Pol Roger Brut 1998
Having finished my short-lived foray through the appellations of the Northern Rhône, which was an excellent opportunity to drink up some older bottles as well as investigate how a few younger ones were progressing, it is time now to return to variety. I have all sorts of bottles lined up for coming weekends, from ageing Chinon to very youthful claret and many other styles along the way, including more than a bottle or two of Champagne I hope.
The Pol Roger vintage is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, a composition that says much about the house style. These are rich and flavoursome Champagnes, a style said to have been appreciated by their most famous acolyte, Winston Churchill. It is too easy to forget, however, that the Pol Roger style has not always been so well defined; if Churchill's tastes were as described, what did he make of the 1928, which was 100% Chardonnay?
Such aberrations now seem confined to history, however, as today the recipe for the Brut Vintage seems quite invariable. For the 1998 vintage the Pinot Noir, the dominant variety, was sourced from Cumières, Champillon, Aÿ, Ambonnay, Mareuil, Chigny, Rilly, Bouzy and Mailly. The Chardonnay, meanwhile, originated in the vineyards of Le Mesnil, Oger, Vertus, Oiry, Cuis and Chouilly. The final wine is an assemblage which takes in the produce of twenty or so vineyards, all classified as grand and premier cru. Once harvested and fermented, the vins clairs - the still wines which form the base for the eventual Champagne - are tasted, assessed, judged and blended. This is an incredibly skilful process which requires remarkable foresight into how the young, acidic wines on the benchtop will taste after secondary fermentation and future ageing; at present it is a task that falls to a team comprising Christian Pol-Roger, Christian de Billy, Hubert de Billy, winemaker Dominique Petit and the Président du Directoire Patrice Noyelle. Once selected and blended, the wines go into bottle for the fermentation which is initiated with the addition of the liqueur de tirage, containing fresh yeast and sugar. It is a complicated method with many more processes, as described in my Champagne guide, which must be completed before the wine is ready for release.
I first tasted this week's wine, the Pol Roger Brut 1998 at the 2006 annual Champagne tasting, and took another look at it during the 2007 tasting. This is the first of the bottles from my cellar, and it is instructive to see how the wine fares tasted in a relaxed environment, with time for reflection and contemplation, as opposed to the bustling annual Champagne tasting. It has also, of course, almost another year under its belt since I last tasted it. Today it has a pale straw hue, and a moderately fat bead. The nose is immediately seductive, showing the nutty and slightly yeasty-bready elements of youth, but with a plump honey-tinged richness. But there is a freshness too. On the palate is does indeed start off soft and seductive, before tightening up a little in the midpalate, but never really withdrawing. It has a toothsome, rounded mouthfeel and a crisp, leafy definition towards the finish. Great acidity and a prickling mousse, which both combine very nicely with the plump nature, which builds to a more creamy style, to give a very complete package. This has come on very nicely since my tasting in March 2007. It finishes well, has more mineral character than before, and plenty of interest and potential, upon which you can reflect as the flavours linger on the tongue. Very good indeed, and a score that continues to creep upwards. 17.5+/20 (25/2/08)