The assemblage of grapes and terroirs in a single vintage is the foundation of Dom Pérignon’s style, the path it has followed since the origins. Dom Pérignon is always an assemblage, a tradition I inherited from my predecessors (I am the fifth chef de cave at Dom Pérignon since the beginning of the 20th century). The Œnothèque, our wine library, is the physical link between the generations of chefs de cave, the tangible memory of the oral tradition of the assemblage.
The Champagne region produces a whole spectrum of wines, from the pure Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs to the black grape driven styles (ultimately Blanc de Noirs). Dom Pérignon stands right at the center of this universe with its quest for the perfect balance between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, a yin and yang complementing and opposing each other to create tension and intensity nearly to the point of paradox. This leads to an elaborate and stimulating creative process that finds its resonance in the complexity, completeness and rhythm of the final wine. The addition of the third grape would bring a stability going against this ideal. Some vintages like 1973, 1988 and 2000 are fusional with this approach, whereas others such as 1969, 1980 or 1996 were by essence rather in contradiction with the spirit of Dom Pérignon, leading to a challenging assemblage eventually increasing tension and depth.
The assemblage magnifies the sum of the best terroirs in Champagne, in counterpoint to the fact that Dom Pérignon is always a vintage wine. Having access to all 17 Grands Crus vineyards in Champagne (and in particular the 8 core Grands Crus of Aÿ, Bouzy, Verzenay, Mailly, Chouilly, Cramant, Avize and Le Mesnil) as well as the historical Premier Cru from Hautvillers is my privilege and creates a myriad of options. This is all the more daunting since we aim for at most two distinct assemblages per vintage: the White and the Rosé—I will come back to this specific topic in a future entry. I vividly remember the 1996 Dom Pérignon Rosé as a perfect example of the necessity to devise an original assemblage depending on the vintage: we had to explore uncharted territories in this specific case, especially to address the oxidative character of the Pinot Noir. I have to add that the tradition of the assemblage has always taken precedence over winemaking techniques and their evolution: our principle of the assemblage can only reach its pinnacle through a spotless, transparent vinification process. The individual component wines have to be as vibrant and as expressive of the terroir as they can.
The creation of the signature style of Dom Pérignon is all driven by taste, and by that I mean the overall expression on the palate. Rather than following the same composition (or should I say, recipe?) year after year or relying on analyses, an intimate knowledge of Dom Pérignon is necessary to craft the perfect assemblage. Each vintage is a unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves and unveil the harmonious dialogue between the expression of nature and style. As a result, the final composition changes every vintage: at times a blend in perfectly equal proportions (e.g. 1990 Rosé), at times up to 60% Chardonnay (1982) or 60% Pinot Noir (1969), and only once going over 60% (with 65% Chardonnay in 1970). I give you these numbers to paradoxically show that our focus is not on them!
By the way, we create an assemblage in every vintage before making the final decision whether to declare the vintage or not. The assemblage of the 2009 wines has been completed recently (you might have noticed that the blog has slowed down a bit). I have therefore reached a conclusion on 2009, but I will let you guess which one!