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Bollinger La Grande Année 1996

The publication of my Champagne guide has seen an unplanned hiatus in recent weeks, a result of the building pressure of other articles that needed to be brought out into the light, such as my notes from the recent Bibendum tasting, the Enotria tasting, as well as reviews of wines under the Wyndham's and Inycon labels. And of course there is still a huge pile of notes to bring out from this years Salon, also my recent visit to Bordeaux, as well as some other notes on Bordeaux tasted in London recently.

Bollinger La Grande Année 1996Nevertheless much of what is yet to come in my Champagne guide is already written, it merely needs some fact-checking, tidying up and of course proof-reading, and so I hope to get it all online before my summer break (which will be spent tasting and wine-hunting in the Loire, naturally, so perhaps 'break' isn't quite the right word). The next instalment concerns the Vallée de la Marne and Côtes des Blancs, and here is a little taster of what is to come along with this week's featured wine which is, quite appropriately, the 1996 La Grande Année from Bollinger. This house is of course based in the Vallée de la Marne, in Aÿ-Champagne.

Aÿ (or Aÿ-Champagne) is one of two grand cru villages in the Vallée de la Marne, the other being Tours-sur-Marne, a riverside town associated with a small collection of vineyards which lie higher up the slope away from the alluvial soils. There are around 50 hectares of vines, about two-thirds Pinot Noir, and it is not a highly regarded grand cru. Just a little further downstream, however, is the aforementioned Aÿ, an important grand cru both in terms of its vineyards and also in playing host to the offices and facilities of a number of leading Champagne houses - including Bollinger. The vines account for about 350 hectares, so this is a sizeable vineyard, and are dominated by Pinot Noir, which account for around 80%. They run east, back up the riverside above Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (where Bollinger have a large receiving and fermenting facility) towards Mutigny and Avenay-Val-d'Or, and also to the west, towards Dizy. The aspect is superb, many of the vines enjoying a south and south-west facing position, including the Côte aux Enfants, a lieu-dit in the centre owned by Bollinger which is used as a source of Pinot Noir for blending but, as is the case with Bouzy, can also be found as a still red wine.

Still red wines do not concern me here though - it is the Bollinger La Grande Année 1996 which has my attention. A rich lemon-gold in the glass, with a strong bead, this is an appealing wine to the eye. On the nose the wine just sings its Bollinger heritage, starting with notes of Brazil nut, also caramel, and adding complexity on top there are some rather calciferous suggestions, rather like crushed sea shells or even oyster shells. There is a certain saline minerality to it on the nose, adding to this latter impression. The palate is creamy, well endowed but certainly not fat or over the top, rather it is imbued with all the oxidative style that we should expect from Bollinger, along with more of that salty minerality. Nutty, caramelly, polished, with a lingering finish, this is absolutely classic and rather robust Bollinger which is certainly approachable now, although I can't help feeling it will be better with another 5-10 years in the cellar. 18.5+/20 (31/5/10)

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