Bollinger La Grande Année 1997
After January's Pol Roger, it seems only right that I look at another favourite wine of mine, the Grande Année from Bollinger, in this case the 1997 vintage. Although a favoured grande marque chez Winedoctor, it does seem to me that Bollinger, from time to time, do like to flex their muscles when it comes to brand image and particularly price. I was happy to purchase this particular vintage - not the best of recent years for Champagne, by far - at a reduced price in a UK supermarket, for a little under £30; a typical price might be 50% higher than that figure. Such reductions are commonplace in France, where the annual Foire aux Vins sees big reductions on big names in all the leading supermarkets, but they are not necessarily to Bollinger's liking. In late 2006, Ghislain de Montgolfier (head of Bollinger at the time) and Steven Leroux (Bollinger marketing director) openly discussed legal action, although on what grounds it is difficult for this non-lawyer to understand.
It is perhaps a predictable approach; Bollinger has, I think, been trying to reposition the Grande Année for some time, into a zone where people view it alongside prestige cuvées such as Pol Roger's Winston Churchill, Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne, Veuve-Clicquot's La Grande Dame, and so on. After all, Bollinger has no such equivalent; some might argue this is the role of RD, but the RD cuvée is simply (simply!?) Grande Année with extended ageing on the lees, with a recent disgorgement (hence RD) before it enters the marketplace. Hence, although the price is invariably higher, this wine is really a variation on a theme rather than a superior selection. And a similar argument may be applied to the Vieilles Vignes Françaises, a unique wine made from 100% ungrafted Pinot Noir vines; surely this wine is too rare, and too exorbitantly priced, to serve such a purpose?
Anyway, onto the wine itself. It is made from fruit sourced from fifteen Grand and Premier Cru villages throughout the Marne, and the blend is typically 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, which is fermented in oak casks before bottling for the secondary fermentation. Once complete, the wines will rest in the Bollinger cellars for up to six years before release, as evinced by the current vintage on display at the recent annual Champagne tasting, which for the past two years running has been the 1999. The 1997 does not quite have the quality of the 1999, but it remains worthwhile; on tasting today it demonstrates a pale straw hue, although it is just starting to take on a very slight tinge of onion skin, but it is certainly not mature. There is a plentiful, small to moderate sized bead. There is not as much development as I might have expected - I last tasted this only a few months ago - although the nose has attractive aromas of caramel and citrus fruits. An appealing palate, with plenty of youthful, sharply foaming mousse. A touch of coffee too, but the caramel is the most obvious flavour, a character which has been with this wine on every tasting so far. Plenty of acidity and structure here, a touch lean and metallic in character on this tasting although I haven't really noticed this before. A good rather than great Champagne, with a short sharp finish, this needs some time in the cellar to soften. 16+/20 (31/3/08)