By: Gary Westby | K&L Staff Member
The Three Faces of Dom Perignon
Moet's Dom Perignon is the most well known Champagne brand in the world, but is one about which we Champagne lovers know the least. Moet has always been highly secretive about this wine, keeping production numbers and composition percentages to themselves and instead sharing stories and descriptions of the style. Yesterday, I was invited to “Three Faces of Dom Perignon," a seminar at the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park, to learn more from Stephane Henry, Senior International Brand Education Manager from the maison.
Starting with the 2000 vintage, Dom Perignon no longer has Moet & Chandon on its label, and they are distancing themselves from their parent company to become an independent brand. Dom Perignon does come from the 1150 hectares of vines controlled by Moet, and while they have unique access to all of the grand crus, the core of DP comes from eight of these, plus the premier cru Hautvillers. From the mountain of Reims they use Bouzy, Verzenay and Mailly principally, from the Cotes de Blancs mainly Chouilly, Cramant, Avize and Le Mesnil and from the grand valley of the Marne Ay and of course, Hautvillers.
The Dom Perignon blanc is always aged for at least seven years on the lees, the rose at least nine and Oenotheque at least twelve. The are always vintage, and always a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While Stephane did not get into specifics, most sources report that the proportion is roughly equal, with a little more of one or the other depending on the harvest. They want a fresh, non-oxidative style of Champagne, and do not delay picking. In the cellar, they currently use exclusively stainless steel for vinification, inoculate the juice as soon as possible for an early first fermentation, and rack the wine as little as possible. They do all this to avoid oxidizing the wine, and to preserve as much primary fruit as possible.
This reductive style of winemaking is credited with giving the wine its longevity, but it is worth noting that there were no stainless tanks in Champagne before the 1960s. Older bottles of Dom (the first vintage was 1921) were undoubtedly vinified in barrel or enamel tanks...and taste spectacular.
I was welcomed at the Rosewood with a glass of the 2002 Dom Perignon Blanc ($429; available in magnum only) which has settled down a lot in the year since I last tasted it. I thought it was great that they showed the wine in large bowled glasses - a subject I touched on last month. It glittered with a green tinged white gold color in the Sand Hill sun on the veranda and had a nose of pastry dough and clean cane sugar. On the palate it was rich, full-bodied and had plenty of white fruit up front. The dosage had integrated very nicely, and it showed quite a bit drier than I remembered it.
We then sat down for the seminar and learned about the history of the Abbey of Hautvillers and the monk Dom Perignon. After that, the wines were poured starting with the 2003 Dom Perignon ($149). This vintage, in which two-thirds of the Chardonnay crop for the appellation were lost overnight to an April frost, was also the earliest vintage since 1822. The extremely hot summer caused numerous deaths in France, and I think of it as the end of Champagne's honeymoon with climate change. Almost no one declared a vintage in 2003 because hot years generally need a lot of Chardonnay to freshen the wines up, and in 2003 there was precious little to be found. I found the wine to be very exotic, with a caramel and black pepper nose. It has a very big, broad texture and was loaded with flavor but at this point a little compressed. Many of the somelliers in the room liked it better than the 2002, but I wasn’t so sure.
Next we tasted the 2002 Dom Perignon Rose ($299) out of a giant Riedel Pinot Noir Glass. This was a great way to taste this majestically great bottle of wine, which I featured in the blog three weeks ago exclusively. Today the red wines, which are a combination of Pinot Noir from Ay, Bouzy and Hautvillers jumped out of the glass with an almost Hermitage like white pepper. This super intense wine has the chalky cut of a Mesnil blanc de blancs, but never comes out of balance or looses its elegance. I was very impressed.
The final wine was the 1996 Dom Periginon Oenotheque ($349) from one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century. This famed harvest is known as the 10/10 in the region, for combining very high ripeness (10% potential alcohol) with very high acidity (10 grams per liter of acidity). Average stats like this are very rare, since usually acidity drops as ripeness increases. This is the same wine as the 1996 Dom Perignon blanc, but with more time on the lees. The Oenotheque was fabulous, barely a hair darker than the 2003 next to it only loosing the green hue of a very young wine. The boquet was extremely fresh, with lots of white-fleshed fruit touched by a bit of spicy bread character. On the palate the wine had a strong Pinot character with some meaty flavor, but the finish was an all Chardonnay affair, with length and minerality that go forever. The dosage is adjusted down on these more recently disgorged bottles, and that combined with the extra time on the lees make them very worth seeking out - especially in a vintage as great as 1996!
I still have many questions about Dom Perignon. The production numbers are a secret, but given the worldwide distribution of the blanc they must be large. On the other hand, the Rose and Oenotheque are true rarities of which I can never get enough to satisfy demand. The rose should be back in soon, and the 1996 is getting to the end of its run.
A toast to you!