defied quick analysis. Some wines, to borrow T S Eliot on poetry, communicate before they are understood. Maybe the pale amber shade was neither here nor there, except to say this is not young wine.
Then three shocks. First an explosive fresh and powerful perfume ‘Dried rose, citron, saffron, figs and bay leaf’ said Geoffroy’s own note and I would add briar smoke, char and intense redcurrants. Shocking because it breaks the current rule it seems for many makers of ‘serious’ rosé champagne, that the nose should be discreet, fleeting, the dew that slipped off a raspberry. Not this 1996 number, which is more like heaven’s own boudoir in Provence than shy and dilute juice.
What a stroke of winemaking foresight; that 1996s, where acidity and ripeness both hit their highest simultaneous points of any harvest before, need to be packed with fruit for the long haul. Too many 1996s have crumbled as the fruit dies before the tartness tempers. Not this one. The proportion of Pinot Noir red wine added to the blend is huge for any rosé: 20%.
Shock two: the wine had barely any mousse. There’s a vague spritz, the texture of a gentle feather. I know some people who feel cheated if champagne does not slightly bite the cheek. The idea something is wrong if the bubbles don’t break sharp like surf. I can only say, trust the mild sparkle here because of shock number three. And that’s the backbone of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Kid that is all 1996 not 1968. A rapier of stony lemon ice acidity that holds that cloud of fruit perfume in a tight embrace and makes it all harmonious. A freshness that carries and attenuates the bouquet gracefully.
I could go on about the 1996 vintage conditions that make this 20 year old champagne such a goer. I could go on about what ‘P2′ is all about and how those 20 years have been spent by this wine sealed in bottle contact with the yeast deposits it ends up consuming . But if you are keen you will find out yourself.
And it would miss the point. This champagne is deliriously good but not like any other, because it vaults the perimeter fence of what rosé champagne should be like, in a beautiful way, right into your glass. Something quite new from rather some time ago.
I could tell Geoffroy felt quite proud of the wine he had brought to show. As he talked I remembered 1996 was the year he was made Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon. A new role, a new baby wine. His first wine. But one which is just as new in many ways, as 20 years ago.