Trivento winemaker’s dinner

Trivento Dinner Banner

This week I had the pleasure of attending an intimate dinner with German di Cesare, chief winemaker for Trivento, the UK’s best-selling Malbec and one of Argentina’s leading wineries. Based in the foothills of the Andes at extremely high altitudes, Trivento takes its’ name from three winds (Polar, Zonda and Sudesta) that cool the climate and make Mendoza such a distinctive winegrowing region.

German (or Geri as he is known to his friends) joined the company in 2002 and has held several positions ranging from barrel room manager to varietal winemaker, prior to his promotion in 2008 to create their high-end wines. With a chance to chew the fat (literally) with the man in charge, expectations were high!

The setting for the meal was Argentinian restaurant Casa Malevo in London, with my stroll from Marble Arch to Connaught Square taking the bizarre twist of being under heavily armed police. Alas, this wasn’t for my protection, but that of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose house is only a few doors away from the restaurant. From the street, with its’ cosy alfresco tables and green awning, you could tell that this would be an intimate affair, but once inside we were led downstairs to a private dining room only just large enough to contain the 13 attendees around a large central table.

We were warmly greeted by Geri and representatives from Trivento, importers Concha Y Toro, and Tesco who were hosting the night. With our coats barely on to a hanger, we were straight in to a glass (or three) of their Reserve Chardonnay – A fresh citric number, that added yellow melon and tropical notes to its aroma. On the palate, clean fruit, joined by refreshing acidity and a buttery texture due to its time in French oak. It was no surprise when Geri later revealed that it was Trivento policy to make wines of outstanding clarity – to really feel the fruit with every mouthful.

As liberally as the wine, questions flowed to the Trivento team:

  • What sort of rivalry exists with winemakers across the Andes in Chile? (a friendly one, they are in regular contact about many winemaking issues)
  • What’s the view on having so little vintage variation with their wines? (It’s important that customers know what to expect and consistency is an important factor)
  • With Malbec doing so well, what’s next? (Trivento farm approximately 12 grape varieties, with Sauvignon Blanc 2012 about to hit the market, as well as a Syrah, and Cabernet Franc and Mourvédre the next in line)

A menu of 3 courses was served throughout the evening and, whilst there were several options to choose from, I made the following choices based on the gradual step up in the quality and body of the Malbec that would accompany each course.

To start I had grilled chorizo on toast, onions and Malbec braised Ox cheeks, paired with the Reserve Malbec. The Ox cheeks were cooked to perfection and simply melted in the mouth, and the chorizo added some spice to the meat combination. The Malbec was the perfect partner, blending with the fine tannin to allow darker fruit to come to the fore. As a point of interest, like the entry-level Reserve Chardonnay, the Reserve Malbec is actually bottled in the UK.

For the main course I had the classic combination of Sirloin Steak paired with the lauded Golden Reserve Malbec 2012 – made at altitudes of 950m in the oldest Argentinian wine appellation Luján de Cuyo from 60-80 year old vines that grow on the alluvial soils of the riverbanks. The long cool growing season and concentration of low yielding old vines gives a wine that clocks in 14.5% abv, and shows a vibrant dark purple in colour. Malbec and steak is a winning combination and these two blended beautifully, with the powerful nose of black and blue fruit being of concentration, not aggression. Incidentally, the wine is called ‘Golden’ to evoke treasure, which this wine definitely is. Treasure and a pleasure!

To finish I had the cheese selection with quince and raisin toast, paired with their top level Eolo Malbec, which is produced on an extremely limited run of just 500 bottles (600 cases). With a price tag of £50 per bottle (if you can find it) it was a great privilege to be able to try a few glasses of this rare wine. The nose was divine with roasted tertiary characters, and the velvet silk, vanilla, and dense rich concentrated black fruit carrying on to the palate. The tannins were gentle and integrated, and when paired with the variety of cheeses, melted away. The length of the wine still persisted as people started to make their excuses, and head for home.

All in all a wonderful night in great company, with generous tastings of fine Argentinian wine, alongside fine Argentinian food. Unforgettable.

Many Thanks go to Trivento & Concha Y Toro for hosting the evening, and to Tesco for providing the opportunity.

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Yalumba panel tasting

Time for another Tesco taste panel submission now, and this month it’s a double-whammy of two wines from respected South Australian producer Yalumba. Based in the Barossa Valley, Yalumba are a rarity in the wine world as they are still in the hands of the original family and are now run by the 5th generation descendants of founder Samuel Smith. Founded in 1879, they are notable for their commitment to the sustainability of the surrounding environment, and parts of their estate are farmed both bio-dynamically and organically. South Australia is fortunate to have some of oldest vines in the world, and Yalumba have made a clear commitment to their care and cultivation by establishing the Old Vine Charter – a guarantee that consumers have clear age provenance of the vines used to produce the wine, and to act as a barometer as to both the quantity and quality. The charter tracks vine age from 35 years to those that can be said to have been alive in 3 different centuries, and so there is some serious heritage to understand and protect. Yalumba also get bonus points from me as a producer leading the way preserving the Viognier grape (which I reference in my earlier article Missing in action).

Anyway, on to the tasting!

Yalumba Two

Yalumba Old Vine Bush Grenache 2013, South Australia – 14.5% abv – £11.99

The bush vines in the ‘Old’ category span between 35-80 years old and, due to both the nature of a bush (as opposed to larger trellised vines) and the reduced vigour of old age, crops are small but full of flavour.

The nose gives off clean deep fruit notes pairing rich red cherry with vanilla and violets from subtle oak influence. In conjunction with both the deep colour of the wine and the visible tears on the glass (betraying the alcohol level which clocks in at 14.5%), it prepares you for what could be a huge wine. What actually transpires is a full, rounded body, paired with an appealing acidity which glides the wine through your palate with such smoothness that it’s a pleasure to drink. In the mouth, the red fruits are now more towards berry and currants, with a little spice and warmth from the alcohol helping the fine tannins.

This is all at once juicy, chunky, subtle and extremely precise with its concentrated fruits. For me it truly melted over the palate and if tasted blind, I’m not sure I would have had the alcohol as high as it is. That said, there is a warmth from the alcohol that allows this wine to linger in the mouth for some time after. Delicious.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz/Viognier 2012, South Australia – 14% abv – £9.99

On opening the bottle, there is an immediate hit to the nose of ripe dark red cherry, clean fruits and spice. In the glass, this opens out and again we have vanilla and violets from wood influences. The palate is medium bodied with medium acidity and minimal tannin, and all about the primary fruit blend of cherries and berries which, for me, jumps between both black and red fruit.  The refreshment comes from the inclusion of Viognier in the blend, which both compliments and juxtaposes the Shiraz. Overall this is a pleasant everyday wine to drink with or without food, which is exactly what I think Yalumba were intending it to be according to their literature.

Comparing both of these wines side by side (bottles were served in Riedel glasses, un-decanted, and tasted over 2 separate days), I personally think it is definitely worth trading up from the Y series to the Old Vine. As pleasant as the Y series is, for just £2 extra per bottle you are in to a whole different world of quality, and from an everyday drinking wine to a wine that you would want to keep for those nights when you want to guarantee a good bottle.

Many thanks to both Tesco and Yalumba for providing the bottles used in this tasting.

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Spring in to Summer!

3 labels

I popped along to my local Majestic last week for their ‘Jump into Summer’ tasting night where they’d selected 10 wines to show, running across Red, White, Rosé and Sparkling. Not surprisingly the majority were light and fruity Whites/Rosé’s which are great in the warmer weather, but I’m glad that they didn’t shy away from showing some Reds too – my BBQ is never far away in the summer months, and so these wines do still have their place when partnering with food. I participated in a wine poll recently which asked drinkers if they would be switching away from Red wine to lighter styles throughout the summer, and can say that the majority said that they wouldn’t change their habits, so I’m clearly not alone.

Obviously any standard tasting is catering for a generalised palate and with price point/current offers also a key factor, the tasting stayed firmly in the classics. This is fine for what it is, but does make me also yearn for more specialised tastings from these merchants as they can have plenty of gems hidden away. I would also argue that you need to be more guided towards those odd purchases, as opposed to merely steering people towards more Sauvignon Blanc (regular readers will know it isn’t my favourite grape) which they probably would have purchased anyway. I wonder if they believe that more obscure wine tastings would be somewhat less popular?

That said, it did give me a chance to try the St Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which was superb. It kicked off with a fantastically full nose and both that and the palate were full of everything that Sauvignon Blanc from NZ should deliver on; green fruits, tropical fruits, citrus, lovely acid and a full refreshing mouthfeel. Retail (pre any discounts) on this bottle is £25, so it isn’t only the palate that is rich, and I’ll have to make do with remembering the tasting.

They also showed a 2005 Bordeaux – Chateau Moulinet Lasserre from Pomerol. The 2005 vintage for Bordeaux needs little introduction, and this was everything you’d want; Tertiary characteristics leading the nose – old wood, cigars and faint dried fruit, and then the palate adds velvet and silk. A great long finish is built upon the 13.5% alcohol which has mellowed nicely over time. This bottle retails at £30 (no discounts apply) but I’d be happy to stump up for this one. Funny how the mind works isn’t it!? After all, a good wine is a good wine…….

Talking of good wine, the usual tasting table highlighting current staff picks and other offers was still open as usual, and so this gave you the chance to virtually double the number of wines tasted that evening. I was overjoyed to see that Chilean producer Mayu were represented in the form of their Pedro Ximenez, which is a newly stocked wine for Majestic. Mayu are still one of my go-to producers, and when Majestic stocked their Reserva Syrah it was never out of my trolley. I was genuinely distraught when they stopped selling it, but elated to find it in my local Sainsbury’s. At £10 it is great value but, being a supermarket with their regular ‘Buy 6 Save 25%’ offers, it can be had for £7.50 which is a steal for the quality.

The PX was lovely – loads of ripe green fruits, married with a creamy brooding body, and an excellent length. Price-wise it was down from £10.49 to £6.99, with a further 10% off as a featured wine – amazing value. It wasn’t long before I was raving about it to a poor unsuspecting couple, who gave it a try, and also loved it. About an hour later I was talking to another couple who told me that I must try the Mayu PX, and that it came recommended, pointing to the original couple I had spoken to. In addition to the case I bought, I noticed the other couples picking up several cases between them. My work here was done!

It does bring me back to my earlier point though – something like Pedro Ximenez might have been a hard sell on name alone (someone recently handed me back a glass of wine before tasting it on hearing that it was Romanian), but with a simple recommendation and a chance to try before you buy, it can have a really positive effect.

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Bitesize: Alsace

Bitesize is an occasional series providing regional over-views, learning aids, and key statistics in under 1000 words

Alsace

Tucked away on the eastern border of France sits the wine region of Alsace. Quite distinct from other French wine regions, it’s recognisable for its use of certain grapes not found elsewhere in France, Germanic flute style bottles, and wines labelled by grape variety as opposed to the regional French style (Bordeaux, Burgundy etc.). Alsace owes this cross-pollination of French-German culture down to its position, resting as it does between the natural boundary of the Vosges mountain range, and the political boundary of the River Rhine. Aside from times of occupation, Alsace has always been a part of France, and the residents proudly consider themselves French, but from the names of their towns (e.g. Riquewihr), top producers (e.g. Zind-Humbrecht, Hugel, Trimbach) and timber framed structures of their housing, there is a resolutely Germanic feel to the place.

Whilst the Vosges Mountains may act as a barrier between Alsace and the rest of France, this range is key to its success, acting as a barrier and trapping approaching rain clouds. Outside of Perpignan in the south of France, this makes it the driest area in the country, guaranteeing long warm growing seasons and well ripened grapes. Alsace sits at the northern limit of grape production (the Champagne region only marginally trumps it to being the most northerly of French vineyards), and when you add that cool climatic influence to the rain-free sunshine enjoyed by the area you have a unique micro climate. Whilst the heat in Perpignan traditionally produces robust reds and rustic whites, Alsace can deliver medium bodied, clean fruit-forward white wines with refreshing acidity. Malolactic is avoided by keeping wines cool and sulphured and, although matured in barrel, no oak influence is imparted as the barrels are decades old. Wines are bottled within a year of harvest to maximise the freshness.

Alsace has a few thousand individual/family growers owning small inherited parcels of land, but over 90% of the wines produced come from just 220 companies. The vineyards of Alsace are at 200-400 metres above sea level, and run in a 100 kilometre north-south strip, split in to two regions – Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine) and Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine). Confusingly, as you look at a map, the Bas (Lower) Rhin is in the north of the country and the Haut (Upper) Rhin is in the south. Whilst great wines can be made in the Bas-Rhin, it is the Haut-Rhin that produces the finest wines as this is where the Vosges Mountains come in to their central and highest point. The vineyards nestle up in to the foothills receiving the best protection from the elements, getting good drainage, and excellent eastern exposure to the rising sun.

The soils in Alsace are something of a mosaic (the by-product of geological fault lines below the region), underpinned by the granitic base of the Vosges, and more akin to the nearby German region of Baden, than any French region. Regional body CIVA (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) lists 13 different soils, including schist, Sandstone, Limestone, Marl, Clay, Loess and Loam to name a few. Each of these soil types will pair better with a particular grape variety and producers continue to investigate the combinations to unlock the full potential of the region. 90% of the production here is for white wines (the remainder being red wine from Pinot Noir) and, in essence, two levels of grapes exist:

Noble Varieties: Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat

Other Varieties: Chasselas, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay

Only the noble varieties are able to produce Grand Cru wines, whilst the other supporting varieties will be used in Gentil (50% of the blend will be Noble varieties) or Edelzwicker (Noble mixture). In reality, noble grapes can be used in Edelzwicker, but in practice this is very rare. It’s interesting to note that Riesling and Gewurtztraminer are not grown elsewhere in France and owe more to the German/Austrian influence, although the style of wine remains French (being fat and plump as opposed to the lean German style).

The classification structure is also of interest, especially for a French region, as these are often rigorously delineated. The whole of Alsace is covered by a regional AC (Appellation Controlée) and this accounts for 75% of production, but there is no level in-between that and Grand Cru wine (a single vineyard, single vintage from one noble grape variety) which accounts for 4% of production. It simply cuts from either being a top wine, to a standard wine. Wine laws for Alsace were put together fairly recently with the regional AC in place from 1962, Grand Cru added in 1975, and Cremant d’Alsace (21% of production) added in 1976. With the region producing wine for as long as any area in France, the late creation of the wine laws may have actually been down to the region itself. The grapes produced in the super sunny conditions were routinely transported to other French regions to round out blends where grapes had failed to ripen.

Thanks to the guaranteed lengthy growing season there are also two types of late harvest wines produced – Vendange Tardive and the even rarer Sélection de Grains Nobles. These wines are produced from extra ripened grapes that are picked something like 3 weeks after standard grapes, giving a noticeably sweeter wine.

Whilst some were initially put off of Alsatian wines due to the legal requirement that they are bottled in flute bottles (which for some linked the wines to the unpopular sweet wines of Germany), times have changed and the wines of Alsace are now fully appreciated as unique and expressive varietal wines. 75% of production slakes the domestic French thirst, whilst the remaining 25% is exported, the main markets being Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark) and the USA/Canada.

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UK 2015 vine growth report: One month in

As one month has just passed since my vines awoke from their winter slumber, I thought I would give a quick update as to how my 2015 UK growing season is progressing. I’m located in Newbury, Berkshire and so that means I’m just above 51° latitude north, stretching right in to the limits of grape ripening. The UK is well known for the marginal climate and a pre-dispensation for rain, but this year has seen a milder winter in the south where I am. Although many part of the south did see occasional snow in February, we’ve not had any here for the first time in a few years, and I’ve been able to count the frosts so far on one hand. Indeed, late March and the start of April saw some unseasonably warm weather (some days even nudging up to the early twenties in celcius). This no doubt helped along bud break for my vines which I spotted on April the 8th. So, one month in, how are we doing?

Chardonnay            Chardonnay

Ortega           Ortega

Catarratto           Catarratto

As you can see from the above pictures, all are coming along nicely, with numerous buds growing per pruned cane, and good leaf canopies forming. For background, I’m growing three different varieties: Chardonnay, Ortega and Catarratto, meaning I have French, German and Italian vines in operation. In terms of furthest along in growth, that would go to the Chardonnay, but in terms of vigour, the Catarratto has it.  Vines were only planted last year, so we’re still in the bedding down phase in which all produce will be purely for academic and experimental use, but seeing the good start to growth this year means they’ve all settled in nicely. The vine stock was obtained from Denbies vineyard in Surrey, who are amongst the leading UK wine producers, so is from a good home.

The above will hopefully be of interest to those readers outside of the UK, or perhaps even those in the southern hemisphere who want to see how we’re moving along here. It will also serve to remind me in the future how things progress through the 2015 vintage, which looks to be a good one.

p.s – I’m aware that I need to sort my trellising out – it was a quick fix option at the time, and it will be replaced!

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Wine Epiphany – MWWC#17

mwwc logo

I read earlier in the week that wine blogging is dead.

This is bad news as my wine blog is only 5 months old, but happily, it seems the average time for a wine blog to operate before fatigue sets in can be something like 6 years, so I’ve still got a little way to go. A quick Google, initially to rediscover the article that I had misplaced, filled the page with a slurry of articles all predicting in equality the promising future or the sad demise of the wine blog. Some even offered up an obituary for the medium.

When faced with the question of Epiphany in wine from the MWWC I’m going to take it at face value – a standout moment of clarity that changed me from that point on. As a long time imbiber, I’m going to have to think way back. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back. There’s been so many over so long a time that really only the watersheds from yesteryear still stick out. So sit back, and let me weave you on a tour that rides from 2007 to the present day.

In terms of a standout moment for red wine, I recall the time in 2010 that I found a bottle of Chateau Latour 2001, vaguely reduced at the Berry Bros outlet in Berkshire. Flush from a work bonus I snapped it up and kept it for as long as I could, which in reality was only a further year or two, before I savoured its contents and then deified the cork and empty bottle. I personally got a lot out of the experience; not least tasting the wine, but the full majesty of opening and decanting the bottle, and taking notes. Then tasting and re-tasting. The experience was somewhat marred at a wine dinner some time later in 2012, when I was openly lambasted by a fellow guest for pre-empting the experience, and wasting the opportunity of keeping the bottle cellared for another ten years.

Oops.

Sparkling (or should I clarify, Champagne) is still my alma mater for wine, and I remember at a job interview for a wine role, they asked me for my wine epiphany moment. I took them back to the glamorous location of Gatwick airport and my purchase of the Dom Pérignon 1995. I asked myself how something so priceless could have a price tag. £70 later, I had purchased the un-purchaseable but made a storage faux-pas by standing the bottle in my front room in direct sunlight on a shelf acting as some sort of make-shift shrine to that unique experience. On pouring, the bottle was OK (it was no 1996, let’s face it) but simply part of an experience that, in hindsight, was only available to me and only about 5 million other purchasers of DP 1995.

For whites and Rosé I have no real idea. My first Orange wine experience came last month at Selfridges in London, at my request. It wasn’t notable, and I was glad I had requested a sample as opposed to just blindly paying out for a bottle.

No, I think my real wine epiphany lies elsewhere. Was it when my wife bought me the birthday present of an internet only course for wine? A cheap, non-recognised qualification from an internet course provider that has since gone bust, rendering my qualification void. Whilst a waste of her £36, this did however, spur me on to sign up to the courses provided by the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) in London and, as an outsider to the trade, self-fund my way through to the Level 4 Diploma. This is probably the one wine moment more than any other that leads me to where I am today, which is looking to inspire others through the popularisation of wine education. And this is also the moment that brings me back to my initial point about wine blogging.

In what is already quite a crowded niche, I set up my site, and launched many a wine opinion on the world. Slowly but surely, my site has been not only building in content, but also building in subscribers, feedback and, inadvertently, the quality of what I write. Importantly, I feel that I have something valuable to say that others will enjoy reading. I try to keep my subject matter as broad as possible. This runs the gamut from what wine I have tried today, to nuggets of wine history, as well as giving hints and tips to those taking wine exams through organisations such as the WSET.

This has led to a good following on Twitter, to tweeting and conversing with many unknown fellow wine lovers around the globe. It is a direct result of this that has led me to contribute to websites such as the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

My wine epiphany? Well, you’re reading this aren’t you……?!

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Seeing double

When writing ‘seeing double’ in a wine column it could well be expected that it would be a reference to the effects of over imbibing. Today’s post, however, is looking at the subtle complexities within wine education. When trying to understand any complex subject matter it’s best to have access to clear information, however, the further you look in to something, the cloudier it becomes.

This might all sound like I’m talking about peering through a glass of badly oxidised wine, but I’m actually talking about the curious double use of many terms, or terms similar enough to confuse the learner. It was whilst looking at a map of Spain last week, or more precisely at Galicia in the Northwest, I did a double-take, spotting that the capital city is named Santiago. Both in and out of the wine world, when you think of a capital city called Santiago you’re more likely to bring Chile to mind. “Fair enough” I hear you say, the Spanish Santiago is unlikely to come up in many wine texts, and so naturally is unlikely to cause confusion. Indeed, many places have the same name as others – here in Berkshire I live not 5 miles away from Hermitage, but I’m nowhere near to the famous French hill known for its top quality Syrah. So well known in fact, that when Syrah was imported in to Australia, they christened the grape variety ‘Hermitage’. Thankfully this confusion (and many others, such as the USA making ‘Burgundy’) were outlawed at the end of the 1980’s when French designation laws protected the name.

Herm2Herm         One Hermitage to another

In terms of other confusing place names there is Rioja. Any wine lover knows (and probably loves) their Spanish Rioja, but there is also another – La Rioja, and that’s in Argentina.

Regions can be a pain too; California has a Central region, but so does Chile. There’s also the Central Vineyards of the Loire. Let’s not forget Coastal regions; South Africa has one of those, and the Californian coast is split in to the North coast, North central coast and South central coast.

I’m reminded of the upset that followed a recent WSET exam when the question ‘write a paragraph about VDP’ came up. Many students naturally assumed that they would be writing about Vin de Pays, the classification for French wines that sits just above Vin de table. Imagine the surprise then when the results came back, which told them they were supposed to be writing about Verband Deutscher Prädikats, a German quality wine classification.

There’s always some initial confusion with Muscadelle / Muscadet / Muscat (I seem to recall a multiple choice question in an early WSET exam I took that looked to pick up on this). Muscadelle being a Bordeaux grape variety, Muscadet being a Loire Valley wine (made from the Melon grape), and Muscat being a widely used grape variety.

My pet peeve ‘double’ has to go to Italy where they have a grape from the Piedmont region called Barbera. The Piedmont region is also home to a wine called Barbaresco, and naturally enough you might assume that the grape makes the similarly titled wine. Not so. The Barbera grape is commonly used to round out blends, and Barbaresco is made from the Nebbiolo grape. Now, it was the Italians that thought that the sparkling wine Prosecco being made from a grape also called Prosecco was so confusing, that the grape variety was officially renamed to Glera. Personally, I think that the Barbera situation is just as confusing!

There’s doubtless many more doubles in the wine world waiting to trip us up. I’d be interested to hear of any that you’ve come across, or have had trouble with in the past.

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The name’s Pérignon, Dom Pérignon

Part 5 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

The 1950’s saw a post war boom in production and consumerism when rationing ceased and materials became available again. The optimism for the future, and introduction of inventions that would revolutionise the household (Television, Refrigerators etc) changed how people shopped, and what they shopped for. With paper shortages a thing of the past, lifestyle magazines became an ever present staple in the house, and Dom Pérignon were in from the start, advertising their 1929 and 1934 vintages in print in 1950/51. Sales began to rise accordingly (see previous chapter for figures).

The next vintage up for release was the perfect harvest of 1947. Picking of the grapes had started on the 5th of September that year, making it the earliest harvest since 1893. The 1955 release of the 1947 vintage was a first for the brand as it represented the first original blend made to a Dom Pérignon ‘style’ (previously released vintages had essentially been extra matured Moét champagne transferred to the DP style bottles). They would also fall in to the vintage/release cycle that is still going to this day for the standard vintage releases. Wines in their first plenitude of readiness will be offered to market after maturing in the cool chalk cellars for between 6 and 9 years.

With the brand now being fermented in their own bottles for the first time, and with glass shortages a thing of the past, the 1947 vintage was the first to be made available in magnums (1.5 litres, equivalent to 2 standard bottles). Bottle sizes were further diversified in 1949 with the double magnum being re-christened the Jeroboam, and the addition of larger sizes such as the Methuselah. The naming conventions all derived from biblical references with grand connotations, but it would be many years before the King of Champagnes Dom Pérignon would be released in either of these larger sizes. Importantly, the 1947 vintage also marked the first time that the brand was made commercially available outside of the US market.

The next vintage declared good enough for a Dom Pérignon release was the 1949. Harvest that year commenced on the 19th of September, and concluded quickly as rot threatened to destroy the grapes. Thankfully, due to the speed of picking, losses were minimal, and the vintage was released in 1957.

Late 50s Ad      Late 1950’s print advert for DP 1949

The next two harvests saw poor weather in the Champagne region, and 1952 didn’t immediately look like it was going to be any better, with harvesting commencing on the 8th of September in unfavourable conditions which continued throughout picking. The resulting dark amber wines were on the austere side and quite restrained/closed on their release in 1958 after just 6 years of cellaring. Rather than the characteristic toast, cream, bread and honey delivered by an atypical Dom Pérignon, the resulting wines erred towards deeper notes of meat, truffles and leather, and it seems a wonder that 1952 was declared a vintage at all. Roger Moore’s characterisation of James Bond seemed to enjoy it though, in the film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.

The 1953 vintage was up next with a harvest that began on the 15th of September. Following an uneven flowering, the good weather seen in August continued throughout September, producing a healthy crop. Champagne was an integral part of the glamour associated with the last ‘Golden age of Hollywood’ and actress Marilyn Monroe would cite the 1953 as her favourite vintage of Dom Pérignon. Indeed it was rumoured that at her last official photo shoot for Vogue magazine 6 weeks before her death (taken by photographer Bert Stern and posthumously released entitled The Last Sitting’) Marilyn drank three bottles of the 1953 to help her get through the sessions.

The brand was also getting a helpful boost by the big screen adaptations of the aforementioned James Bond paperbacks, and virtually all of the earlier movies had Bond drinking Dom Pérignon somewhere along the line. The first Bond film ‘Dr No’ (released 1962) is right up to date with the villainous Dr No opting to serve the current 1955 vintage, only for Bond to say he prefers the 1953. The harvest of 1955 began at the beginning of October, and produced a bumper crop ahead of all expectations. It has been widely hailed by many critics as the greatest vintage of the 50’s, and is described by current Dom Pérignon winemaker Richard Geoffroy as “the archetype of the classical vintage”. Is this one instance where Mr Bond was wrong? Interestingly Bond is still drinking his preferred 1953 in the film ‘Goldfinger’ (released 1964), but has moved on to the 1955 vintage in ‘Thunderball’ (released 1965).

Bond was certainly on poor form in the 1969 film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ordering a vintage which didn’t exist. He erroneously asks for the 1957 which was a disastrous harvest ruined by frosts that reduced crops by as much as 75%. Given that the film was made in 1968 at a point when later vintages had already been released, this looks like a serious error in research by the production team (Moét have confirmed they only found about the reference once the film was released). Perhaps it is fitting that George Lazenby, whose sole appearance as 007 is largely viewed as a mis-step by the franchise, drinks the 1957 Dom Pérignon which also didn’t quite make the grade?

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