Visiting Champagne Bollinger   
Part 3, the cellars, and tasting the wines

After looking at the vineyards, it was time to tour the cellars and taste with Mathieu Kauffmann, Chef de Cave (above). The reserve wines, aged in magnums under cork, represent 10–15% of the final blend.

An example of the blend for the current release of Special Cuvée would be: 40–45% harvest of previous vintage (2008), 40–45% 2007, perhaps a bit of 2006, and then 5–10% of 5–15 year old reserve wine from magnum. All reserve wines are from Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyards, and are aged in bottle with one-quarter of the dose of sugar and yeast that would be used for the final wine’s secondary fermentation. The cellar has 550 000 magnums in it at present; 6 years ago it was 300 000.

When it comes to assessing the wines of a particular year, Matthieu’s first priority is to construct the reserve wines in magnum. He won’t commit to producing Grande Année in a particular year until all the pre-blends are made and tasted. Unusually, the go-ahead was given for the 2008 in November; the decision is usually left until January.

We tasted the young base wines, vins clairs, from a range of different vineyards, fermented in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, before tasting some finished wines.

Vins Clairs from 2008


Cuis (tank): very fresh lemony nose. Crisp and lemony with lots of fruit.

Grauves (tank): more intense; richer and fruitier with lemon and pear fruit.

Chouilly (tank): fine, crisp and lemony on the nose. Focused high acid palate.

Cramant (oak): aromatic and subtly volatile with appley, citrussy, herby palate.

Avize (tank): aromatic, tight and lemony with bright, pure fruit. Lovely.

Oger (oak): aromatic, open, slightly herby and appley, with expressive fruit. Savoury and rich.

Le Mesnil sur Oger (oak): herby and open with firm, structured, citrussy palate.

Pinot Meunier

Venteuil (tank): very richly fruity and lemony. Bright and herby on the plate with a full, fruity character.

Pinot Noir

Avenay Val d’Or (tank): focused bright herby linear fruit with lovely purity.

Tauxières-Mutry (tank): very lively and aromatic with apples and herbs. Bright, forward, fruity palate.

Mareuil sur Aÿ (tank): Taut, focused nose is light and fruity. Very lean and taut on the palate with herby fruit.

Aÿ (tank): Rich, elegant pear and citrus nose. Palate is concentrated and intense with a hint of cherry and herb. Great depth.

Aÿ (oak): Just a hint of appley volatility. Palate is herby, appley and intense. Bold and complex with lots of interest.

Verzenay (oak): Complex nose of herbs and citrus with apple and nuts (almond). The palate is herby and fresh with lovely structure. Bold and intense.                             

Reserve magnum

Verzenay 2004: Reduced matchstick nose. Slightly fizzy with firm, savoury, mineral notes. Very fresh.

The wines

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV
This is 2004 and 2003 with some reserve wine dating back to 1990. Aromatic, appley, with lifted herby aromatics. The palate is fresh and bright with open appley fruit. Quite rich and intense with some lemony notes on the finish. A serious fizz. 90/100 (03/09)

Bollinger Rosé NV
Pale salmon/pink colour. Fresh, herby, lemony nose with a hint of red fruits. The palate has lovely toasty warmth as well as fresh fruit, with a hint of grip and nice acidity. Sophisticated stuff. 92/100 (10/09)

Bollinger Grande Année 1999
A warm year with low acidity. Big, aromatic, complex and toasty with some citrus freshness and a peachy, nutty richness. Bold, complex, rich and toasty in the mouth with lovely pear, apple and herb notes. Matthieu says that it is very easy to make this: all you have to do is blend good things together. 93/100 (03/09)

Bollinger Grande Année 2000
Pale yellow colour. Fine aromatic nose is almost floral, with summer meadow hints and notes of toast and fresh lemons. The palate is concentrated and taut with lovely savoury herby, toasty notes, fresh persistent apple and lemon fruit, a hint of vanilla richness and some structure. A beautiful wine. 94/100 (10/09)

Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 1999
Pale salmon colour with hints of orange. Taut, complex nose leads to an intense, slightly herby with rich citrus and peach fruit as well as a hint of strawberry. Delicate yet powerful with some savoury complexity. 93/100 (03/09)

RD is Grande Annee that has been kept on lees and is disgorged late. There might be 4 Grande Annee vintages each decade, and of these typically 3 will become RDs. The wines are disgorged about 3 times a year, so the same vintage RD might be disgorged several times in all, for example 9 disgorgement dates over 3 years.

Bollinger RD 1996
Disgorged 8 June 2007, this is an extra brut style (less than 5 g/l residual sugar). A yellow/gold colour, this is wonderful, with a complex, savoury, toasty, bready nose. Nutty and complex showing lovely lemony fruit. The palate is super concentrated with amazing acidity and richness to the toasty lemony fruit. Bold and intense. 95/100 (03/09)

Bollinger RD 1997
Amazingly intense and complex, with powerful toast and lemon flavours, with nutty bready notes in the background. Really intense, powerful and complex with lively acidity. 94/100 (03/09)

Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants Aÿ Rouge 2002 Coteaux Champenois
A still red wine from the Champagne region. This is Pinot Noir from a small 2 acre south-facing vineyard in Aÿ. Focused and quite rich with fresh berry and cherry fruit. Dense and berryish, with some structure. There are also some medicinal notes as well as a hint of sappiness. It’s actually quite a big wine, and hard to pick as Pinot Noir. 88/100 (08/09)

Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants Aÿ Rouge 2004 Coteaux Champenois
This is from a special vineyard site, and it’s a still red Pinot Noir, picked at 12% potential alcohol, with much lower yields than normal for Champagne grapes. Much of this wine is used for adding colour to the rosés, but some is bottled separately. Lovely focused sweet cherry fruit with a herby edge on the nose. The palate has ripe cherry fruit with some spiciness. A delicious, fruit-driven Pinot Noir. 90/100 (03/09)

See also:

Part 1, introduction and the vieilles vignes Francaises
Part 2, in the vineyards
Part 3, in the cellars, tasting wines
A previous report on the wines of Bollinger

Wines tasted as indicated  
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