Dom Pérignon Reserve de L’Abbaye

Part 14 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

As my Dom Pérignon retrospective reaches the release of the 1992 Vintage, it seemed an appropriate time to step to the side somewhat, in to a place where the 1992 is the current release.

RDLA Labels

I’m referring to Dom Pérignon Réserve de L’Abbaye (also known as Dom Pérignon Gold, or simply Gold Reserve).  This is a stand-alone series of vintage releases for the Japanese market only (also available through Hong Kong fine wine merchant Ginsberg + Chan), and a product that you rarely hear about in the UK/Europe unless you go hunting for information.  Consequently, very little is written about it and, where it is talked about, it invariably isn’t written in English.

As alluded to with the use of the term ‘Gold’ (itself based on the fact that the labels and covering foil on the bottle are coloured gold), this brand offshoot is intended as an ultra-deluxe product that has seen extended cellar ageing, and is only available in limited quantities.  The vintages are released at circa 20 years of age which puts them on a vague par with the P3 releases (Plenitude, formerly Oenothéque), but I say vague as the 1990 RDLA was released in 2009 whereas the 1990 P3 has only recently hit the shelves.  There is also a passing resemblance between the two products as the 1990 P3 also has a gold style label.

Other packaging difference to note on the RDLA is that it has its own distinct capsule atop the cork, the back labels are all in Japanese and, more interestingly, that they also include a ‘Limited Edition’ serial number.  Dom Pérignon are well known to be evasive on the subject of how many bottles they produce each year but, do these serial numbers give us some hint towards production runs?  As you can see from the below image, the back label for the 1992 is only 5 characters long, ergo a top limit of 100k bottles, however the back label for the 1988 is 6 characters long taking us up to a potential 1 million bottles.

RDLA Backlabels

Champagne experts have repeatedly made guesses at the production levels for Dom Pérignon and put it at somewhere around 5 million bottles (based purely on the juices produced from the number of vines they have access to), so allocating anywhere near a million bottles for a niche Japan only product seems a tad much.  It’s more than likely that the serial number level has been inflated for the 1988 Vintage, and we’re not much the wiser after all.

The bottle comes packaged in a lovely wooden case, not unlike the style used for the first releases in the Oenothéque series, and comes with a tasting booklet that has the serial number stamped on the back and doubles as a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’.  All the bottles in circulation are the standard 75cl bottles, with no magnums or larger formats in production.

RDLA76

It’s unclear as to whether RDLA is the same base blend as regular Dom Pérignon and the bottles are simply partitioned for the Japanese market, or whether it is tailored to the market taste.  I did find one review from that rare someone who had tasted both the standard 1992 and the 1992 RDLA and they noted that it seemed sweeter in taste than usual.

The first vintage that I can find reference to is the 1976, which has been followed up by the 1978, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1990 and most recently the 1992.  Reflecting the fact that these late releases have spent a serious amount of additional time resting on their yeasts (lees) in the cellars, the prices for the older vintages run from £1200 per bottle, down to circa £800 for the latest two releases.

Noticeably absent are the vintages of 1980 and 1983, and this brings with it some interesting conclusions.  It’s understandable that 1980 may have been skipped due to the fact that it was a small harvest and probably sold through at the time (although this didn’t stop the equally small 1978 vintage becoming an RDLA), but 1983 was a huge crop and the largest recorded at that time.  Technically this should have meant that it was available, but its absence from the range is probably down to the weather conditions of the year, which were damp at harvest time, and this meant that the large quantity of grapes lacked the structure to age satisfactorily (indeed no Rosé was produced for 1983 either).  Interestingly, both the 1980 and 1983 received Oenothéque releases, but the 1978 did not.  Perhaps the two lines were sharing allocations?

Overall the RDLA is a curious aside in the Dom Pérignon story, and a product that I hope to taste myself one day, not least as a Dom Pérignon enthusiast, but if only to be able to judge if the blend is in any way different to the standard vintage.

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Christmas Wine Word Search

The festive season is upon us and what better way to while away the hours than with a good quiz.

Even better than that, how about a Christmas wine quiz!?

My good friend Clare over at http://aimetus.blogspot.co.uk/ has graciously allowed me to share her ‘Winter Wine Word-Search’, and a good deal of fun it is too.

All you have to do is find 24 different wine grape words (as an example, Cabernet and Sauvignon will be two distinct words).  Have fun with the Word-Search (the answers will be revealed in January), and please do visit Clare’s blog for more lovely wine stuff.

Crossword

Seasons Greetings!

Dom Pérignon 1990

Part 13 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

Fireworks sparkled over the Champs-Elysees on the 14th of July 1989 as France celebrated the bicentennial of the French Revolution.  At a glittering dinner under the illuminated Louvre Pyramid Dom Pérignon Oenothéque 1959 was uncorked for the first time, revealing a complex wine drawn exclusively from one of the finest vintages of the previous 50 years.  This ‘wine library’ concept wouldn’t be fully explored until the end of the new decade and so, for now, the public would be making do with the 1983 vintage, which was released at the start of 1990.

Before looking at the vintage conditions of the year, it is worth noting that 1990 was the first time that current Chef de Cave extraordinaire Richard Geoffroy joined the brand.  Starting with Domaine Chandon in Napa in the mid 1980’s, it wasn’t long before his potential was spotted and he began working with the pinnacle of the Moét portfolio.  In a transition that took a full six years to complete, he acted as deputy to the then Chef de Cave Dominique Foulon.  Beginning with production of the 1990, he spent his time learning, absorbing and understanding the technicalities and philosophy of producing Dom Pérignon.

RichardGPromoPicPicture Credit: Creating Dom Pérignon

Since taking over the reins Richard has become almost as much a symbol of Dom Pérignon as the bottle design and shield label, such is his commitment to extolling its wonder.  He travels continually for virtually half of each year conducting numerous tastings and launch events, and is incredibly approachable and knowledgeable.  On his artistic vision for the brand, he had this to say: “The unique personality of Dom Pérignon champagne is born of this creative commitment: the always unexpected, paradoxical tension between the distinctive qualities of a year and the timeless spirit of Dom Pérignon, the sensation that gives it its charisma; weightlessness with an airy richness and suppleness, from the first impression to the long-lasting finish.”

Moving on to the weather conditions of the year itself, a humid winter had seen the flowering of the vines beginning promptly, only to be hit by spring frosts in April.  The persistent cold weather and rain throughout May and June prompted uneven ripening and inhibited grape development.  These deficits were, however, offset by a good sized crop which would prove valuable should strict grape selection be required.  In the end, the vintage was saved by a persistent summer heatwave that saw little rain and lasted from July all the way through to September, and the overall crop for Champagne ended up being the 3rd largest on record.  Picking for the Chardonnay began on the 11th of September, with the Pinot Noir following shortly after on the 24th.  All of the harvest was completed in the continuing perfect weather conditions.  The well ripened grapes took on a mature flavour, and Chardonnay was blended in a higher proportion (58%) than usual (50/50) to add freshness to fruity Pinot Noir.

The official tasting guide describes the wine as having “an initial, almost floral impression (that) gives way to aromas of acacia honey, culminating in notes of dried fruit and brioche.  On the palate the wine is round and complete with a long refined and fresh finish – a feeling of simple perfection”.

Other tasting notes describe the palate as having almond and apricots amongst the dried fruit, and having a silky finish reminiscent of preserved citrus.  A Rosé wine was also produced, described as having copper and orange hints to its colour.  On the nose there were touches of gingerbread, cashew nuts, dried figs and candied orange peel, and these continued on to the palate culminating in a smooth and precise blend.  The 1990 Rosé was released in the year 2000.

The release of the Vintage 1990 in the September of 1996 (alongside the release of the 1986 Rosé) saw some amendments to the packaging of the brand.  Of course, the iconic bottle and shield label remained intact, but the capsule protecting the cork saw its first change since the 1966 vintage. Gone was the black and red colour scheme of old, and in came a subtle olive green background with the shield logo and black scripting.

1990 images

The presentation box remained the same on the outside, but internally the simple plush lining was replaced with a moulded plastic tray for the bottle to lay in.  The tasting guide also now featured a proper depiction of the shield logo, as per the label on the bottle, instead of the line drawings seen previously.

The 1990 Rosé release was now presented in a dark rose coloured box, although this new style had been introduced with the 1988 Rosé, which had been released in the period between the 1990 Vintage coming out and the release of the further matured 1990 Rosé.  This new coloured packaging ensured that it stood out on the shelf, added an extra level of prestige, and differentiated itself from the standard releases.  The capsule for the Rosé was equally updated to the new design, but in a rose coloured version.

Like 1990 before it, the harvest of 1991 also saw damaging frosts leading to late and uneven flowering, and a hot summer following on behind but, unlike 1990, it wouldn’t get a Vintage release. Late rains in mid-September delayed picking and swelled the grapes, resulting in juice with a low acidity, and therefore robbing the palate of one of the key aspects of a sparkling wine.  With a recession in full swing in many parts of the world, but hitting the UK (one of the leading countries for Champagne exports) very badly, sales were also slumping.  As a result of these numerous external factors the wines of 1991 went, in the main, to topping up reserve stocks for future non-vintage blends.

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting Notes – November 2015

Another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, with the below bottles comprising the November offerings.  I was pleasantly pleased (but not 100% surprised with Christmas coming) that the slightly higher price-point recently seen has been maintained, with these bottles coming in at £9.49 and £8.99 respectively.

LaithNov15

La Croix de Bordeaux 2014, Bordeaux AOC France, 100% Merlot, 12.5%, £9.49

This AOC Bordeaux comes from Entre Deux Mers (literally translating as ‘the entry-point of two seas’, sitting as it does at the meeting point of the Gironde and the Garonne).  We’re in the southerly part of Bordeaux here, and this wine is particularly championed by Laithwaites as their ‘house’ claret, taking their buyer through 50 different blends before he settled on this one.

In appearance it is an opaque deep inky purple – the solid colour coming from thermo-vinification for maximum results.

On the nose you can detect ripe, slightly tinned fruit, both red and black.  Of the confectionate notes that take the fore, there is solid red cherry, alongside brambles and earth.  On the whole it is a dense and solid nose, much like the appearance.

The palate is a touch drying, and I wasn’t surprised when I later read the tasting notes that highlight time and again that this is a food wine.  The characteristics of Merlot are evident in their tick-list fashion – spicy black cherry fruit giving a subtle warmth, alongside the raisined fruitcake.  I can also detect further fruit, with touches of blueberry, and there is a refreshing acidity to balance out the drying character and grippy grainy tannins that persist.  The tasting note describes them as ‘minimal’, so perhaps I was doing this wine a dis-service by not trying it with food to get the full winemaker vision.    Overall though, this is a smooth, soft and fruity example of Merlot if not one I would pick up at this price point.  But that’s what the Premiere service is for!

Bees Knees Chenin Blanc Viognier 2015 – South Africa (Western Cape), Chenin Blanc/Viogier blend, 14%, £8.99

Globe-trotting winemaker Leon Esterhuizen has returned to his South African home to work with his beloved Chenin Blanc (known as Steen in South Africa) in the terroir that brings out the best from this this French varietal.  Indeed, Laithwaites loved it so much that they christened it ‘The Bees Knees’, which is high praise indeed for an inaugural offering (although the wider family who produce this wine have been involved in production some 30 years).  The wine is listed as Western Cape which is a fairly sizeable area, but this white is produced in Somerset West, which overlooks False Bay (the horseshoe shape bay in the southwest), and draws in premium grapes from nearby Stellenbosch.

I always find it amusing to try youthful wines from the southern hemisphere as, with this 2015 vintage, it’s easy to forget with our harvest only just over, this has still managed to have some age attached to it, the grapes being picked towards the start of our calendar year.

Pale lemon in colour, a controlled cool vinification followed by two months of lees (dead yeast cells) contact, ensures that this wine has a good, medium weighted mouthfeel.  The Chenin grape gives off its naturally oily notes, and the sum of this with the lees ageing is a dense and satisfying palate full of honey and cream.  Alongside the majority (80%) of Steen we have 20% of Rhone grape Viognier added, just to balance out the oiliness and give florality and lightness to the overall palate.  True to form we get touches of both florality (white flowers and vanilla spice) and hints of tropical fruits added, with both peach and dried yellow melon evident.

The linear and persisting acid ensures that the blend remains balanced, and draws the tropical fruit to a warm conclusion.

At £8.99 this is a lovely fresh, full and ‘touching on complex’ example of where South Africa can excel and produce wine that is thoughtful, and highlights the positive characters that belie the fact that the region is fairly new in terms of production.  This was actually the cheaper of the two bottles presented this month but (and like previous months I say this as primarily a red wine drinker), the Laithwaites selection for November has again turned up a White winner for me.

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