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Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 1999

I'm sure I'm not alone in popping the corks off a few bottles of Champagne and similarly effervescent wines over the past few weeks. One that particularly struck a chord is this week's featured wine, the 1999 La Grande Année Rosé from Bollinger. It's a wine that comes with a lengthy track record, there having been numerous previous vintages, including - in recent years - 1996, 1995 and 1990, all vintages in which I have tasted any number of Champagnes, including La Grande Année. But not the rosé version it seems; looking back through my notes I can see recent experiences with only the 1999 and 2002 vintages. Both have shown well in the past, although the 2002 - tasted a little over a year ago with winemaker Matthieu Kauffmann at Bollinger - has impressed me more. But it is the 1999 that I am returning to today, and although not my first taste per se, it is my first taste outside the setting of a busy, noisy trade tasting.

As I explain in my guide to Bollinger and their Champagnes, the Grande Année Rosé begins life like any other bottle of La Grande Année, a bottled single-vintage cuvée produced only in favourable vintages where both the quality and the quantity merit it, once stocks of the reserve wines - famously stored in magnums, under cork - have been assured, of course. The principal difference is, unsurprisingly, the inclusion of a little red wine in the blend.

Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 1999

The Grande Année cuvées are sourced from a mix of grand and premier cru vineyards, each site being harvested and fermented individually, with barrel being the fermentation vessel of choice at Bollinger, at this level at least (wines destined for the non-vintage Special Cuvée will come partly from wood, but predominantly from steel). The starting blend for both versions of La Grande Année in 1999, white and rosé, was 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay, almost exactly the same as the subsequent 2002, from 17 different villages. Of this, 82% was sourced from grand cru vineyards and 18% from premier cru sites. With the white this is of course the final blend (unless we are going to argue about the dosage, of course), whereas with the 1999 Rosé it accounts for 92%, the remaining 8% being the red wine, Pinot Noir from Bollinger's vines on the Côte aux Enfants. The blending takes place during the spring following the tasting of the vins clairs, the fermented but not as yet sparkling wines; the blended wine then goes into the bottle (as with the reserves, under natural cork) for the second fermentation, where it remains for at least six years. The oak fermentation and bottling under cork probably both contribute, in part at least, to the lightly oxidative style that characterises Bollinger's wines.

So what about the wine in the glass? This bottle has been slumbering in the cellar for a couple of years, not a long time at all, and popping the cork was no problem at all. The wine itself displayed quite a vibrant, richly-coloured salmon-pink hue, with a full and impressive bead of moderately fine appearance. It certainly still looks rather youthful. A really appealing character on the nose, not at all delicate, although well judged and harmonious, with notes of strawberry, raspberry and light cream. What really impresses on the palate is the texture, especially when considered with the very finely poised balance of the wine; its presence in the mouth is quite full, with a hint of cream, yet it is beautifully cut through by a fresh acidity and also a quite incisive mousse. Long, persistent, elegant and yet with no lack of impact, this is truly very impressive wine, which I think I have underestimated in its earlier days, at those bustling annual Champagne tastings. 17.5+/20 (10/1/11)

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