Which Wine for a Wedding?

There’s roughly 260,000 weddings in the UK every year and so, despite how planning the perfect personalised wedding can sometimes feel unachievable, there’s a wealth of advice to help things go as smoothly as possible, whatever your requirements.

Compared to ‘focus’ items such as the venue, bridesmaid dresses or the music choices, wine can feel somewhat further down the planning scale.  It’s just Champagne for the toast and then a choice between red and white, right?

With an average of 96 guests invited to your big day, each with their own expectations, the food and drink deserves more than a passing thought.  According to research you’ll be spending roughly 20% of your budget on it, so it’s a key thing to get right.

In terms of drinks, as well as catering for those not drinking alcohol for whatever reason, a good rule of thumb per person is a welcome drink, half a bottle for the main meal, and finally something fizzy for the toast.  To ensure a happy crowd it’s probably better to over-cater than under-cater, and you can usually get a refund on any unused bottles.

Don’t feel that the toast and welcome drink needs to be budget-blowing expensive Champagne.  Cheaper doesn’t equal cheap, but if Prosecco or Cava don’t have the grandeur for your special occasion, my top tip is to go for Cremant.  Although you many not be familiar with it, it’s another French sparkling wine made in exactly the same way as Champagne, just not in the Champagne region.  You’ll save yourself a lot of money and most guests would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

For the main course, a good rule of thumb is to plan for the white vs. red on a 40/60 split.  To ensure you please as many palates as possible keep your choices simple and classic, and check that they compliment your food choices (e.g. avoid powerful reds with lighter meats such as chicken).  It also adds a nice touch if there is a story behind the wine too, such as serving one that you both tried whilst on holiday.

As with all aspects of your preparations, mention the word ‘wedding’ and prices immediately shoot upwards.  Sourcing the wine yourself rather than going with the limited options from your venue can mean a little extra detective work but could also save you money.  Don’t forget to check whether your venue applies a corkage fee.

Another good thing to check is that the venue is providing adequate serving staff for your expected number of guests.  You want people to focus on enjoying themselves rather than wondering when the next drink will turn up!  Putting a set number of bottles on each table may seem like you’re giving people the opportunity for a free-for-all, but research shows that people actually drink slower if they can go at their own pace, rather than downing a drink each time they see the lesser-spotted server. 

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Wine Down The Sink (Hole)

It’s always a sad day when you have to tip some wine down the sink.  Whether it’s because the wine has become tainted, isn’t to your taste, or has been left open for too long, you inevitably arrive at the same on-the-spot decision: “Could I feasibly use this in some sort of cooking”.  Pouring wine away feels such a waste.

One can only imagine then how famed Champagne producer Pol Roger felt back in February 1900.  The bumper harvest of 1899, the first of decent size and quality in over 5 years, was safe in their underground cellars.  A new century was dawning, and hope was high despite the prolonged period of heavy winter rains. 

But as the soils became more and more waterlogged, two cellar floors (and several adjoining buildings) collapsed into each other burying an estimated 500 casks and 1.5million bottles.  That’s a lot of wine down the drain.

 A rescue operation was prepared but, when poor weather continued and a neighbouring cellar also caved in, plans were abandoned as being too risky.  Having to make the best of the losses and soldier on Pol Roger built new and improved cellars, going from strength to strength across the century and are still remembered as being the go-to Champagne of ex-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The landslide could have become a mere footnote of Pol Roger’s history; indeed, much darker times were ahead with the destruction and looting stemming from two world wars but, like in the movies, some things don’t like to stay buried forever.

In 2018, the Pol Roger family were looking to build a new packing facility on the ground above the old cellars.  Construction began, moving away layers of earth with the sort of heavy machinery that is standard practice today, but unthinkable in 1900.

The diggers came across a small cavity beneath the surface which was then widened to allow access.  As well as much broken glass they were astonished to find a still intact bottle, then 6 more, and then a further 19 bottles. 

Incredibly the corks were still in place and the amount of wine in each of the 26 bottles was as packaged.  This meant that the liquid hadn’t been evaporating and the bottles remained airtight.  There was every chance that they were still drinkable!

The family were now very excited to push on, but in a cruel mirroring of the original rescue plan, two months of heavy rain once again saturated the soils and made further rescue attempts impossible.

Not being defeated though, Pol Roger have now announced that they will be continuing the rescue operation with a remotely controlled robot guided through small discovery tunnels to see what’s left to discover.  A far cry from the shovels originally used to try and dig the wine out.

How incredible would it be for them to raise a commercially viable number of bottles so that everyone could taste a 120-year-old Champagne?

Climate Change – A Silver Lining?

Climate change is a subject that’s been high on the public agenda over the last few months, especially if you’ve been trying to navigate around London during the protests.

According to NASA we’ve seen 17 of the warmest 18 years on record since 2001.  Following the unseasonably warm weather in April and May I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy at the prospect of a long hot summer, but in all seriousness, things are really heating up.

Alongside industries such as energy, fishing and even skiing, the production of agricultural crops, including the grapes destined to be turned in to wine, is poised to change dramatically, potentially to the point where we need to re-write the book.

Vines thrive the world-over where the climate meets their individual varietal characteristics.  A good example of the scale of change can be found in the revered French wine region of Burgundy. 

At a northerly latitude once deemed to be at the top end for successful grape production, the cool inland climate allows the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to perfectly ripen throughout the long warm summers without being scorched.  Even though the French don’t tend to varietally label their wines, it’s well known that the Pinot Noir grape is the heart and soul of the world-famous Burgundy.

What though if the climate gets too hot for this delicate grape?  Suddenly the entire profile of the wine would change as the vines were pulled up.  Hardier grapes from the warmer south of France would potentially need to be moved northwards as the temperature rises.  Could we be seeing Burgundy made from the spicier Grenache or Syrah varieties in the future?  It seems unbelievable, but that’s what some experts have said may happen in as little as 20 years time.

Alongside the warmer temperatures we are also seeing more and more evidence of volatile weather conditions hitting the vineyards.  The US has suffered devastating wildfires, sudden hailstorms have decimated the years-worth of work in minutes across France, Germany and Italy, whilst South Africa and Australia have suffered from severe droughts.

As something of a silver lining to the doom and gloom, we’re now seeing new wine regions appear in the land where it was once too cold to successfully produce well-ripened grapes.  The most obvious of these is our own home-grown wine industry which, thanks to rising temperatures, has turned from little more than a hobbyist activity to a serious world contender in roughly 25 years.

English wines have been served to royalty and heads of state, have taken off in the US, and go from strength to strength in wine competitions year after year.  If our world leaders continue to stall on addressing and tackling the seriousness of climate change, given that we now successfully compete with the quality of the Champagne region some 250 miles south of London, how long will it be before the south of England becomes the new Burgundy?

This article was originally published in the June 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Lanson Wimbledon Champagne Cooler Jackets

Wimbledon season is once again upon us in the UK which means two weeks where people are allowed to go tennis crazy even if they’re not too bothered by the sport.  The drinkers among us, whatever their sporting pleasure, have something else to look forward to; the return of the Wimbledon Lanson Champagne cooler jacket.

Lanson have been supplying Champagne to the thirsty spectators of the tennis tournament since 1977 and became the official supplier in 2001.  The brand have long been producing specially designed cooler jackets, such as their super-cute Christmas editions, and their 2012 editions to commemorate both the London Olympics and the Queen’s 60th Jubilee Celebrations.

Lanson 2009

Although a simple purple zip up design had been produced in 2009, it was 2013 that saw them pair the two activities together in earnest, beginning what has become a popular yearly tradition.  Let’s take a look at some of the previous designs.

2013 – Ball Boy

The famous Black Label Brut NV came dressed in a ball boy’s purple tennis shirt, with buttons to the top, and a collar trimmed with green/purple.  The Rosé Label Brut NV naturally came in a pink t-shirt variant with purple/white trim, whilst the White Label Sec Brut NV was dressed in a white t-shirt with green/purple trim.  All were adorned with the Wimbledon Championships logo.

Lanson 2013

2014 / 2015 – Tennis Ball

This time around the Brut and Rosé came dressed as tennis balls, the Brut in custom yellow ball colour, and the Rosé in an appropriate pink shade.  Both neoprene jackets were finished off with a detachable Lanson branded charm to the rear zip (this was replaced with a fixed yellow tennis ball for the 2015 re-issue).

Lanson Tennis Ball

Lanson Tennis Ball v2

The White Label Sec came in a specially designed bottle wrap rather than a cooler jacket.

2016 – Ball Boy v2

Taking its cue from the 2013 design, this second ball boy variant substitutes the previous buttoned shirt design for zips, adorned with yellow tennis balls (as per the 2015 release) on the openers.  The Black Label Brut NV was now housed in a blue jacket, as opposed to the previous purple colour.

Lanson Ballboy v2

2017 / 2018 – Tennis Court

Each of the 3 bottles are currently available in lawn green jackets with the front ‘label’ in the appropriate colour for the bottle housed within.

Lanson Tennis Court

An exclusive design of the recently introduced Green Label Brut Organic Cuvée was produced to commemorate the 150th year of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.  This was only available at club events and for its members.

Many of the jackets throughout the years have been available in multiple bottle sizes including 20cl, 37.5cl, 75cl and magnum.  In addition a limited 20cl yellow ‘Polo’ version of the t-shirt design was available through specialist retailers, such as Selfridges.

Lanson Yellow

As each of the 3 designs have now been used twice, next year (Lanson’s 42nd year of association with the tournament) should see a completely new design produced.

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Dom Pérignon 2002 Andy Warhol Collectors Edition

Warhol Banner

The 1996 Irodori and 1998 collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld had seen Dom Pérignon dip their toe in to the water with the hottest designers of the day.  The limited editions had both been a critical and consumer success selling out almost instantly, and a new marketing strategy was born.

The early part of the millennium saw Dom change their creative agency.  Neville Brody were now on point to give the brand a refreshed direction and, as such, regular packaging for Dom at this time was full of frequent stylistic changes.  Perhaps as a consequence, no designer editions were initially offered for the 2000 vintage.

Never one to be behind the curve, the next Dom Pérignon special edition packaging would push things further than ever before, putting a twist on the iconic shield label for the first time in the brand’s 74 year history.

Warhol Bottles

Andy Warhol was (and still is) a cultural art icon, famed for his pop art designs that took (amongst others) household brands and re-imagined them via silk-screen prints.  Just as he had done with Campbell’s Soup, it was time to create a vivid and varied composition of a well-known image.  It was time to deconstruct and elevate the iconic Dom Pérignon design.

Passing away in February 1987, Warhol was clearly unavailable to supervise the designs himself, so the Design Laboratory housed within Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design in London were commissioned for the piece.  In full collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation, their task was to harness the Warhol legacy and establish Dom Pérignon as both a heritage and cultural brand.

Released in October 2010, just a month after the standard 2002 vintage, the fruits of this collaboration culminated in a collector’s edition that initially spanned 3 different bottle designs.

Warhol Pop Art Image

During his life Warhol had long been a devoted fan of Dom Pérignon Champagne.  The hedonism of the 1970’s, his personal wealth, as well as the famous clientele and social situations through his regular frequenting of the Studio 54 nightclub, saw him treating it as his ‘go-to’ Champagne brand.

The limited edition Dom Pérignon release would call out one specific date from his infamous (and badly punctuated) posthumously published diaries; March 8th 1981.

“Went to the gallery where they were having a little exhibition of the glittery Shoes, and had to do interviews and pics for the German newspaper and then we had to go back to the hotel and be picked up by the ‘2,000’ people – it’s a club of twenty guys who got together and they’re going to buy 2,000 bottles of Dom Pérignon which they will put in a sealed room until the year 2,000 and then open it up and drink it and so the running joke is who will be around and who won’t…”

Taking the quote at face value, there is nothing to suggest that Warhol himself was a member of the ‘2,000 people’ as he referred to being ‘picked up’ by them, and that ‘they’ were going to stockpile the Dom.

To this day there is little evidence that the club managed to ever seal the deal or purchase any Dom.  Despite an incredibly alluring bounty, surviving members of the 20-strong group never surfaced over the millennium, and neither did the room or storage vault heaving with 2,000 bottles.  Andy, of course, would depart this earth a good 13 years ahead of the planned millennial party, so it will therefore probably remain a well embellished myth.

Assuming for a second that the club did manage to make the purchase, in 1981 they would have been looking at buying up the remaining stocks of the very good 1971 vintage or the more recent OK (but available in large quantities) 1973.  Both vintages were still openly available in the early millennium as part of the Dom library Oenotheque releases.

As far as the UK was concerned the Warhol bottles were initially released at high end retailers such as Harrods and Selfridges, followed (where availability allowed) by high street merchants including Majestic (albeit without their card packaging).  Keeping things simple the UK release in October 2010 comprised three different bottle labels (red, blue, yellow) priced at £150 each.  Each was housed in a black coffin box and encased in a printed Warhol outer sleeve.

Warhol Boxes

In the USA and elsewhere, a fuller set of 6 labelled bottles were issued alongside matching branded flutes featuring coloured shields.

Warhol Glasses

Shortly after, normal style wine glasses were also produced for launch events featuring the colourised shield design, but there was no suggestion that these were commercially available.  The Flute pack edition for the UK featured flute glasses with a simpler silver shield logo.

Warhol 2002 Flute pack.jpg

The revised Warhol labelling was then back-dated to the previously ‘designer’ missed 2000 vintage (which was much more apt for the 2000 club!).

Warhol 2000 LabelsPhoto Credit: Carrie Godsiff

In 2011, a further set of limited edition labels were issued for both the 2000 and 2002 editions with a metallic style label and slightly varied colour designs.

Warhol Colourful

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Dom Pérignon 1998 – “A Bottle Named Desire”

KL98 v1

A natural facet of creating and maintaining an air of mystery for a prestige Champagne is the need to keep external exposure and detail to a minimum.  In line with this policy, bespoke advertising for Dom Pérignon as a standalone brand was non-existent for a long time.

The last drive to push Dom sales had been in the late 1950’s where, in a post 2nd World War world, there was an inherent need to build the new brand as a standalone entity.

Late 50s Ad

With sales now booming and the print adverts of the 1960’s and 70’s focusing more on brand alignment as opposed to individual product, Dom was relegated to forming part of the wider Moét stable as opposed to a top tier offering.

Moet DP 69 Advert

The Neville Brody brand re-working of 2004 chose to re-instigate a direct advertising approach, such was the requirement in a world used to surfing visuals via the internet and where positioning against other ‘advert-friendly’ prestige brands was critical.  As such, Dom was thrust back in to the pages of appropriate publications and well and truly back in the limelight.

DP98 Helena Bath

The campaign for the 1998 vintage was given over to German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, well known for his collaborations with the Italian and French design houses of Fendi and Chanel. As his leading lady Lagerfeld chose Danish ‘Supermodel’ Helena Christensen to star alongside several male models and bottles of Dom Perignon.  Shot in an 18th century Parisian townhouse (a nod back to the origins of Moét & Chandon) Lagerfeld stated that he was after a ‘Barry Lyndon’ effect, name-checking the gloriously shot period film by director Stanley Kubrick, to deliver the right atmosphere for Dom Perignon.

What transpired on the page was intimate, slightly erotic, but always classy and elegant, and the shoot produced so many iconic images that a book was released in November 2005 titled ‘The 7 Fantasmes of a Women’.

Made up of Christensen and the other models in various black and white images, and with very little wording to tell the whole story, no real explanation was given as to why the Dom Perignon was there at all.

7 Fantasmes of Women DP98

The pairing of Lagerfeld and Christensen was a happy one with both having known each other for just under 20 years and some of Helena’s first work being for Lagerfeld.  Indeed, she cited it as the main reason for taking the role, alongside being able to drink Dom Pérignon for two days straight.  The resulting images were hardly out of wine publications of the time and laid the groundwork for the celebrity endorsements the brand still uses to this day.

Perhaps Lagerfelds crowning glory for Dom Pérignon was his tie-in creation “A Bottle Named Desire”.  Unveiled in February 2006, this was a limited run of 1,998 bottles of the 1998 Vintage.  With gold foil unique to this release, each bottle was dressed with 50 ‘golden’ studs attached.  Housed in an elegant semi-opaque jewel case, each set was individually numbered below the golden shield clasp, and ‘signed’ by Karl.

DP98 KL Edition Montage

The result was a visually stunning set with Lagerfeld intending the golden studs to emulate the vibrant bubbles within, capturing the very soul of the bottle and making it an object of desire.  The set was exclusively available in the top London boutique stores including Harrods, who got a large allocation and proudly gave it one of their world-famous window displays.

Like the limited ‘Irodori’ 1996 before it, despite the eye-watering £1,000 price tag, the set sold out soon after release.  It was then, and still remains, the most expensive first-release price for a Dom Pérignon vintage special edition.

Although the general Dom packaging went through several changes for both the 1999 and 2000 Vintages as the Neville Brody amendments bedded in, no further Prestige editions for these vintages were produced.  It wouldn’t be long though before the Andy Warhol inspired editions of the 2002 Vintage came along and, in a further first for the brand, they began changing the infamous shield logo for the first time.

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Dom Pérignon 1996 ‘Irodori’ Edition & Brand Changes

Following on from the various special millennial releases of the 1992 and 1993 vintages, the release of the 1996 Dom Pérignon was the first to employ the talents of an established designer to create a unique and prestige offering.

Japanese artist Eriko Horiki, well known for her delicate creations in the traditional Japanese paper known as ‘washi’, was commissioned to produce the exclusive offering.  Under the artistic direction of photographer Keiichi Tahara, Eriko surrounded each bottle in thousands of sheets of coloured paper creating a glorious paper rainbow effect.

Irodori Main

Having been given the artistic brief of conveying the essence of the 1996 vintage and highlighting its inner radiance she undertook the delicate task of breaking down aspects of light in to a sublime range of colours, step by step, sheet by sheet. By evoking light in dazzling rays and in all of its variation she brought the paper medium to life, giving it body and luminosity.

Acting as a contrast between concentration and movement, the piece was titled “Irodori”, a literal translation of the Japanese for an ‘assortment of colours’.  Housed inside a clear casing the bottle greeted the market mounted inside a virtual aura of light.

With further launches held in Barcelona, New York and Sydney, the Irodori set was unveiled in London in September 2004.  Priced at £350, the limited edition run of 1,996 sets was an immediate sell out and remains an extremely rare and historic piece of Dom history.

DP 1996 Sp Ed

At the same time the brand, and specifically its packaging and presence in the marketplace, was under review.  Whilst variants of the familiar green packaging had been in place since the release of the 1990 vintage (which also saw Rosé releases finally switched in to a bespoke dark pink coffret) the release of the 1998 was something of a watershed moment.

The earlier half of 2004 had seen the brand partner up with the English graphic design company Neville Brody.  With a view to taking the brand strategy and market positioning up a gear, the mandate was to seek out elegance, glamour and appeal whilst retaining the core luxury cues such as the shield label and bottle shape.

Founded in 1994 and now with offices in London, Paris and Berlin, Neville Brody were famous for their mould breaking re-designs of UK newspapers such as The Guardian and The Times, and their work with companies such as Old Navy, Chloe, and YSL.

A year-long review saw them move the packaging away from both the standard green colouring and chest style coffret in the most radical way possible.  Their vision, beginning with the 1998 vintage release, was to upgrade the packaging to a dark black colour (and shocking pink for Rosé) with silver trim.

Including consultancy to produce a consistent style of brand language for both product inserts and material such as window displays, their radically different way to differentiate on the shelf contained unique dyes and paper that took over a year to develop.   The 1999 vintage would see the old design literally turned on its head with a monolithic upright model with push button opening.

Owner/designer Neville Brody commented that the brand “market is ageing so we have used some subtle leveraging to move it into a modern space”.  He added that “It has taken a year to get the finish of the packaging exactly right, with the right silver, weight and touch. Dom Pérignon is such a pared-down brand with very little story or myth that it is all about the exact detail. If you get the detail wrong then the whole thing doesn’t work”.

Designers Lionel Massias and Marion Lauren oversaw the bulk of the work at the design company’s Paris office, with art direction overseen by Neville Brody himself.  The first outputs were seen in both the black coffret replacement of the standard green packaging, along with a revised box with a silver flare, inspired by current collaborator Karl Lagerfeld.

Dom P 1998 3 variations

With the above variants the 1998 vintage was already one of the most diversely offered vintages and a gateway to the current yearly designer collaboration editions, but just around the corner there was a huge upgrade to the vintage and the brand.

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Dom Pérignon 2006

The release of the 2006 Dom Pérignon marked the first time in their history that a 5th consecutive vintage was declared.  In recent times Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy has been very open about the fact that he is steering the brand away from only releasing a prestige Champagne a handful of times each decade, as has historically been the case.

Writing on his own website ‘Creating Dom Pérignon’ Richard reflected that the declaration of 5 consecutive and unique expressions was “maybe my proudest moment in 25 years at the head of Dom Pérignon”.  Even so, with the 2007 not making the grade and the 2011 also unlikely to be declared, it may be at least another decade before we see this feat equalled.

DP 2006 Label Images

2006 saw irregular weather in the vineyards, with a warm and dry spring climaxing in a scorching hot July.  The temperatures then dropped away somewhat and August was both wet and humid.  The vintage was saved by the strong summer weather returning in September, both drying out any patches of botrytis (fungus leading to mould/rot) and driving a good ripeness in the grapes.

Beginning on September 11th harvesting was methodical and protracted to allow each parcel of vines to ripen in turn.  Taking just over 3 weeks to complete, it has gone down as one of the longest on record for Dom Pérignon.

The patience required in the vineyard was also required in the cellars, with Richard Geoffroy noting that the maturation of the wine also took much longer than usual, only starting to show the harmony and finesse just prior to its release in October 2015.

Comprised of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay, the official tasting note tells us that the nose gives an immediate impression of its bright and airy bouquet, followed by “a floral, fruity pastel tone (that) quickly darkens into candied fruit, ripe hay and toasted notes, along with hints of liquorice”.

On the palate it is “complex and edgy, silkier than it is creamy”.  “The whole eventually melts into an exquisite bitterness tinged with the briny taste of the sea”.  Richard Geoffroy went on to add that the high PH level of the vintage had proved problematic for him: “It needed to be turned around, so I had to stretch it out to achieve the signature DP harmony. The vintage is about brightness and the art of blending.  Despite minimal dosage 2006 is lush and ample, fleshy without being fat and has an intricate, mother of pearl-like gliding texture. It’s one of the most complex vintages at the time of release that I’ve ever made,”.

My own tasting note largely followed these lines, particularly picking out that, whilst toasty and bready, the palate lacked the characteristic creaminess usually found in a Dom.  On the palate the liquorice came through clearly, as did notes of confection (parma violets) and a light nuttiness.

Dp 2006 Bjork Bottle

As was now tradition for the brand, a limited ‘Creators Edition’ was produced.  For this vintage the design was a collaboration between Icelandic singer Bjork and British filmmaker and music video director Chris Cunningham.  Explaining the choice, Richard Geoffroy said “We try to align the artists with the character of the vintage.  She’s been on our minds for a while and 2006 was the right vintage for her as it’s all about brightness and light”.  Bjork and Chris were already long-time collaborators on various pieces including one of her music videos.

The creation, titled “From Earth to Heart”, featured an earthy green light shining down on the bottle from above, seemingly piercing the glass with its glow.  The imagery was there to evoke the illumination generated by the new vintage as it meets the world, creating a link between earth and emotion.  This limited design was released in October 2015 at the same time as the standard vintage bottles.

A further limited bottling was released a year later in October 2016, designed by contemporary German artist Michael Riedel.  Having a similar creative approach and affinity for transformation and transcending the original material, his additional collaboration was also seen as a natural fit with the brand.

DP 2006 Riedel

Deconstructing the letters D and P and layering them across both the box and bottle label, Riedel designed an optical metaphor inspired by the passing of time, signifying the transformation of Dom Pérignon during its time spent ageing on the lees.

The standard edition bottles were housed in the usual black display boxes, with one small change to previous releases.  The small embossed lettering stating the vintage was not present as in previous years and the only reference to the year was now to be found on the shield sticker.

DP 2006 Box Image

Bottles were secured with the standard vintage branded corks and the dark green capsules used in recent vintages.

Magnums of the 2006 were readily available, and a ‘flute’ set was also released.  In the UK this was merely the addition of 2 Dom Pérignon branded flutes in a separate box, but for the US market a custom designed box that housed both bottle and glasses was produced.

A 2006 Rosé is currently scheduled for release in 2018.

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Champagne Deutz Masterclass

Champagne Deutz were in town recently as part of the Gonzalez Byass 2017 portfolio tasting, and commercial director Etienne Defosse was on hand to guide us through a masterclass of eight of their wines.

Founded in 1838, much of their production is consumed domestically in France and so this session was a rare and welcome opportunity to taste through their standard Brut NV, their Vintage Champagnes, and their prestige Amour range.

deutz

Producing a mere 2 million bottles per year (a drop in the ocean compared to the annual 300 million bottles produced in the Champagne region), Deutz have 42 hectares, 80% of which are classified at either Grand Cru or Premier Cru level.  This accounts for 20% of their grape needs (a fairly high amount by Champagne standards), with the compliment bought in from the Cru status vineyards of local growers.

The house has 150 individual vats each containing one particular component of their wine.  This distinct and high level of separation gives them absolute control and flexibility when blending their final cuvées, and their NV, for example, contains the grapes from up to 40 different sites.  40% of their annual production is kept as reserve wines for future blending.

The big take-away from this tasting was just how rich and vibrant their wines are, from the classic and classy NV’s through to the rich, layered and yet fantastically ‘alive’ Amour vintages with 10+ years of age already under their belt.

Champagne Deutz Brut Classic NV ~ £30

The base of the current Classic NV is comprised 50% of grapes from 2013, with the compliment made up of 2012 and a touch of 2011.  The NV Champagnes account for 85% of Deutz production and Etienne enlightened us with a good level of detail of the costs involved (€6.50 per kilo of grapes and each bottle needing 1.5kg of grapes to make).

Composition is split evenly between Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and the house style is accessible, fresh, lively and crisp for immediate pleasure.

Champagne Deutz Rosé NV ~ £40-45

The current Rosé NV is comprised of 50% reserve wines, mainly from the 2011 vintage.  Fully refreshing and bursting with strawberry and cranberry fruit, this showed a good complexity at this level.

Champagne Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2009 ~£55

Hailing from the great year of 2009 this Blanc de Blancs had a wonderfully layered texture throughout.  The nose was full of bread and brioche, cream and a touch of smoke to the citrus.  The palate followed this up with lemon curd, a twist of lime, and blossom florality.

No oak is used in the ageing process and so the density and complexity here is fully achieved through the detailed blending.  Etienne did mention that one very large barrel had recently found its way in to their cellars, with the Chef de Cave clearly trying out a new cuvée!

Champagne Deutz Rosé Vintage 2009 ~£55

With 80% Pinot Noir in its composition, the Rosé had a fragrant nose, immediate strawberry and then headed off to the darker notes of raspberry and redcurrant.  To achieve the precise colouring and fruit characters a vat of red wine is added; at just 5 to 7% of the overall blend.

As a point of interest Etienne disclosed that the same red wine vat is used for the colouring of both the NV Rosé and the Vintage Rosé but, even so, the difference between the two Champagnes was obvious.

Champagne Deutz Brut Vintage 2007 ~£50

I’m pretty sure that this was my first tasting of a 2007 Vintage Champagne, with the wet summer weather and uneven ripening resulting in many houses side-stepping the year.  When quizzed on this Etienne responded that they almost always try to make a vintage expression, only recently failing to do so in 2011 due to vegetal characters in the Pinot Noir.

Etienne also divulged that the bottling was smaller than many vintages and so is already becoming harder to find.  Using a greater compliment of Pinot Noir than usual (65%), this had a very distinctive nose (fennel, apparently) and followed it up on the palate with biscuit, ripe green pear flesh, and honeyed citrus.

deutz-amour

Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2006 ~£100

Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2005 ~£100

Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2003 ~£100

First produced with the 1993 vintage, we were treated here to a trio of the most recent Amour releases.  Many characteristics were present across all three vintages, not least the distinctive, almost luminescent colour (Imperial Gold, so we were told).

All three featured developed noses full of bread and biscuit, with a touch of nuttiness to the older two years.  They were also all able to show off a freshness and vibrant mousse that showed no signs of dulling down any time soon, and the layers of cream and butter were a true treat.

The 2005 and 2003 both showed what felt like a small amount of tannin, and there was an identifiable smoky quality to the 2005.  The 2003 had a particularly great depth and character.  All were wonderful and long lasting on the palate.

We ended the session with one fun anecdote surrounding the Amour range.  Since the 1999 vintage Deutz have produced a limited bottling of 365 numbered Methuselahs; one for each day of the year (and yes they do make 366 in leap years!).  One particular customer who is an avid James Bond fan has block-reserved the bottle number 007 for all future releases.

With thanks to Gonzalez Byass for the tickets to their portfolio tasting and Champagne Deutz masterclass.

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‘Dom Pérignon 1998 – The Collection’. The world’s most expensive cookbook

Over the years Dom Pérignon have found ways for the consumer to experience the prestige of their brand, even if they’ve never opened a bottle of their Champagne.  As well as the more standard accessories such as glassware and Champagne buckets, official merchandise has ranged from Bento boxes (used to serve Sushi as an ideal accompaniment to a bottle), cigar cases, and even a chess board.

One of the most curious items to appear though must be the cookery book that was released to tie in with the June 2005 release of the 1998 Vintage. ‘Dom Pérignon Vintage 1998 – The Collection’ (published by Ptarmigan) came in at a whopping 292 pages and was likely never intended to be something that you would keep in the kitchen to idly flick through for inspiration on a weekday night.

Indeed, in the written introduction by Dom Pérignon Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy, he describes the tome as “not in fact a book but a great work of art”.  He goes on to add that “whilst containing no more than bound sheets of high quality paper…recipes and images have been woven into a rich counterpoint, like…(those) which great opera and symphonies depend”

Stirring stuff but, as of the time of writing, this release remains the only time the brand has attempted to produce such a companion piece.

The volume pulled together 35 of the best chefs working in the UK at the time, each working for a famous restaurant such as Le Gavroche or Les Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.  Many well-known names were included such as Michael Caines, Angela Hartnett, Michel Roux Jr, and Tom Aikens.

The record temperatures of the 1998 vintage had provided grapes that were succulent and full of flavour and each chef had been invited to provide a recipe that they believed would pair exquisitely with the final blend.  In addition, some chefs even included the wine as part of the ingredients.

Alongside a clutch of starters and desserts, the core of the book featured many fish-led main courses, and included:

  • Andalouse of sole – Jean-Christophe Novelli
  • Tartare of sea bass with dill – Michel Roux Jr
  • Caramelised lobster and Wagyu beef – Tom Thomsen
  • Salmon ‘mi-cuit’, spiced lentil, foie gras ballotine – John Campbell (who, incidentally, was then the head chef at my nearby eatery The Vineyard at Stockcross)

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Art was also very much a key part of the book, and it contained exclusively commissioned pieces from three major artists:

  • Charles Saatchi favourite Sophie von Hellermann provided a series of vignettes of the ‘glitterati’ including Joanne Harris, Philip Green, Sir Roger Moore, Theo Fennel, Lord Lloyd Webber, Meredith Etherington-Smith, Karl Lagerfeld and Helena Christensen. These sat alongside short interview pieces for each of the subjects, captured by journalist Lucia van der Post
  • French illustrator Stephane Gamain provided stylised illustrations of each featured chef to sit alongside their biographies
  • Japanese photographer Yukata Yahamoto produced still life images for each recipe, based on the key ingredients

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Also included was a nod to fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who at the time was collaborating with the brand on the artistic vision of their 1998 Vintage release (featuring Helena Christensen).

In keeping with the prestige tradition of Dom Pérignon, two different versions of the book were available to purchase.  Retailing for £1000 and listed as the most expensive cookbook ever produced, the premium edition was a limited run of just 30 copies and came bound in sea-green galuchat leather, harvested from the hide of a rare Japanese ray.

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Each of the 30 sleeves were individually hand polished giving them a distinct and unique appearance and, in addition to this exclusive sleeve, the commissioned prints were signed by the artists involved.  In a generous move by the brand, the highly positioned retail price wasn’t to be swallowed up simply as vast profit; all proceeds from the sales were donated to a selection of UK charities.

For those that couldn’t stretch to the deluxe version, the same (unsigned) hardback edition was produced in a wider print run of 1500 editions housed in a dust jacket containing a printed image of the galuchet leather effect.  The retail price for this version came in at a more modest £40.

‘Dom Pérignon Vintage 1998 – The Collection’ was released in November 2005.

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