Temperature of service

As a bottle of Dom Pérignon leaves our cellars, it starts a new life in the hands of Dom Pérignon lovers who are eager to prolong our own quest for perfection. I am, for example, often asked how a bottle of Dom Pérignon should be stored. Ideally the conditions should be as close as possible to our cellars: dark, humid and at a stable temperature (around 12 degrees celsius).

 

 

Assuming proper conservation, the service of the wine is paramount to its appreciation. I have already mentioned the style of wine glass [lien billet glasses] I generally consider best for Dom Pérignon wines, regardless of vintage. The temperature of service comes into play as well, influencing the sensory experience in ways that are rarely acknowledged to their full extent.

During our recent meeting, Gérard Liger-Belair mentioned that temperature affects multiple elements in champagne that can impact the perception during the tasting: for example as the temperature of service increases, the viscosity of the wine lowers, leading to bigger and more numerous bubbles.

To explore the effect of temperature in a more empirical way, I created a few years ago a special dinner with Philippe Mille, chef of two-starred Michelin restaurant Les Crayères in Reims, and his sommelier Philippe Jamesse. In order to show the differences between various temperatures of service, we imagined a scenario in which a bottle of Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1996 would be poured at all the temperatures between 8 and 16 degrees celsius, accompanied by specific dishes designed to complement its evolving personality.

 

Starting at 8 degrees the wine appeared more mineral, with its signature iodine character. Reaching 12 degrees and opening up with time, the bouquet became more complex, with earthy, smoky notes of sous-bois and truffles. Above 13 degrees, a phenolic quality started to appear, allowing us to push the envelope by pairing Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1996 with a tajine of lamb! Finally at 16 degrees an intense profile of hazelnuts and praline was a perfect match for a tarte tatin.

This experience, that I was glad to share with our guests, deepened our knowledge and understanding of Dom Pérignon. Once again our desire to challenge preconceived notions was met with success!

The two faces of 2013

I already mentioned that 2013 was a year of contrast, and a good reminder that we should always consider a vintage as a whole. Indeed the vegetative cycle was off to a very slow start, but this was compensated by the very favorable months of August and September. The dynamics of the ripening of the grapes was therefore very good, and this impetus was sufficient to carry till the end of the harvest despite the rainfalls of mid-September.

The 2013 harvest was a story of two halves: on one side the vineyards ripening early (Côte des Blancs and southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims) were even more in advance due to the low yields created by the difficult flowering; and on the other side the late vineyards (on the eastern and northern slopes of the Montagne de Reims) were exceptionally harvested in October and required more patience as well as careful sorting.

The two faces of this harvest become immediately apparent upon tasting the wines: in the case of Pinot Noir, the ripeness and concentration of Hautvillers and Azy versus the freshness and noteworthy acidity of Bouzy, Verzenay and Mailly. In the end the Chardonnays from the Côte des Blancs really stand out, structured yet superbly balanced.

Following this encounter with the wines of 2013, my feeling is that their diversity and character form a perfect starting point for the upcoming assemblage.

Bubbles

Ask anybody what makes champagne so special and you’re likely to get the following answer: bubbles. Removing the wire, listening to the sound of the cork being gently expelled from the bottle and to the music of the mousse as the wine is being served, witnessing the fragility and ephemeral quality of these tiny jewels in the glass: such is the magic of champagne, the magic of Dom Pérignon.

Bubbles also fascinate scientists. Professor Gérard Liger-Belair, from his laboratory at the University of Reims, attempts to understand how they develop in the glass, studies what influences their size and feel, and determines the specific physical and chemical forces ruling over their short lives.

Gérard Liger-Belair is at the same time a pioneer and an international expert in the field of bubbles and effervescence. I recently met him in Hautvillers to exchange thoughts. I was particularly interested in hearing his views on the factors influencing the finesse of the mousse as well as its effect on the singular tactile dimension of Dom Pérignon.

He explained that the time a champagne spent in the bottle was crucial. Although the first few years seem to make a greater difference, the bubbles appear to keep getting smaller as the wine ages.

I asked if the time the wine spent maturing on its lees in the bottle made a special difference, as I had observed that it can affect the texture of Dom Pérignon Oenothèque. He answered that the prolonged contact with the lees and its influence on Dom Pérignon’s viscosity could help limit the size of the bubbles in the glass and enhance their persistence at the surface. This plays a role in the tactile and elegant character of Dom Pérignon.

I pointed out that Dom Pérignon Rosé always seems to have a more generous effervescence compared to the blanc. Gérard Liger-Belair agreed, although the reasons seem to be shrouded in mystery for the moment: among the factors are the matrix of the wine itself and the level of polyphenols.

He added that as the bubbles reach the surface of the wine in the glass, they literally erupt, projecting a tiny amount of champagne a few millimeters in the air at very high speed. Combined with the fact that the champagne droplets hold more aromas than the heart of the wine itself, this vaporizing effect enhances the olfactory perception of champagne. This gives a hint about the mesmerizing and tantalizing nose of Dom Pérignon Rosé.

 

lees : deposit formed by yeast from the fermentation in bottle.

Transmuting time into energy…

While presenting the Dark Revelation experience, I mentioned that vintages 1970 and 2004 share an elegant classicism. In both years the weather was perfect, the growing season unrolling smoothly and effortlessly, leading to a harvest of the highest quality. The easy flow of the seasons produced wines of great consistency: although more than 30 years apart, Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004 and Oenothèque 1970 are both notable for their symbiotic character. Each wine develops into its own multidimensional world of natural sophistication, radiant finesse and high-strung harmony.

Transmuting time into energy

Dom Pérignon wines follow the rhythm of three plénitudes: the first after seven years maturing on their lees; the second between eleven and twenty years; and the third beyond twenty. In the darkness of our cellars, from one plénitude to the next, Dom Pérignon will grow and blossom, transmuting time into energy. Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1970 will have required forty years of patient elaboration to reach the third plénitude, when the spirit of Dom Pérignon fully reveals itself. At this stage, Dom Pérignon’s complexity becomes unsurpassed. The lineage of all the vintages in their third plénitude represents the living memory of Dom Pérignon, transmitting this heritage through generations of Chefs de Cave. Thus, tasting Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1970 enhances our understanding of the 2004 vintage: it helped us in the decision-making; it now offers a glimpse of the wine’s potential.

Owing to their contemporary classicism, both vintages embody a reflection of their times. They transcend the aspects of climate, personality or aromatic profile to capture the spirit of a whole region. The 1970 vintage opened the door to an era of consolidation of knowledge and savoir faire. New techniques appeared, allowing improvements in quality and regularity. The 2004 vintage is part of an ongoing cycle that started at the turn of the millenium: Champagne now operates in a different context, attempting to rediscover its terroirs and reach a new equilibrium with its environment. Leading the way and drawing on its legacy, Dom Pérignon reiterates its promise… liberating the creative energy in its wines.