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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The Vineyard at Stockcross – ‘Judgement of Paris’ Tasting Menu

Sir Peter Michael, owner of 5 star vinous hotel experience The Vineyard, was directly inspired by the 1976 Judgement of Paris; the famous play-off between the traditional wines of France and the upcoming wines of California.

It’s therefore fitting that they offer a tasting menu which pays tribute to the original event, accompanied only by French and Californian wines.

Comprised of 7 courses, each dish allows you to decide which wine works best with the food, and if you prefer the French or US offering.  Opting for the full sensory experience I decided to taste my wines blind, replicating the conditions of the original event.

(Note: The individual dishes change seasonally as do the perfectly paired wines.  What follows are my thoughts based on those served on the day).

Course 1 – Beef sirloin tartar, sorrel sorbet, raisins and bone marrow crumb matched with:

  • Peter Micheal Winery (PMW) L’Aprés Midi (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, –
  • CaliforniaCháteau Tour des Gendres (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, Bergerac Sec, France

The US wine managed to trick me as it was in the lighter style.  The Bergerac boasted a silky texture with melon and tropical yellow fruit, and seemed almost too intense for their climate.  The PMW had a lighter colour and, alongside rich buttery oak, was characterised by a light airy character and peach and tangerine rind.

1/0 to the USA

Course 2 Lobster Raviolo

Course 2 – Lobster ravioli, citrus bisque, grapefruit, pickled ginger, basil matched with:

  • Donelan ‘Nancie’, Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma, California
  • Sophie Cinier (Chardonnay) 2014, Pouilly-Fuissé, France

The intense lime, mineral nose and refreshing acidity made the Poilly-Fuissé easy to pick out against the rich lemon curd style of the Donelan, but it was this weight that made it blend all the better with the Lobster and the Cajun style sauce.

2/0 to the USA

  • Course 3 – Foie gras ganache, pistachios, cherry and brioche ice cream matched with:

Domaine Loew, Les Cormiers Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace, France

Just one wine was to be matched with this course but, served in an opaque black glass we had no identifier as to whether it was white or red, let alone French or American.

The intensity and sweetness of the lemon matched up to the cherry very well, almost to the point of revelation.  A touch of cakey/bready spice in the wine very reminiscent of shortbread, cleansed the palate after the rich foie gras.

By default France wins, but its 2/1 to the USA

Course 4 – Roasted cod, cauliflower, curry and coconut matched with:

  • Peter Michael Winery Le Moulin Rouge (Pinot Noir) 2008, California
  • Domaine Audoin, Cuvée Marie Ragonneau (Pinot Noir) 2010, Marsannay, France

The PMW felt a little artificial, with the acid a touch too high and a mid-palate that didn’t have enough to excite.  It was straightforward compared to the Audoin that delivered a floral vanilla nose and redcurrant fruit.  Soft and delicate it blended well with the curry and the coconut.

France wins, making it all square at 2/2

Course 5 Loin of Lamb

Course 5 – Loin of lamb, turnips, baby gem, girolles and lamb jus matched with:

  • L’Aventure, Cóte á Cóte (Rhone blend) 2007, Paso Robles, California
  • Fortia 2012, Cháteauneuf du Pape, Rhone, France

Both made using the signature Rhone varieties of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre, the French offering was lighter in colour and more floral than its counterpart, offering up ripe black cherry fruit.  A mouth-watering acid worked very well with the lamb jus.

The L’Aventure, inky and youthful purple in colour despite its age, was dense, rich, spicy and alcoholic, and a seriously robust wine.  Mistaking this power for the classic hallmarks of Cháteauneuf and the fact that the depth of colour confused me, I guessed this one wrong.

Regardless of the confusion, the Cháteauneuf worked best.

France take the lead 3/2

Course 6 Peach Melba

Course 6 – “Peach Melba”, raspberry sorbet, almonds matched with:

  • Elysium Black Muscat 2014, Andrew Quady, California

Another single wine served in black opaque glassware to further intrigue and confuse, and this one completely outwitted me.

Thick and gloopy in consistency, this was syrupy and full of rich tropical melon and pineapple.  With a lip-smacking acidity it went wonderfully with the raspberry and the overall acidity of the dish, BUT it transpired that this was a sweet red wine!

Once armed with this information I found tinned raspberry and plum, but this was a good example of tasting with your eyes vs. tasting with your mouth

The US win by default.  All square at 3/3

Course 7 Chocolate Caramel Tonka Bean

Course 7 – Chocolate, caramel, hazelnut and tonka bean matched with:

  • Justin Vineyards, Obtuse (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2012, Paso Robles, California
  • Cháteau Coutet (Semillon) 1998, Barsac, France

The Cháteau Coutet was made in an oxidative style, amber in colour, and offering bruised brown soggy apples, thick honey, and summer cider.  Having said that, the slushy quality went very well with the peanut butter food and caramel notes of the food.

The Obtuse, whilst having an over-the-top (in my opinion) sweetness did actually pair well with the numerous sweeter aspects of this dessert (especially the chocolate), but was quite singular in tone.

A tough call at the final hurdle but:  France wins 4/3

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The Vineyard at Stockcross – Wine hotel and cellar visit

Vineyard Scene set

Living just over a mile away I really have no excuse (except my bank balance) not to visit 5 star hotel The Vineyard more often.  As the name suggests it’s a wine inspired hotel with an extensive list of 3,000 wines available including 100 served by the glass.

Owned by panama-wearing Sir Peter Michael who made his fortune in the tech industry, the link to the USA is strong.  Frustrated that he couldn’t afford vineyard land in Burgundy he was inspired to buy in the US through the 1976 ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting – a landmark playoff between the traditional wines of France and the relatively unknown wines of California.

With the judging panel being almost exclusively French the outcome seemed virtually assured but, as history tells us, the US wines won on the day much to the critic’s chagrin. Purchased in 1982 he now owns the eponymously named Peter Michael Winery in California and roughly 27% of The Vineyard’s wine list hails from the USA, naturally including many bottles from his own vineyards.

A recent significant birthday provided the catalyst I needed and I booked in to the hotel and on to their ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting menu, pairing up seven specially devised courses with both a French and American wine (more of that in a separate post).

Wine Tunnel

Upon arrival the exposure to wine begins almost immediately with the imposing and impressive tunnel that greets you as you enter reception.  Aiming to contain at least one bottle of everything on the menu (so that bottles can be quickly located when ordered by guests) the low lit and temperature controlled ‘floor to ceiling’ perspex walls house hundreds of bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

What becomes noticeable when you enter the tunnel is that, whilst the central portion of the floor displays the rocky and stony vineyard soils transported from the Peter Michael Winery, the other half of the floor is transparent and looks down to a lower cellar containing bottles from around the rest of the world.

A welcoming glass of wine is provided when checking in (which is surely how every hotel should be!) and can be drunk whilst enjoying the huge ‘Judgement of Paris’ fresco that adorns one whole wall.

Wine Fresco.JPG

Commissioned by Sir Peter and titled ‘After the Upset’, the fateful day is immortalized in the artistic style of Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’.  Although not present at the original tasting, Sir Peter cheekily sneaks in on the left-hand side to oversee proceedings.

To make the most of the experience I booked myself in for a chat and tour with sommelier Milena.  Hailing from France, and clearly relishing the wider UK availability of bottles from all over the world and the exposure that comes from working at such an esteemed establishment, she was happy to answer any number of questions that I had.  The inevitable question of her favourite bottle was immediately met with “Sassicaia 1990”.

Of the many tour highlights, the first was the visit to their ‘bottle graveyard’, a vast collection of all the wonderful empty vessels enjoyed by numerous diners over the years.  Many classic labels were present and it was awesome to drink in (pun intended) the wonderful memories and nights these bottles had produced.

Wine Graveyard

From these ‘front-of-house’ cellars we worked our way up to the third floor and, with ‘cellar’ being a complete contradiction in term, visited what would qualify as their wine ‘vault’.  Under lock and key the huge ‘floor to ceiling’ wine racks housed the deeper parts of their 30,000 bottle collection, including mostly duplicate bottles as well as those of different size formats.

Wine Vault

It was a real treat to get up close and personal with their older Champagnes, but no tour would have been complete without seeing the jewel of their collection; the most expensive bottle on their wine list.

It was definitely no surprise to find out that it was Pétrus, but this was a double magnum of the lauded 1982 vintage listed at £20,000, which Milena believed had been there since the hotel opened.

Wine Petrus

Alas I didn’t have a big enough wallet for the Pétrus but I did join in with a tasting of their monthly ‘Icon’ wine.  A good reason for the added extravagance would have been the old saying of ‘when-in-Rome…’, but we were firmly placed in Umbria for the Italian wine Patrizia Lamborghini Campoleone 1999 (£205 per bottle).

Comprised of a 50/50 mix of Merlot and Sangiovese from vines planted in the 1970’s, the very small yields of one kilo of grapes per vine are fermented in new French oak for 12 months followed by blending and another 6 months in the cellar.

Icon Wine Italy 1999

The outstanding wine, blending fig, chocolate, tobacco and truffle was the precursor to an equally outstanding dinner, which you can read about here.

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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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Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #1 and #2

Nearly a full year after I first joined up with the Aldi Wine Club to review half a dozen bottles in their 7th panel, I’m very pleased to once again be linking in with them for their 13th panel.  In a happy coincidence, the first wine I’m trying is the sister act to the first wine I ever reviewed for them; the Vignobles Roussellet Malbec.

ALDI Wine Club Logo

As a quick reminder for anyone not familiar with the club, every other month Aldi select 30 would-be wine experts to become their next tasting panel.  Each month over the following 3 months you are sent two bottles to taste and rate.  You’re free to be as honest as you want with the wines, and they won’t stop sending them to you if one isn’t to your taste.  All you need to do is be prepared to share your views via social media.

Applying to be on the panel is free and you can find all of the application details here (UK only).

Here’s my thoughts on the first two wines that I have been sent for this 13th panel.

Vignobles Roussellet Sauvignon Blanc, France, 11.5% £4.49

Reminding myself of my notes on the Merlot I tasted a year prior, one of the first things I mentioned was that the bottle came under screwcap (largely not favoured by the traditionally led French) and didn’t feature either a production year or a region of production other than the general label of ‘France’.

All of this is exactly the same for this Sauvignon Blanc, but a tiny note on the back label and a Google later tells me that this wine was produced by Grands Chais de France (LGCF), who partner smaller winegrowers all over France and have access to some 2,000 hectares of vines.

In colour this is a medium lemon yellow with golden tints to the rim.  Even before I am six inches close to the glass I’m greeted by a fully fragrant nose of green, be it lime, apple flesh or grassy florality.  There’s also touches of yellow tropical fruit in the form of pineapple and melon.

On the palate you are immediately hit by a big dash of lime and an overwhelming sense of bright sun ripened fruit.  There’s a good medium weight, full of creamy, fleshy, tropical fruit (distinct melon), along with both pink grapefruit and satsuma on the end palate.

Along with a refreshing and precise acidity, the creamy lime carries on for ages and is incredibly satisfying.  With such a lovely, focused and textured wine of multi-layers it is hard to believe that such a full package can be achieved at just 11.5% alcohol.  There is absolutely no restraint in character and this in itself is a revelation.

This is amazingly good value at £4.49 and I would happily pay twice the price for it.  An easy wine to recommend, and by the time you read this I will probably have bought some more.

Aldi WC13 1st batch

Castellore Pinot Grigio Blush 2015, Veneto, Italy, 11.5%, £4.29

Usually each panel will pair off a red and a white wine but this month, for whatever reason (I’m assuming low stock/supply issues as the bottle currently shows ‘unavailable’ on the Aldi website), a Chilean Malbec was set aside to make way for this Italian Rosado.  This bottle hails from the Veneto in north-eastern Italy which is the heartland of Pinot Grigio production.

I was trying this wine on one of the handful of nice sunny days we’ve seen this year, and with the bottle up to the light the medium farmed salmon pink seemed almost luminous.  The nose was a bit more subtle and I spent a little time trying to draw something out other than the red fruit that you would expect.  Apart from being able to discern that there was a healthy amount of redcurrant alongside the expected strawberry, my conclusion was that this wine was all about the pure up-front fruit.

The palate hovered somewhere between light to low medium weight, and continued the red fruits found on the nose.  There were also good traces of the classic Pinot Grigio characteristics coming through, with an abundance of pear and green apple.  If there was any peach in place it was sucked in to the general red fruit medley, but overall this was fleshy and fruity.

Sadly this was where the problems began and, when pitched against the high acid, the singular fruits felt a little too sweet for me.  It isn’t, of course, a sweet wine, but the perception was further highlighted by the lower alcohol level of 11.5%.  As a result, much of the guts and weight were missing for me, and the finish was fairly short.

In the spirit of finding a way of balancing things out I decided to leave the bottle out of the fridge to warm it a touch, even though fully chilled is recommended.  Whilst this did shave a bit of the harshness off of the acidity, the overall whole still felt pretty water thin, and perhaps it is one to retry with food?  I’m not 100% what was vintage about this wine, and would think that it was in no way different to the style produced every other year.

Even though the sun was out whilst I tried the bottle it wasn’t that warm and, knowing that Rosé/Rosado wines fair better in the summer, perhaps Aldi shouldn’t have bought this bottle forward from the later delivery?

With thanks to Aldi UK for the bottles used in this tasting.

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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)

dom-p-cookbook

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

dom-p-cookbook3

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.

dom-p-cookbook2

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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Laithwaites Autumn Press Tasting – Standout Whites and Reds

Further to a previous blog where I highlighted the best Sparkling wines on display at the recent Laithwaites Autumn press tasting, here’s my top highlights from the red and white wines on show.

laithwaites-trade-autumn

White Wines

Tiago Cabaco Encruzado 2014, Alentejo, Portugal, 13%, £12.99

I must have visibly lingered over this wine a little too long as the wine buyer came over to chat to me about it.  Winemaker Tiago is only in his mid-thirties, and this is his signature eponymous bottling which is limited to about 2000 bottles.

The blend is pretty unique and perhaps one that people will either like or hate, with traces of minerality alongside wood notes and a salty finish.  There’s a good warmth from the alcohol and a long length, and it has the right structure to pair well with food.

Savage White 2015, Western Cape, South Africa, 14%, £27.50

I adore nice touches to a wine’s presentation and the old-school wax seal on this bottle looks great, as does the minimalistic label.

savage-white

The new world sunshine gives you lots of well ripened tropical and gooseberry fruit here, and a lovely smoky finish sets it off perfectly.  This is another white that would be greater with food as it has tons of power to match up to the flavours, whilst not being over-powering to drink on its own.

Newton Johnson Southend Chardonnay, South Africa, 13%, £14.99

Hailing from a family run winery, this has a lovely spicy creamy nose and bags of creamy flavour on the palate.  The lemon citrus plays the central role but there are also traces of orange peel and white pepper spice.

Rounded off with a good long finish this is great at this price point, but sadly not available through Laithwaites.co.uk at this time.

Red Wines

Chateaux Sixtine 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, 15%, £30

This Grenache based blend had a rich blackcurrant nose and was absolutely rammed full of spice, cassis, mocha and chocolate.  Warmth from the alcohol and a grippy tannin keep this wine happily lingering in the mouth for a long time.

Again this is another wine that is unavailable from Laithwaites at this time.

Chateau Belgrave 2000, Haut-Médoc, 5éme Cru Classé, France, 13%, £45

Inky dark in colour, this Cabernet based blend had an intense nose of bitter chocolate.  Alongside the blackcurrant and spice there remained a generous acid matching well with the grippy tannins.

chateau-belgrave

The finish was rounded and refined if not a little too short.  In fairness this is perhaps to be expected from a wine of this age, and it was tasted alongside a lot of youthful wines on the day.  Although great, this feels like a wine to drink sooner rather than later, so grab it while you can.

Gran Fontal Syrah 2008, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain, 15%, £28

Using grapes grown at an altitude of 830m this cheery wine packed a decent weight punch and balanced it’s powerful black cherry and spice with a vanilla note and a lovely fresh acid.  For a wine with 15% alcohol this kept it mouth filling and not overpowering.

Alongside the core fruit I could also detect traces of herbal tea and menthol so there’s a good degree of complexity to be found from the 8 years of age. Points are deducted for the heavy glass bottle but loads of bonus points are given back as this is currently down from £28 to £12.99 on Laithwaites.co.uk.

Vina Tondonia Reserva 2003, Rioja, Spain, 13%, £28

The colour of this 13 year old wine was moving towards garnet and the nose has picked up tertiary tea-like characters.  The acid is still fresh though and ensures that this is an easy drinking refreshing wine with mature character.  I doubt this will last much longer so it’s one to drink soon.

As you can see there were certainly some impressive wines on display although a few are frustratingly not currently available.  At an event level, what I did find incredibly interesting was the lack of the wines that Laithwaites frequently laud as their ‘Customer Favourites’ – the likes of Black Stump, Il Papavero, Calabria etc.

None of these wines made an appearance and I was unable to source any member of the team on my way out to find out exactly why.

The range on offer certainly made me re-evaluate my thoughts towards Laithwaites and, although I have widely blogged about my wine-plan wines and their Premiere range, this felt like a company that I had only barely scratched the surface of.

I’ll certainly be paying more attention in the future.

With thanks to MHP Communications and Laithwaites for inviting me to this event.

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