Laurent-Perrier Brut 2002
There hasn't been a widely raved-about vintage in Champagne for quite a while now; although there have been good years (2002 especially so, and for me 2004 also springs to mind) there hasn't really been a 'buzz' like that which surrounded the 1996 vintage when the wines were released. Certainly 1996 was the last vintage which prompted me to active seek out a range of bottles to add to the cellar, primarily to provide future drinking pleasure of course, but also as I thought it would be interesting to see how these different wines, from the likes of Roederer, Pol Roger, Pierre Gimonnet and others, aged. Quite a few have made it into the line-up for my 15-years-on tasting which is coming up very soon, and I'm looking forward to revisiting them.
Moving on from 1996, the subsequent years were a little lean, giving dedicated Champagne drinkers little to celebrate. The 1997 growing season was difficult, and although my experience is not broad few wines have really impressed. One exception is the 1997 Grand Année from Bollinger, which although tight and slightly metallic when tasted on release has revealed unexpected charm when tasted much more recently, as has the 1997 RD which I tasted during a visit to Bollinger. The 1998 vintage received a lot of positive press, wines that I have been impressed by including 1998 Lanson, 1998 Pol Roger and 1998 Krug, and so these wines may well be worth seeking out, especially as they have the added benefit of a little in-bottle maturity now. Thereafter came 1999, a year blighted by hail early on and rain later, and as such not a great vintage but at least a good one. There are one or two great wines of course, but they are perhaps the exception rather than the rule. The year 2000 did not bring the magical vintage many hoped for and which a few regions - Bordeaux and the Douro for instance - were blessed with. And 2001 was a complete washout, the vines drowned by torrential downpours, sufficiently miserable for the majority of houses to omit a vintage release.
And then came 2002, at last a vintage to get truly excited about; it doesn't seem to have the same 'buzz' that 1996 generated, or perhaps I missed, but the quality is undeniable (and possibly superior to that found in 1996). An exceptionally cold winter kept the vines dormant until mid-March, and spring was dry and sunny, perfect for flowering. There were a few days during the summer when the weather was not so benevolent, but there was no significant harm from the light hail and rain that fell on the vines. Warm days and cool nights brought the fruit to a balanced ripeness and the harvest kicked off in mid- to late-September. The wines have, ever since they have been available for tasting, been receiving rave reviews. Much of my early experience was at the annual Champagne Information Bureau Tastings, when all the top houses roll into London with their latest vintages and non-vintage bottlings. There were plenty of high quality wines in evidence at the 2008, 2009 and then 2010 tastings. Many wines have now been released, and are being - in many cases - eagerly snapped up by Champagne fans.
The latest wine from this vintage to come my way is the 2002 Brut from Laurent Perrier. As in other recent vintages this is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, the former from the grand cru villages of the Côte des Blancs and the latter from the Montagne de Reims. In the glass this has a rich golden hue, not deeply coloured, but clean and promising, full of vibrant pigment. With a very exuberant bead, with torrents of bubbles streaming upwards, this is obviously still a very young wine. On the nose it has smoky clean fruit, very expressive, with lightly nutty notes, but in a fresh and rich style rather than anything suggestive of oxidation. It is a light, clean, oatmealy, cashew-nut aroma, which comes with some finely defined fruit, yellow plum skin, pear skin and sweet, golden orchard fruits. There is a lovely gritty sense to it as well, suggesting deep concentration. With a little more time, it shows a more caramelly edge. The freshness comes through on the palate too, with a tense streak of acidity upon which sit the primary fruit elements, giving the wine a really seductive depth and composition. There is a lot of textured, tangible substance here, a lot of solid matter wound up within the gentle texture of the wine. It holds on to its early sense of poise with a fine, vibrant and prickly mousse, and its fresh acids. That more caramelly tone appears here too, bringing a softer edge to the bright fruit. A very lively finish, long and energy-filled, with more than a suggestion of appealingly bitter fruit pith here. This is just delicious now. 17.5/20 (21/11/11)