The main attraction among the Masterclasses at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in November 2012 was a tasting of Dom Pérignon with the winemaker Richard Geoffroy. The reason I dub it a main attraction (much as I truly enjoyed the Henschke Masterclass!) is that they had digged deep in their cellar for old vintages, that were served in Œnothèque version, i.e., late disgorged, and from magnum. Many of the wines that were served are not commercially available in this form. I wasn’t alone in seeing it as the main attraction, since this tasting was sold out very quickly, ahead of any other five Masterclasses on offer.
Dom Pérignon is the prestige Champagne of Moët & Chandon. Its composition is around 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, but can vary somewhat between vintages. Dom Pérignon is produced completely without using oak barrels. Or rather, during the first vintages of its existence Dom Pérignon was produced in oak, but the barrels were phased out between 1959 and 1964.
Although many of the vintages tasted here showed very good concentration, I think it is fair to say that Dom Pérignon often isn’t a true heavyweight, but rather a Champagne characterised by elegance and toasted notes. Richard Geoffroys claimed that the aim is “not power, but intensity” where power is “more physical, very little memory” while characteristic of intensity is that it is “leading to memory”.
This might be a good occasion to point out that the monk Dom Pérignon, or Pierre Pérignon as his name was, wasn’t the inventor of sparkling Champagne. Instead he was an influential and pioneering winemaker during that time when the main product of the Champagne region was still wines, and they competed with Burgundy in producing Pinot Noir. That style of wine is today a very marginal product sold under the appellation Coteaux Champenois, which doesn’t diminish his importance, since a good base is needed also for a top sparkling Champagne.
Appearance: bright yellow, slightly more yellow than 2002 with a hint of gold.
Nose: toasted and smokey notes, powerful with fruity notes, citrus and zest, red apples, some spice. Rather classical nose for a DomP.
Palate: good concentration, mineral, baked apples, noticeably spicy, almost an impression of tannins, good acidity. Spicy and minerally aftertaste with the “tannin impression” remaining.
Overall impression: foody, young, slightly odd on the palate, which was less typical for DomP than the nose. Richard Geoffroy talked about “phenolics”, which I guess led me to think about tannins. 92(+) p
I’d like to point out that this is a very good 2003, where the hot vintage is reflected in the foody palate but not in any lack of acidity or minerality. I’m sure that the 2003 will be a long-lived wine. I do however consider 2002 superior, and it is classical in style from start to finish, so in that case I’m more confident that development will lift it to considerably greater hights.
Appearance: bright yellow
Nose: toasted notes including toasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder and coffee, yellow fruit, yellow apple, citrus, mineral, flowery with white flowers. More elegant nose than the 2003.
Palate: good concentration, citrus, noticeable minerality, high acidity, some spice mid-palate. Aftertaste with a lot of mineral and citrus notes.
Overall impression: definitely more classical than the 2003, should have more potential, and interestingly enough came across as more fruity (in particular in the nose) compared to when I tried it the time before, a little more than a month earlier. Young, reasonably accessible now. 93+ p.
Appearance: bright yellow, slightly more yellow than the 2002.
Nose: powerful toasted notes with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder, citrus, a hint of herbal notes, developed notes with some pine tree needles and resin, spice. It “sings more in a bass voice” than 02 or 03, and hints at oak barrel or other wood notes.
Palate: noticeable minerality, citrus, some apple, a hint of spice, some resion, grapefruit bitterness, a hint of tannic impression on the mid-palate and in the aftertaste. The aftertaste is extremely long with mineral and citrus notes.
Overall impression: not a heavyweight compared to 2002 and 2003. Still young, more developed in the nose than on the palate, but the palate is also reasonably accessible. 94+ p.
Appearance: bright yellow
Nose: noticeably toasted and smokey note, mineral, yellow fruit including yellow apples, some spice. With increased temperature it gets more fruity and some notes of resin emerge.
Palate: good concentration, citrus, noticeable mineral, high acidity, some spice. The aftertaste is dominated by citrus and mineral.
Overall impression: actually comes across as less developed than the 1996 (which were in a standard-size bottle) and is definitely less developed in the nose than the rosé 1990. Great potential, 94+ p
Just before this tasting I tasted a regular 1990 from a 75 cl bottle, at the same time asseveral other impressive Champagnes. That bottle, which was really very good, unsurprisingly showed more development, but also more complexity, so I rated it 94 points (and have been told that I generally was very frugal with my scores that night, compared to the impression of other participants 🙂 ) However, the potential of this Œno 1990 is definitely greater.
Appearance: bright yellow with a faint hint of green.
Nose: noticeably toasted and slightly smokey notes, ripe yellow fruit including yellow apples, spicy, mineral.
Palate: quite powerful concentration, fruity attack with some sweetness of fruit, citrus and in particular grapefruit, other yellow fruits, high acidity, spice, mineral. Fruity aftertaste with citrus and mineral.
Overall impression: foody profile, could take more cellaring, but doesn’t have the same potential as the 1990. 94 p
1982 is a more foody wine than the 1990, and shows more fruit both in the nose and on the palate, but does not have quite the minerality. It shows most sweetness of fruit of any vintage in this tasting.
Appearance: bright yellow with some gold.
Nose: noticeably toasted and smokey note, mineral with some dust impression, yellow apple, some peach, citrus, some wood smell with resin.
Palate: mineral, noticeably spicy, some impression of wood and tannin (see the 1966 below for more discussion on the wood), some yellow fruit in the background. Spicy aftertaste with mineral and peat.
Overall impression: comes across as fully mature, but could definitely take more time in the cellar. 95 p.
Definitely more mature notes in the nose and on the palate compared to the 1982, but nose and palate are in harmony. I awarded this the highest “present score” of all white DomPs of the tasting, but I’d imagine that 1990, 1996 and 2002 could match or even surpass it at their peak, at least if we’re talking about something else than regular bottles, i.e. Œnothèque versions or magnum bottles, or both.
Appearance: bright to golden yellow.
Nose: noticeably smokey and toasted notes, coffee, mocha, cocoa powder, wood, yellow fruit in the background. Very nuanced and most developed nose of all wines. The “wood” component in the nose here refers to old dry wood, more or less untreated, such as boards from an abandoned forest cottage or dried driftwood, i.e., not really the aromas of toasted oak barrels.
Palate: good concentration, yellow fruit, citrus, mineral, noticeably spicy, tannic feeling with wood, some cocoa powder. Spicy aftertaste with some mineral.
Overall impression: wonderful development, fully mature. 94 p.
Appearance: pale red, copper.
Nose: strawberries, citrus, red apples, some peach, clearly flowery, mineral. Fruity but elegant.
Palate: blood grapefruit, some citrus, wild strawberries, noticeable minerality, high acidity, spice. Aftertaste with wild strawberries, citrus and mineral.
Overall impression: fruity, surprisingly youthful in style, but very elegant. Young, but fully accessible, 93+ p.
I was surprised both that it was so very good (since 2000 isn’t a truly great vintage in general) and because it was so different – much less developed – compared to the white DomP 2000 I’ve tried two times in 2012. The rosé is apparently sold later and here we had bottles directly from their cellars, but the difference in development still was greater than expected.
Appearance: pale orange colour, between copper and brass.
Nose: clearly developed with undergrowth and wet moss, possibly peat, some fudge notes, smoke, citrus and red apple. The developed notes remind me primarily of the “firne” note usually found in really old German Riesling and sometimes also Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), but also a little of mature red Burgundy.
Palate: wild strawberries, citrus and in particular grapefruit, mineral, high acidity, spice, light tannic impression. Clearly elegant.
Overall impression: lovely developed nose, but much younger on the palate. 95 p.
Much more developed in the nose than the white 1990. I gave it the highest current score in this tasting, together with the white 1973.
Appearance: orange with some amber (deeper colour than 1990)
Nose: noticeably developed with undergrowh and wet moss, possibly some peat, some fugde, smoke, citrus, red apple, some strawberries, some wood, pine tree needles and resin. Similar developed notes as the rosé 1990 with firne and mature Pinot Noir, but with more Pinot focus and more powerful.
Palate: wild strawberries, sweetness of fruit, noticeably spicy, some tannin, a hint of bitterness, good acidity, some mineral.
Overall impression: 93 p.
More developed in the nose than the white 1982. There was a certain similarity on the palate between the two colours, since they both came across showing more sweetness of fruit compared to the rest.
In general, there was a rather large difference between the rosés and whites of the same vintage. Geoffroy described them as “true to Pinot Noir”, and it is easy to agree, because the nose of the older ones is quite Burgundian. They were also served in Burgundy glasses. I would guess that the base wines differ more than just by addition of some red wine, but nothing was mentioned about this. Something that is a bit unusual is that the rosé is sold a little older than the white version. It is more common for other producer to do it the other way around.
I haven’t tried to estimate how long the older œnothèques in magnum bottles can and should be cellared, since they hardly are commercially available, at least not in these disgorgements. Something that perhaps does not emerge sufficiently from the descriptions are the great similarities between all the “older” vintages. By that I primarily mean the white from 1996 to 1966, and rosé 1990 and 1982. In my descriptions I’ve tried to capture the differences between them, but there was more similarity of both aromas and quality than I had expected. I suppose this derives from the period of extended lees contact, where time more or less stands still for a good Champagne, and the fact that they’ve been on their final cork for 5-6 years for magnums and 4 years for the 1996. If one should open a set of regularly disgorged 75 cl bottles, I’m sure there would be more difference between them, with more oxidation notes showing sherry and nuts in the older wines, even if they would be bottles of excellent fill levels. Richard Geoffroy also stressed the importance of the storage on the lees to produce the character of Dom Pérignon. Among the aromas mentioned by him were marine aromas, slightly woody character in the older ones, as well as peat, tobacco and dried leaves.
After an inital experimental period, Œnothèque is always sold with at least three years on the cork after being disgorged, and it was said that they are extra brut in terms of dosage, although the label says “brut” just as for the regular Dom Pérignon. The disgorgement year is nowadays always found on the back label.
I’d like to be specific on one point: in vintages which are top vintages in general in the Champagne region, such as 1990, 1996 and 2002, Dom Pérignon is definitely a true top-notch Champagne. To be perfectly honest, I don’t quite understand how Moët & Chandon manages to produce such enormous quantities of Dom Pérignon – several million bottles per year – at the quality level of these vintages! Since Moët & Chandon is the largest producer, is own by profit-hungry LVMH, and has standard Champagne that doesn’t really impress, it’s all too easy to assume that Dom Pérignon probably isn’t that impressive. But, without doubt, defends its rightful place among the prestige Champagnes of the other well-known houses.
But I do feel the need to finish with some complaints. I find the official Dom Pérignon website overdone and heavy in animation, and a true example of the victory of form over substance. Anyone who wishes to see beautiful pictures of the latest special release Dom P., currently David Lynch, and earlier Karl Lagerfeldt, Andy Warhol and others, this where you should surf. If you expect to know the composition of current releases in terms of grape varieites – other than the grapes being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – then don’t bother. I find the entire website pointless for anyone interested in serious information about the contents of the Dom Pérignon bottles. But, there also is a slightly hidden away blog called Creating Dom Pérignon where you regularly get more interesting information, and that one I definitely recommend.
Swedish version of the post here.