Bollinger is a NM, and a family owned Champagne house established in 1829. It is headquartered in Ay Champagne – pinot noir country, 1 of the 2 GC villages in the Vallée de la Marne (the other is Tours sur Marne), on the right bank of the river. Notably, they farm about 170ha of predominantly pinot noir vineyard, greatly expanded by Lily Bollinger, representing about 70% of their needs, and hold 600k magnums of reserve wine, that is > 1m standard bottles. To put this into commercial context, in millions of bottles sold in 2011: Moet et Chandon 26m, Veuve Clicquot (LVMH) 18m, Nicolas Feuillatte (co-op) 10m, Mumm (Pernod Ricard) 8m, and Laurent-Perrier 7m. I cannot find contemporary stats on Bollinger’s total production – yet.
Bollinger wines are from Vallée de la Marne vineyard only, pinot noir dominated (with chardonnay and pinot meunier in the blend), and so medium to full-bodied; based on the press cuvée only, from PC and GC plots. Selection of raw material is ruthless – it takes 1.5kg of grapes to make a bottle of Bollinger, as compared with the average of 1.2kg. Vintage wines are fermented, and remain in old oak barriques for 6 months, the NVs in a mix of old oak barriques and stainless steel. Lees ageing for all wines is at least twice the legal requirement. There are 7 wines, in 2 groups, NV – this is indicated rather by the absence of a year on the label; and Grande Annee, which is their term for vintage:
Special Cuvée – more than 85% of the grapes are from PC and GC plots – but what is the remainder? Fermentation of the base wines is in a mix of oak and steel vats. A current harvest is blended with a majority of reserve wines of up to 15+ years age. Aged on the lees for >24 months, a full-bodied biscuity/toasty character, 8g/l dosage. Tasting note by Anthony Rose in Decanter Magazine, 1 January 2008: Cool, delicate briochey nose. Nice, rich fruit with honeyed undertones, reserve wine richness and texture. Complex, classy.
Rose – again > 85% GC ands PC grapes; mainly oak fermented base wines, pinot noir dominated with 25% chardonnay and 15% meunier; with the addition of 5% still red, pinot noir from the Côte aux Enfants plot in Ay. Aged on the lees > 24 months. 8g/l dosage. Bollinger’s tasting note: Bronze (appearance) tones; nose – hints of red currant, cherry and wild strawberry, with a spicy touch; palate – wild berries; a subtle combination of structure, length and vivacity, with a tannic finish from the still red addition, velvety bubbles.
Grande Année – only produced in vintage quality years, the latest release is 2004. It is a pinot noir dominated blend, with chardonnay; 90% from GCs and 10% PCs. 1st fermentation is in small old oak barrels, with plots and varieties kept separate; subsequent lees ageing > 6years, dosage 8gm/l.
Grande Année Rose – only produced in vintage quality years, the latest release is 2004 Again it is pinot noir dominated with 30% chardonnay; 90% GCs and 10% PCs, with 6% Cote aux Enfant pinot noir as still red wine. Lees ageing > 6 years, dsage 9gm/l. Tasting note by Astor Wines: A very special bottling from the historic Bollinger house. This rosé is made only in perfectly ripe vintages. Red wine from the La Côte aux Enfants plot in Aÿ is added to blend to create this true expression of terroir. The vintage is full-bodied, rich with warm raspberry, grilled brioche notes. The bubbles are delicate, rather fragile, as this is a proper vintage Champagne.
Vielles Vignes Francaise – prompted by the late wine writer Cyril Ray in 1969, Lilly Bollinger instigated the production of this cuvee from 3 GC pre-phylloxera plots of un-grafted pinot noir. 2 are walled plots in Ay – Clos St. Jacques and Clos des Chaudes Terre, amounting to some 0.4ha, and the third, Croix Rouge, in Bouzy, at about 0.1ha. The latter succumbed to phylloxera in 2003 and so contributes no longer.
Soils are 40cm top soil, then chalk. The vines are planted at very high density, 30k vines/ha instead of the more usual 7k, en foule – an ancient method of training, to which the ‘vielles’ refer. The schema appears to be slightly raised straight beds 2-3m wide with pathways between. Within those beds the vines are cultivated randomly, owing to the training system employed, from video clips perhaps 5 vines across the bed. Essentially, each year, after leaf fall, that year’s selected mature canes, one per vine, are bent over and planted into the soil, in a U-shape (this is marcottage or layering), with 3 three buds above ground at the end of the cane, which is staked. The buried cane roots, and in the spring those 3 buds give rise to that year’s fruiting canes. Slowly, the vine walks across the vineyard, and the space vacated, planted with new vines.
Un-grafted vines are naturally lower yielding than grafted plants, which is further reduced to 2-3 bunches a vine to concentrate the juice. This restriction and the enclosed vineyard climate means that the grapes ripen earlier than otherwise, by about a week. However the harvest start date is set by the CIVC, resulting in the grapes become over-rile – this is how the unintended character of VVF arose.
VVF is a vintage blanc de noirs, when the year is good enough. It is aged post-disgorgement for > 3 years. Production is tiny, at about 3000 bottles, exclusively expensive at £400-500 a bottle.
The current release is 2004, for which Bollinger’s tasting note: Deep gold; nose – great depth, power and concentration, notes of wax, cognac and spices, candied aromas; palate – a continuation of the nose character.
RD (Recently Disgorged), starts life as a Grande Année. It is a vintage style started by Lily Bollinger in 1961, with lees ageing of > 9 years. The blend is 2/3 pinot noir, with chardonnay and meunier. The latest vintage available is 1999, first disgorged in January 2011. Bollinger advise that it will mature further post-disgorgement, having an endless ageing potential – maybe – but only if properly cellared. According to Serena Sutcliffe, the optimum cellaring temperature is 4C, to maintain freshness.
In any event the RD is disgorged twice a year by subscription demand – so every batch will be organoleptically different. Jamie Goode’s review of the 1999 in 4/2011: Intense, taut and full flavoured, with complex toasty notes and bright citrus freshness. There’s also fine acidity, and notes of ripe apple, as well as some nectarine richness. Overall, though, this is a powerful wine with savoury bite, and the potential for further development. Wonderful stuff. 95/100
Veuve Clicquot (part of LVMH) recently took up RD with its Cave Prive (RD) line – a 1990 brut and a 1989 brut rosé were available from 2012.
family owned, ay champagne, vallee de la marne, 70% vineyard, magnum reserves, special cuvee nv, grande annee, vvf, rd.
- Champagne Bollinger. [Online]. Accessed 12/07/13.
- Regional Analysis 2010 – Champagne’s Great Success. [Online]. Meninger’s WBI. Accessed 14/07/13.
- Goode, J. Visiting Champagne Bollinger, Part 1. [Online]. Accessed 14/07/13.
- Stevenson, T. (1998). Christie’s World Encyclopaedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine. Absolute Press.
- Edwards, M. (2009). The Finest Wines of Champagne. Fine Wine Editions.