Bollinger La Grande Année 2002
This week's featured wine comes with an opening apology; you can't buy this wine. Well, not yet anyway. This is an early look at Bollinger's newest baby, the 2002 Grande Année, which although in bottle and ready to go isn't intended for full release until February, so if this sneak preview gets you all fired up to go out and add a bottle or two to your cellar, then I am afraid you will have to wait a little while longer yet. Sorry!
I think I have pretty much covered the Bollinger story in my profile, following my visit there last year (was it really that long ago?), so I will just pick out the most pertinent details here, including those that are specific to this particular vintage of La Grande Année. First off, the vintage is very significant; 2002 was one of the most successful years for the Champagne region in recent times, so if you are a fan of all things effervescent you will no doubt be planning to pick up some Champagnes from this vintage. This example here is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, sourced from a blend of grand cru (71%) and premier cru (29%) villages. The wine is fermented in oak barrels (normal practice at Bollinger for La Grande Année, and also for the reserve wines destined for the non-vintage Special Cuvée) before going into bottle for the second fermentation.
Notable differences with La Grande Année compared to Special Cuvée, as well as the wines from other houses, include the use of a cork seal rather than crown cap, and the process of riddling the sediment down to the neck of the bottle which here is achieved by hand rather than gyropalette; there are three hand-riddlers employed, each one typically turning up to 50000 bottles per day. The 2002 La Grande Année is also hand-disgorged, a feat which can be achieved firstly as Bollinger have already started disgorging in preparation for release, and secondly because the team at Bollinger aren't averse to disgorging La Grande Année over prolonged periods of time - the last bottles to be disgorged might only reach this stage more than two years after the very first. The bottle in question here was disgorged in Juy 2010; this is discretely confessed on the back label, and kudos to Bollinger for making this information accessible. After the dosage which aims to give 9 g/l in the final wine, the wine rests before three months before being shipped.
Having worked a very tight cork from the neck of the bottle, the 2002 Bollinger La Grande Année was poured out to reveal a rich hue, already showing some fine lemon-golden tones. Not the richness of age, more likely the density of considerable concentration. And there is a moderate sized bead also indicative of the wine's youth. The nose is hugely expressive, with a really surprising minerally character, showing lots of chalky, powdery, talcy nuances as an edge to the very primary aromas of sweet-apple, pithy-citrus fruit and thyme. It has a stony firmness, but whereas many wines with this sort of character come across as rather withdrawn, emaciated even, the open character here suggests richness and generosity instead. Indeed, this is found to be true on the palate, which starts off with an immediately apparent balance of creamy texture, with a full and almost sherbetty depth of primary, minerally fruit, set against a firm acidity. It is perhaps the most rounded, stony-creamy, richly textured young Grande Année I have ever tasted. Through the midpalate this character evolves, the mousse of the wine bringing an extra textural quality here, defining and yet somehow expanding the wine within the mouth. It lifts as we go, until finding in the finish of the wine a crescendo of sherbetty minerals, texture and acidity, fading into a clean, lingering finish. This is plainly very youthful at present, but all the components are here, in concentrated abundance. This is very convincing stuff, and will be a must for all Bollinger fans. 18.5+/20 (15/11/10)