Champagne in the 1890’s (Part 2)

In this fifth and final part of my historical series, we look back to the world of Champagne at the end of the 1890’s.

The vintages of both 1894 and 1895 were poor, but whilst the former year went universally undeclared, several of the better growers attempted to salvage something from the latter.

Mercier3

From a weather point of view growers would have been glad to see the back of the damp dismal spring conditions which saw much of the crop blighted by mildew.  By harvest time the sun was shining again and spurred some of the better growths to attempt a Vintage wine.  Many of the lesser growths avoided the exercise, probably all too aware that there was still a substantial amount of the massive (and better quality) 1893 Vintage still in the market place.  In time they would be the ones shown to be vindicated.

Only those who purchased and quickly consumed the wine would manage to avoid a sediment that many of the bottles gave off, even with just a small amount of ageing time.  The particles and their associated ‘smoky’ quality completely ruined the crystal clear aesthetic that consumers had come to expect and, even though the wines tasted fair, in the end much of it was returned to the shippers as ‘faulty’.

One London entrepreneur, keen to capitalise on the situation, was reported as foregoing his opportunity to return the bottles for a full refund (plus interest) and sold on the 1895 vintage as either ‘thick’ or ‘clear’.  With the thicker wine sold at a slightly cheaper price-point to acknowledge the quality difference, this was a very early example of giving the customers the option of tasting Champagne in varying styles.  The experiment worked and despite him technically only having half of his stock in saleable condition he soon sold out of his allocation completely.

1896 provided a yield as prolific as the 1893 but unfortunately it did not have the quality to match and was not offered as a vintage Champagne.  1897 was an even worse failure being only of average quality and with a tiny yield akin to the low level of the 1892.

Whilst 1898 saw an average sized yield, quality ranged from very good to very poor which created something of a mixed final product.  Only those shippers who were prepared to sacrifice any harm to their reputation in favour of having a product in the market after several lean years shipped this as a Vintage year.

Mercier2

As if to save the best for last, the final year of the decade (and indeed the century) saw wines of great quality produced.  The 1899 was a spectacular return to a quality not seen since 1892, but like this earlier vintage it also only delivered the quality in a small yield.  The forefather of modern wine writing Andre Simon described it as having the greenish tint of ‘Australian gold’ (as opposed to the reddish gold of a UK sovereign), and that it had a finality of expression unlike any other.  In addition, due to the fact that good quality Champagne had been some years in coming forward, merchants were happy to keep prices realistic and even swallowed a duty rise of 5 shillings per bottle up to 7 shillings per bottle so that they could keep their allocations.

Due to a strange quirk of fate and in spite of the demand it wasn’t just the limited number of bottles available that meant that this great wine would disappear from shelves fairly quickly. As they sat ageing in the cellars the Vintage of 1900 came along and being of equal quality and of much greater quantity it was widely favoured over the 1899.

At this point in time, due to the varying weather conditions seen from year to year, in was unlikely that you would get a Vintage release in consecutive years.  It even became something of an unwritten rule in the industry that consecutive vintages would not be released as it would help to preserve the notion that any declarations reflected the pinnacle of a growers offerings.  It seems unthinkable today that such a good wine would be kept aside when there was a perfectly good market awaiting it although it does occasionally happen (the 1990 over-shadowing the also great 1989 vintage is one recent example).

This side-stepping of a Vintage could have marked a somewhat muted end to the century that had seen Champagne come of age, but with exports to the UK higher than ever before (10 million bottles shipped across), producers would have been content enough.

The following century, which saw Phylloxera finally taking hold and the physical destruction and financial instability caused by both World Wars, was now only just a blur on the horizon.

That, as they say, is another story.

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Champagne in the 1890’s (Part 1)

In the fourth part of this historical series, we look back to the world of Champagne at the start of the 1890’s.

Perrier Jouet Car

The final decade of the 19th century was known by some as the ‘gay nineties’, a time of peace and prosperity where the notion of care-free enjoyment spread throughout the population.  Catering for people who were keen to see and be seen, London was a vibrant hive of new restaurant openings including the Savoy in 1888 and the Trocadero in 1896.  The thriving rail network was also growing in expanse and prominence, opening up socialising opportunities to an ever growing number of people in the provinces.  When celebrating the good times there was only one drink to be seen with; Champagne.

If this all paints a rosy picture in England, for the French the beginning of the 1890’s would see their worst expectations realised, and the beginning of a battle that would haunt them for many years to come.

They would have begun the decade in an optimistic mood.  The 1889 had been the best wine of recent times and, although it had only yielded a small crop, this scarcity led to higher prices achieved in the market which was clearly good news.  In the end, they would need this extra revenue to carry them through the poor harvests of both 1890 and 1891, neither of which were considered of vintage quality.  This process of taking the rough with the smooth was very much part of daily life for wine producers at this time, but there would have been one additional problem lurking in the back of their minds.

Thus far Champagne had managed to avoid the widespread devastation caused by Phylloxera (the vine destroying louse).  Although most of France had already succumbed, the louse had yet to affect the northern French vineyards of the Loire and Champagne, as well as those in the lower half of Germany.  Many believed that it was the cooler climates of these northern European sites that kept them safe but, as they would soon find out, they were wrong.

The Marne was the first area to report a problem.  Champagne giant Moét & Chandon immediately bought the affected vineyard and burnt every last vine in an attempt to curtail the outbreak but it was too late.  The only let-off they would get would be that the louse took it’s time with the Champagne vines, attacking at a much slower pace than elsewhere.  By 1897 only 13 acres of vines had been affected but this figure would quickly rise to 90 acres the following year and balloon to 237 acres by the close of the decade.  This meant that for all the usual struggles vignerons went through to get bottles of Champagne to the market, there was a constant backdrop of trying new pesticides, vineyard flooding and numerous other witches brews to drive the Phylloxera away.

1892 was one of the smallest vintages on record with only 12.7 million bottles produced.  To put this in to context the yearly average at this time was just over 24 million bottles, so it was virtually half of what they needed to survive.  Once again, this scarcity had an effect on bottle prices which steadily rose up as consumers continued celebrating the ‘good times’.

Quantity would be more than catered for with the harvest of 1893 which brought in a whopping 74 million bottles.  Both the 1892 and 1893 were of vintage quality yet each completely distinct in terms of profile.  Whilst the 1892 showed more under-ripe fruits and had a steely acidity, the 1893’s were well ripened and described as ‘luscious and delicious’.  Over time though the 1892’s softened down and went on to be considered the better of the pair, with the 1893’s gaining a beeriness and dark gold colouring.  It seemed as though their muscle had soon turned to fat.

The unwanted consequence of such a large volume of Champagne hitting the market at the same time meant that the price per bottle changed again – this time downwards.  The persistent warm weather that had well ripened the fruit of 1893 had caused a drought in many of the Champagne vineyards, with the wells in some smaller villages drying up completely.  With small farmers having little else to barter with it was said that if you were to deliver water supplies to these remote areas you would be paid with bottles of Champagne.

It may seem like a dream, but there truly was a time and a place where Champagne was cheaper than water.

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Dom Pérignon; Going it alone

Part 12 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

January of 1992 saw the release of the much lauded 1985 vintage – a wine of great distinction characterised by aromatic intensity and a balanced constitution.  The harvest had begun on the 30th of September in what could only be described as ideal conditions, but the year hadn’t started out as obviously prosperous.  The winter, January in particular, had been exceptionally cold and a lingering hard frost throughout the entire spring had caused the loss of several thousands of hectares of vines.  It wasn’t until July that the weather finally picked up and, when the sun came out, the flowering managed to pick up pace and recover from the slow start.  In the end, the harvest was started only a couple of weeks later than usual.

DP85

The blend was split 40% Pinot Noir and 60% Chardonnay with the Pinot grapes contributing body and structure to the subtle and persistent aromas of the Chardonnay.  The wine was described by Moét as being complex and warm, toasted and sweet, with hints of almond and walnut.  Tasting the wine in late 1991, winemaker Dominique Foulon described his creation as giving a floral attack to the nose, with added honey and preserved fruits.  On the palate he described it having the darker notes of figs, raisins and undergrowth, and a finish that was long and precise.  In addition to the vintage release a Rosé was also released at the beginning of 1995.  This was again characterised by the vegetal notes and the candied red fruits from the ripe Pinot grapes, and added hints of brioche and lemon citrus.

The year of 1986 saw a first for the brand and, at the current time of writing, is still the only time that a Rosé Dom Pérignon has been released without a vintage wine being made as well.  The answer as to why this anomaly occurred lies in the weather for that year which has been described as both unpredictable and dramatic.  A cold winter led in to an equally poor spring, but the vines remained healthy and bud burst occurred around the 7th of May, just a few weeks later than usual.  Warm sunshine soon arrived and the rising temperatures in June saw flowering begin on the 25th of the month.  Summer remained modestly sunny and warm, but heavy rains hitting from the 10th of August until early September ensured that the possibly high yielding crop was now subject to rot and strict grape selection.  A last burst of dry weather from the 18th of September pushed the harvest back slightly to ensure that grapes could maximise their ripening time and was commenced between the 28th of September and the 2nd of October, depending on variety.  With the Pinot Noir grapes faring better than the Chardonnay (which hadn’t fully ripened and were a touch too acidic) it was felt that the flavour profile better suited a darker Rosé release than a short living and (perhaps) harsher vintage release.  The final blend was 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.

The official tasting guide for the wine references these attributes and describes the wine as being pale rose in colour, with gentle shades of copper and very fine bubbles.  The aromas were of fresh cherries and redcurrants and gave way to notes of mirabelle plum and toasted bread.  On the palate, there was the sensation of roundness, purity and concentration, perfectly balanced by an almost youthful liveliness.

Available in September 1996, one final thing to note about this unique release was that it was the last Rosé to come in a green coffret identical to that of the vintage release (which may have been a touch confusing in a year where no vintage 1986 was released).  From the next Rosé vintage onwards (1988) they would come in pink/rose coloured coffrets more befitting of their contents.

DP86

As if to herald the long seen phenomenon that Dom Pérignon was rarely released in three successive vintages (and certainly continuing the trend for Dom vintages not to be released in years ending with a 1 or a 7), 1987 saw poor weather and resulted in no wines being released.  A wet spring was followed by a wet summer with the weather perking up for just 3 weeks in August.  This late sun wasn’t enough to stop what was an average harvest producing a small crop suitable only for topping up reserve stocks.

Next up was the ‘very good’ vintage of 1988 which would prove to be extremely long lasting wine and one which was very much in demand.  An extremely mild winter saw early and rapid flowering of the vines, but only produced a limited number of potential bunches (quantities were down approximately 10% on the moderate crop of the previous year).  Summer was marked with heavy rains alongside sunny weather and high temperatures but, conversely, the rains helped to swell the grapes available.  The sun returned in August and picking began on September 26th for the Chardonnay and the 27th for the Pinot Noir, with the final vintage being comprised of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir.  On the nose it was described as floral, citrus, toasty vanilla, graphite and walnut.  The palate added almond and bitter marmalade, culminating in a long and fine finish.

The Rosé release for 1988 showed dry figs and candied cherries to the nose, adding spice and vanilla to a palate described as dense, vigorous and precise.  The vintage release would come to market in the early part of 1995, with the Rosé release following in 1998.

Initially declared to be a great year but steadily reduced over time to ‘very good’, the harvest of the 1989 was generous in yield and declared by many Champagne houses.  Noting the quality and extra time needed for the 1988’s to fully realise their potential, some houses released the youthful and early drinking 1989 first.  Moét decided to hold back and, in a curious mirroring of the start of the decade where patience with the tempting 1981 vintage gave way to the superb 1982’s, the 1989 grapes were still young in their bottles when the superb quality of the 1990 vintage was spotted.  The 1989 vintage was ultimately skipped in favour of the upcoming potential presented by the new decade.

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Dom Pérignon; Parking the points

Part 11 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

Renowned wine critic Robert Parker may have started his meteoric rise to fame praising (albeit for Bordeaux) the wines of the year 1982 as ‘superb’, but for the residents of Champagne the year had started off with a bleak outlook of frosty weather which, in turn, led in to a cooler than average springtime.  Vines awoke in April and flowering began in June in tandem with warmer weather arriving, which crucially stayed throughout the harvest.  Summer was ideal with its unbroken run of sunshine and warmth, and the lack of later damp weather in August saw off the threat of yield loss through disease and swelling/dilution.  Grapes were ripe by the start of September, at which point a mere sprinkling of rain appeared giving the vines the final irrigation that they needed to be strong and full, and ready for picking from the 17th.  The result was that, not only did they produce gloriously ripe fruit of a uniformly high quality, they also provided an abundance of it. In the end, the yield would turn out to be three times the size of the previous years (admittedly small) harvest.

The vintage wine was characterised with hints of green to its dark golden appearance, notes of lemon, honey and tart almond to the nose, adding pear, green apple and digestive biscuit to the palate.  The wines were described by Moét winemaker Dominique Foulon as being “elegant with a firm finish”.  Like the 1980 vintage before it, the blend leant heavier on the Pinot Noir grapes, and was a 60%/40% Pinot/Chardonnay composition, as opposed to the standard 50%/50% mix.

The 1982 vintage Rosé was evocative of wild strawberries and ripe fruit with light spices, quickly developing into mocha and nutmeg.  The finish provided gamey notes much reminiscent of a red wine, and highlighted the well ripened Pinot Noir content.  It too was described as elegant on the palate, and the vintage wine was released in early 1988, with the Rosé following in 1991.

Moving on to the year of 1983, this also began with poor weather which Moét would later admit made them initially think that the year would be a write-off.  Harsh weather in the winter had not improved by the time spring arrived and conditions remained cold and damp, which once again pushed back on the onset of flowering.  In a positive twist of fate conditions quickly picked up and suddenly became as good as they had previously been bad, with flowering finally beginning in late June.  Both July and August were warm, giving just enough rain to keep the vines watered and healthy, and once again the Champenois were blessed with a bumper vintage.  This one, however, was one step further than the previous years large vintage, and the Champenois were greeted with the largest yield ever recorded (at that time).  Cooler weather at the start of September and some last minute heavy rain had slightly delayed harvest, which commenced later than usual on the 26th of September.  Due to the overall size of the crop, picking carried on well in to October.

The resulting wines were golden in colour, with traces of green.  The nose evoked toasty and nutty flavours along with some vanilla, which then gave way to the characteristic traits of brioche and honey.  The wine, nicely plump on the palate with good acidity driving through it in to a long fresh finish, was characterised by dried fruit.

1983 box

The vintage was released at the beginning of 1990 and, as if to usher in the new decade, the release of the 1983 saw several packaging amendments.  For the first time, the outer box made reference to the specific vintage contained within on both the lid and the ends of the package.  There were also changes inside the box, with the neck brace that supported the bottle removed, and the generic insert books evolving in to full year-specific tasting guides.  Although still written in French, you were now able to read about the weather conditions of the year, hear Moét’s thoughts about the harvest, and glean information as to what the wine should taste like.  The vintage 1983 book made mention of the wine being comprised of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir, and that you can clearly discern what each variety brings to the palate.  It also suggests drinking the wine as an aperitif, being that it will harmonise well with delicate foods and lunches!

Finally, there was one tiny change to the bottle packaging itself, although it was such a small amendment it would easily have gone unnoticed.  The capsule (the metallic cap placed on top of the cork) edging was updated to include the words ‘Muselet EPARNIX’, and a copyright symbol, simply indicating that this part of the packaging (the Muselet is the wire cage that surrounds the cork and capsule) also formed part of the trademarked brand property.  Two variations, (N° 181 and N° 182, as seen in the below picture), were issued.

1980s Capsules

No Vintage Rosé for 1983 was declared.

1984 also began with terrible weather conditions, but on this occasion things didn’t improve.  Flowering was delayed by a cool and damp spring and, although July saw warmth from the emerging sun, stormy weather arrived in August and remained throughout September.  Thus the grapes did not develop fully and retained high acidity.  Happily though, another classic vintage was just around the corner.

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Dom Pérignon; By Royal Appointment

Part 10 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

The 1979 vintage hadn’t been declared by Moét, the wines deemed as not having the necessary structure to age like a classic Dom Pérignon should.  It’s perhaps surprising then that the very next vintage they did declare suffered exactly that fate.  Skipping forward a year, the 1981 harvest had only realised a small crop yield and, whilst the not-perfect 1980 sat in the cellars at the start of its maturation period, the prospect of a muted 1981 release may have forced them in to a tough decision.  Well aware that they hadn’t declared the 1979, if Moét then skipped straight ahead to the 1982, a large gap would be left in their market presence, not to mention their profits.  Certainly, the last time that they had gone with a gap of 3 clear years between vintages had been as far back as the late 1950’s.

The 1980 harvest was smaller than usual due to the climatic conditions which saw cold and humid weather as late as June and July, and resulted in late and uneven flowering.  The weather heated up and sunshine in September allowed the grape clusters to swell, but everything was on the back-foot and the harvest began much later than usual, on the 9th of October, in cold and wet conditions.  The net result of this was that the wines tended to lack the full body of well ripened grapes, and the uneven higher acids came through on the palate.  Dom Pérignon vintage wines tend, in the main, to be a 50/50 mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.  In a move tailoring towards the unkind weather conditions, the vintage blend here was adjusted to be 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, the idea being that more fruit, structure and backbone would come from the red grape variety.  The tweak only seems to have been partly successful.

The final wine was described as being the colour of golden straw, with a nose of toasted brioche, clear preserved citrus, and slight menthol and autumnal fruit.  The palate was described as both clean and pure, with a floral, fleshy fullness, a lovely persistence and citrus freshness.  Despite what sounds quite a promising blend, respected Champagne expert Tom Stevenson noted it as “too simple and ordinary to warrant a Dom Pérignon vintage”.  A Rosé was also produced, being a deep pink in colour, with touches of blueberries to the nose and floral characters to the palate.

The 1980 vintage was released in 1987 with the Rosé following in 1988, and now included within the presentation box was a brief leaflet proudly informing you (see picture below) that the sealed cabinet it comes in is the guarantee of the protection and the quality of Dom Pérignon, and that you should insist on it! Also included were some words on Hautvilliers, Moét and the monk Dom Pérignon, but these leaflets (note they are not vintage dated) were exclusively produced in French, which made it difficult to read for anyone not fluent in the language.  At the time it may actually have been perceived as foreign and unknown, making the purchase that much more interesting and alluring?

1980 booklet

Aside of waiting for the small crop of 1981 to be harvested, Moét were kept busy with the issue of a back vintage.  This was the first time that the company had released a library wine, but the event for which it was being prepared was historic enough to warrant it – A Royal wedding!  In the UK alone over 70 producers created something like 150 different commemorative beverages to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, but it is doubtful that the Royal couple ever tried any of these brews.  The shipment of the extremely small and limited 1961 harvest, selected as it was the birth year of Diana, would not only top the list of commemorative bottles, but was also served to the couple themselves.

Just 12 magnums of the 1961 were produced, six of which went to the Royal household for their personal consumption.  The other six were distributed amongst UK drinks trade charities, including the Society of Licensed Victuallers, which looked after retired landlords.  These magnums came with a specially commissioned label commemorating the Royal event (see image lower down).

A further 99 bottles were provided to be served at the wedding reception, which took place on Monday 27th July, ahead of the ceremony on Wednesday the 29th.  There has been some confusion as to when the couple were served the Dom 1961, with many assuming it was the wine that they celebrated with on their big day.  The drinks ceremony at Buckingham Palace that followed the marriage ceremony at St Pauls Cathedral on the 29th was known as the Wedding Breakfast (a nod to it being the first meal of a married couple’s life).  As can be seen from the below image of the order of service for the Breakfast, the Royal couple actually drank Krug 1969 as their Champagne refreshment on the day.

wedding-breakfast-menu v2

It might be assumed that, with so little bottles available in the first place, that every last one would have been consumed throughout the event, however, some did make it through to resurface on the secondary market to collectors.  Notable bottles that have hit the auction circuit include one from Roy Mayes, the retired chairman of the Luton branch of the Society of Licensed Victuallers, who sold his bottle to his successor Brian Minnighan.  Another bottle which later surfaced came from Princess Diana herself, who gifted one in 1988 to the Director of Harrods, Brian Ames, on his 50th Birthday.

1961 Box

As has been alluded to, 1981 produced what would have been the smallest post-war yield, if it hadn’t been for the tiny 1978 harvest.  A mild winter and summer had promoted premature growth, but this was then mostly blighted by heavy frosts in late April and hail in May.  Cool weather in July was followed by a warmer August and September, and most grapes were picked before the rains fell again at the end of the month.  What vines had survived the rollercoaster conditions produced fruit that had seen a long season of growth with sunny weather when it mattered to finish off the ripening.  Sadly this quality was blighted by the small quantity and most houses didn’t declare a vintage.

As it transpired, producers wouldn’t be worried about it for too long.  The 1981’s hadn’t been in the cellars for a year when it became clear just how good the wines of 1982 would be.

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1937 Dom Pérignon; Rogue or Reserved?

I was reading the website of Champagne expert Richard Juhlin recently whilst researching my on-going series of articles about the history of Dom Pérignon. Richard claims to be probably the only palate in the world to have tried every vintage of Dom, including the rare ‘not-quite’ year of 1926. What struck me of interest was that he also claims to have tried the 1937 which, according to Moét, never existed. 1937 was regarded as a top notch year for Champagne and Moét produced a standard Vintage, so a Prestige Cuvée was certainly on the cards, but who is right – Richard or Moét?

Dom Pérignon was first introduced in late 1936 to help perk up a depressed Champagne market following the austerity that began with the 1929 Wall Street crash. It would also help to slake the thirst of a newly invigorated US market following the end of prohibition in 1933.

It’s a rarity to have a vintage declared for standard Moét, without a corresponding one for Dom Pérignon, and there has only been a handful of times in the last 100 years when this has happened. The instant success of the first release of Dom meant that by the time of the 1937 harvest, Moét would clearly have been thinking about how they would present this 5-star vintage to market. So, based on that, 1937 Dom sounds like it should exist.

Playing devil’s advocate for a second, it would probably have made better sense for Moét to ensure that all they produced went in to the tried-and-tested Vintage wine which would be a definite seller, rather than diverting any in to a fledgling Prestige Cuvée. Moét were the first company to launch at the Prestige level, and the good demand for the first vintage could well have been a one-off – an enthusiastic response to a novelty product. There was simply no precedent at that time for them to fully gauge the on-going market.

In reality, they were able to hedge their bets somewhat as all wines were going in to standard Moét bottles, rather than any being placed in the distinctive green bottles used for Dom. Champagne goes through its’ 2nd fermentation in its bottle, but for the vintage years declared before the concept of Dom had been fully developed (i.e. any pre-1936) the liquid was simply transferred from their standard bottles in to the Dom ones. Even though the 1937 vintage obviously comes after the conception in 1936, it is unlikely that they had ordered multiple thousand custom bottles based on the sales of just one release.

It’s also interesting to ponder the impacts of the impending war, the signs of which had been on the horizon since the mid-1930’s. With the length of time needed to age a Prestige Cuvee in the cellars (at least 7 years) it is unlikely that Moét would want to tie up stock for any length of time. My conclusion is that by the time war broke out there were no specific bottles of 1937 Dom in the Moét cellars, but there was Moét 1937 which, if it survived, had the potential to be transferred to Dom bottles when ready for release to the market.

Nipping forward to the end of the war when sales of Dom Pérignon recommenced, the next 3 vintages (1928, 1929 and 1934) were released, but the company then skip on to the 1943. If the 1937 was ever to have hit the market it would have been at some point in the early 1950’s when perfectly good records for the surrounding vintages exist in the Moét archives. This tells us that it’s unlikely that the lack of paperwork is down to them being destroyed in the hostilities.

For a moment, let’s assume that it did exist, and Moét did have the foresight to put it in the iconic green bottles.  In the age of the internet, it’s very telling by itself that there are no pictures to be found of either bottles or labels for a 1937 Dom. It is possible that virtually every single bottle was either drunk or destroyed during the war as, once in occupation, the Germans were demanding something like 400,000 bottles of Champagne a week! The French vignerons were increasingly cunning with the way that they protected the wines in their cellars (thanks to the lessons learnt in the First World War), but the 1937 was still young and not yet ready to drink at the outbreak of war. Vignerons would have been far more likely to have been protecting older and more mature vintages.

1937 All

What clues can we get from any surviving bottles of 1937 Champagne? In the picture above we can see various bottles that survived (l-r Moét, Mumm, Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot), and experienced palate Michael Broadbent managed to get his hands on a few as he lists off tasting notes for several 1937’s in his thorough book ‘Vintage Wine’. With these varying survivors it seems extremely odd that no Dom Pérignon managed to.

1937 All v2

What’s interesting is that each of these labels have ‘Reserved for Allied Armies’ emblazoned across them. The Germans were really only interested in the mature vintages for themselves, and gave winemaker Otto Klaebisch the role (dubbed ‘Wine Fuhrer’) of ensuring that there was someone looking after both the quality and the quantity of what they looted. With the Germans not touching it, what seems more likely is that stocks of 1937, being allocated as they were to the Allies, were heavily depleted and there simply wasn’t enough to make both a vintage Moét and a Dom Pérignon.  Or, enough to make it worthwhile transferring what remained in to Dom Pérignon bottles.

To conclude, I think it’s unlikely that the 1937 Dom Pérignon ever existed and is therefore a rogue vintage, but am open to suggestion if others have any evidence to the contrary?

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Moét & Chandon Academy, London – Review

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Moét & Chandon have set up camp for the next two weeks in the Oxo Tower, London to spread the word about their Champagne, their history, and an opportunity to taste through their range. This is the first time that such an academy has been run, and on one of the hottest days of the year so far, you couldn’t get me through the doors fast enough.

The academy is split in to two halves of 45 minutes each. First up is approved WSET educator Jonny Gibson, providing a bite-size history of the company, and then guiding you on a walk through the vines (literally!). In a no expense spared move, Moét have transferred rows of all three of the grape varieties found in Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier) in to the first stage of the tour. Interestingly the vines have been growing in artificial sunlight for the last 3 weeks to make them a little more advanced in growth than they would be at this time of year. This, in turn, makes them a little bit more interesting to look at (as a small time grower of Chardonnay I was worried that my own ones were well behind!).

In order to appreciate what happens next to the grapes, we were treated to an exciting and rare opportunity to try the still base wines for M&C Impérial NV (Non Vintage). This is something that few outside of the blending team and key Moét staff ever get to try. Base wines will be re-fermented in bottles, and a full three and a half years later, you have the final product. It was fascinating to be able to compare these base wines with the finished product later in the academy, in order to fully appreciate just what the second fermentation adds. Following a video demonstration of how bottles are disgorged/readied for sale, it was on to the tasting area which is being run by the husband and wife team of Peter Richards MW and Susie Barrie MW (both will be familiar to viewers of BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen). As they’re taking turns to present back the tasting sessions, whilst Susie was on-hand throughout, Peter was very much running the show today.

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Bizarrely enough for a Champagne tasting, the first wine to be tasted was a Prosecco! It’s understandably a rarity for Moét to include an Italian sparkler in their tasting line-ups, but it helped to set the scene as to how classic the entry level Non Vintage is.

The line-up of M&C wines tasted were as follows:

Brut Impérial NV, paired with Cheese Gougére

Rosé Impérial NV, paired with a mini tart of Olives, Tomato, Basil and Pesto

Grand Vintage 2006, paired with a Puff Pastry tart with Caramelised Onion and Mushroom

Ice Impérial NV, paired with Raspberry Macaroon

Moet2

In the interest of space I won’t go in to my personal tasting notes for each pairing, but suffice to say, there was more than one surprise for me here, and the food matching was an unexpected element to the academy. Also of surprise, was the inclusion of the M&C Ice Impérial which made its debut in the range only last year, and is not something I’d heard of before. This is a specific blend, made to be served over ice, and is a lively fresh experience that will no doubt be extremely popular over the warmer months.

The ever affable Peter Richards was a joy to listen to and made time for everyone afterwards. I’ve been on a fair few cellar tours and tastings in my time, and the one thing that brings them alive for me (apart from getting to try the wines) is the small anecdotes which are useful when getting complex matters across, or make for good use as small talk at parties. For instance, I was aware that the pressure in a bottle of Champagne was the equivalent to that found in the tyre of a double-decker bus, but this was also augmented with the fact the pressure is also the equivalent of being 50 metres underwater. And did you know that Champagne corks have been measured leaving bottles of Champagne at 60 miles per hour?

I was highly amused at Peter’s own way of remembering the key starting issue of how to pronounce the word Moét. The main way people tend to pronounce it is Mo-ay, but as that can be rhymed with ‘No Way’, you know it’s not right. If you pronounce it Mo-et, that’s not right either, as ‘Mow it’ is something you do with your grass. Finally, the way to get it right was to think of the great Champagne you are tasting and to think ‘Mmmm, wet’, ergo Moét (or Mwet). I think he was right that it sounds much better in a French accent when saying it correctly, and I think it will take me some time to get out of the grass mowing pronunciation.

The Academy was a fantastic experience, and a huge thank you goes to both Tesco and Moét for providing the opportunity!

The Moét Academy runs at the OXO Tower, London until the 24th April with limited tickets still available

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