Champagne Week Finale: Epic Dom Perignon tasting of Epicness at Naughton, 7 April 2012

Drawing Champagne Week to a close with notes from a special tasting and some thoughts.

This tasting was originally just going to be a side-by-side between the 2003 and the 2002. One thing led to another, though, and we wound up with a full-fledged vertical tasting. It was huge fun, sparked off some good debate and we all got to drink a metric ton of DP.

However, throughout the tasting, and not for the first time, I wondered at its practical application. Comparative wine tasting at any level removes the tasters from the context for which the wine is meant. Richard Geoffroy, when he made Dom Perignon 2003, made it to be enjoyed as a singular wine, to accompany excellent food, not to be tasted with several other of its brethren. As such, how valid are our conclusions? How much further does this widen the gap between 'wine folks' who pass judgement with authority and the average consumer? This is oft-tread ground as wine discussion goes, but recent chat on Twitter and elsewhere has thrown it all into sharp relief. I don't have any answers, but it's something to ask yourself while your tasting.

Dom Perignon 2003

Mature colour, with slow and tiny bubbles.

Fat, rich nose with buttered shortbread and brioche. Roasted strawberry pips.

Big and brash on the palate with almost burnt toast and strawberry jam. The burnt notes give the impression of a shell, or skin that you bite through to gain access to the fruit. It seems to replace acidity in terms of structure, as everything rides on it and it's delivered through that toastiness. Remarkable winemaking. Not my favourite by any means but I'm kind of blown away by it anyway. Infinitely superior to Bollinger 2003.

Dom Perignon 2002

Paler, more lively mousse and brighter.

Flecks of lemon peel, apple and a touch of cream to it. Lemon curd.

Palate is buoyant, bursting, tight knit citrus and incredible grip, mouthfeel, and tightness. Fruit and secondaries are woven perfectly into each other. Great harmony. Slatey and chalky texture. So young, remarkable and brilliant. Lovely nerve and energy.

Dom Perignon 2000

Beginnings of brass on the gold.

Bushels of butter and hay on the nose.

Soft on the palate, sensual mousse but lacking grip. There's a bitterness on the finish that's not pleasant. Perhaps a touch too flabby.

Dom Perignon 1999

Active mousse, nice colour.

Very mute on the nose at first. As it opens it's all pencil lead and limes. Flinty and citrusy.

Disjointed on the palate. Rambunctious mousse that stops abruptly midway through, releasing an almost oily butteriness. Needs perhaps to be wrapped around som fore gras. Instead we have it with pheasant and it really livens up. It grabs the food and lifts with lush, tropical notes.

Dom Perignon 1998

Shed its silver and and bright gold.

Heady nose of balanced hay, chantilly cream and crunchy green and red apples.

Lovely harmony on the palate. Subtle and pleasing combination of all the barnyard - hay and biscuits and brioche, and fruit basket - pear, apples and a touch of quince, all held together with a lovely creaminess. At its peak. Not the best wine, but perhaps the best wine now.

Dom Perignon 1996

Superb brilliance with lively, pinprick, racy bubbles.

Brioche, toffee apples, clotted cream, candied lemon peel and quince on the nose.

Full and youthful. I'm sure this is one of the more youthful wines on the table. Big, mousse, exciting but not aggressive. Younger and livelier than the last time I tasted it, I imagine this is about to close down for its awkward teenage years. Just beginning to show fleshy white fruit and quince. No mushrooms yet. Perhaps a touch of cep. Its class is indisputable.


Put simply, the 2002 and the 1996 were the champions of the tasting; their reputation as fantastic vintages is wholly justified. I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to taste them as they mature over the next three or so decades.

The 2003 is remarkable for existing, but I do not think it ranks highly in the echelons of vintages that I have tried. Time may change that, but for now, it is what it is, an accurate reflection of that hot summer. When I interviewed Richard Geoffroy, he made it clear to me that reflecting the vintage was paramount to his mission as a wine maker. As such, it's a success. But when held against wines like the 2002, the shortcomings of the vintage become apparent.

By the end, we wound up asking more questions than the wines were answering. Wine can't really answer questions, but it provokes the asking in spades. The biggest question was how much more reductive the wine-making style in Champagne has become over the last decade. It's not unique to this region, by any means, but my own anecdotal, tasting evidence suggests that more and more houses are going this route, most likely to counter the noticeably hotter summers. Has anyone else noticed this? Young wines are paler, with more apples, pears and pear drops. Tangy, youthful marmalade in a young Champagne seems to have become a thing of the past. It's fascinating, tasting the changes in the world and our response to it through wine.