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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Dom Pérignon Vintage 2005

The release of the 2005 vintage was announced in the May of 2015.  With a good decade of ageing already under its belt the declaration was a standout for a number of reasons.

dp-2005

The yields gathered from the harvest were markedly down on the usual volumes seen for a Dom Pérignon release.  With only 50% of the average sized haul making the grade this was the smallest recorded vintage since 1971.  Such was the scarcity of the bottles, the 2005 was the ‘current’ vintage for a mere 6 months, being replaced by the 2006 in October.  In November the Dom Pérignon website had sold out at source and were no longer offering the 75cl bottles for sale (magnums were still available).

If the small overall volume released was a hint that the weather conditions in 2005 had been challenging, another indication came from the blend which was usually split 50/50 between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In the case of the 2005, Chardonnay would account for a record 63% of the blend.  With the exception of the 1970 vintage that’s the highest proportion of Chardonnay ever used for a Dom Pérignon.

The release also marked the 4th consecutive vintage of Dom Pérignon in a row – the first time ever in the brand’s history that this had occurred, and a phenomenon that would be extended to an unprecedented 5 releases with the upcoming 2006 vintage.  It was also one of the handful of years where the vintages released did not mirror those of the overall Champagne house Moét & Chandon, who moved straight from the 2004 to the 2006.

Critics were now starting to ask the question as to whether a Dom Pérignon vintage still equated to a rare cuvée released in only exceptional years.  Throughout its history, a particular decade would see perhaps only 3 to 4 declarations, but in recent times there had been 7 vintages declared out of the last 8 years (since 1998 only the 2001 vintage hadn’t made the grade).

Explaining his motives for persevering to produce a vintage, especially in years that offered up such difficult climatic circumstances, Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy explained “I come from a medicine background so there’s a sense of bringing things to life. I don’t think regular releases devalues the concept – luxury can’t be artificial.  Some houses limit themselves to three vintages a decade but that makes no sense to me, plus they might pick the wrong three. It’s just not practical”.

The weather conditions had been warm throughout the spring and summer, with both heat and drought being on the minds of the winemakers.  Such was the intensity of the sun that, at times, the year was described as the hottest in a decade and compared to the famous drought of 1976 (the soil humidity levels in 2005 were even lower than that landmark year).

Conversely, the little rain seen throughout the year had been building with equal intensity and September was cool and wet with the early part of the month seeing torrential downpours.  These damp conditions blighted the grapes just when they were getting ready to be picked and rot/botrytis began to set in, particularly affecting the Pinot Noir grapes (hence their lower inclusion in the blend).

A short break in the weather allowed harvest to begin on September 14th for the Chardonnay and the 17th for the Pinot Noir.  As the rains returned to the vineyards it was only through drastic grape selection that a wine of vintage standard could be achieved.  Richard Geoffroy would describe the 2005 vintage as having “exceptional quality” and being an “iron fist in a velvet glove”

The official tasting note tells us that the nose offers up “intense fruit, more black than red, which then melts into silvery minerality.  Notes of praline and coriander compliment the whole”.  The palate has “a strong character and a powerful presence” with an almost physical aspect.  “It is structured, focused, firm and dense.  Its intriguingly spicy, flowery finish remains present in each sip”.

Stepping away from the highly stylised official note, respected Champagne palate Tom Stevenson described it as being “toasty and chocolaty” with “coffee-infused red and black fruit”.  My own tasting note also picked up on the toasty and darker characteristics, adding a green-skinned fleshiness to the nose and a streak of lemon to the forefront of the palate.

With Pinot Noir responsible for much of the body and backbone of a Champagne it has been suggested that the reduced amount of the variety in the 2005 blend will prevent it having the weight and structure to age as long as other Dom Pérignon releases.  Time will tell, but with only limited volumes available in the first place, it will probably be harder to get hold of as time goes by.

dp-05-corks

Upon release the bottles were housed in the standard black presentation casing containing the bi-lingual information guide, and topped with the same dark green capsule as the 2004.

Whilst a small number of magnums of the 2005 were released, due to the limited nature of the vintage no special editions or flute packs were issued.  Despite the low availability of Pinot Noir grapes, a Rosé edition was released in June 2017, but it is yet to be seen if the overall grape availability will allow for a Vintage or Rosé P2 variant.

DP Rose 2005

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Dom Pérignon 1990

Part 13 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

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

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

RichardGPromoPicPicture Credit: Creating Dom Pérignon

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

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

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

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

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

1990 images

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

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

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

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