Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1995
Perhaps the most famous Champagne brand in the world, Dom Pérignon now has a dwindling presence in my cellar. Why? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these days I would rather get to grips with the latest releases of the Brut Réserve from Philippe Foreau, or perhaps Triple Zero from Jacky Blot, to name just two of the Loire Valley’s more interesting sparkling cuvées. This realisation that, at least to my Loire-focused palate, Champagne was not always the superior choice, was a watershed moment in my personal journey through wine. Having said that, whenever I return to my dwindling stocks of vintage and prestige cuvée Champagne I am reminded of what excellent drinking experiences some of these wines provide.
Dom Pérignon has long been one of the more deliciously reliable prestige cuvées, although I have never quite managed to shake off nagging doubts about its origins. While most domaines (or indeed Champagne houses) that endeavour to produce a flagship cuvée will proudly declare its source (single vineyard, surely) and its limited production (just a few thousand bottles, of course) with Dom Pérignon this detail has always notable by its absence. And as the bottles crop up in every wine store and every duty free shop I have ever sauntered through, it always seemed to me that the number of bottles produced each year must be huge.
During the 1980s it seems likely that the wine was made using fruit from a broad array of crus across the Champagne region, but the acquisition and subsequent asset-stripping of Lanson by LVMH in 1990 (was it really that long ago?) provided Moët et Chandon with another 200 hectares of vineyards to play with. The exact assemblage remains shrouded in vinous mystery but the wine is usually a blend of equal or near-equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tom Stevenson, a reliable source of information on all things Champagne, believes the former predominantly comes from Cramant and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the latter mostly from Aÿ, Bouzy, Verzenay and Hautvillers, all top-quality crus, although all the grands and premiers crus of the region could in theory contribute. Hautvillers is, of course, the spiritual home of Dom Pérignon, being home to the abbey where Dom Pérignon once lived, and also the site of some of the original Moët et Chandon vineyards. The wine is fermented in stainless steel with no role for oak at all, with a very reductive approach overall.
The 1995 Dom Pérignon comes from a vintage that began with a fairly dismal spring, leading to a late flowering. Happily this was compensated for by warm weather and cloudless skies through most of the summer. The harvest began on September 18th for the Chardonnay, which accounts for 52% of the blend, and on September 25th for the Pinot Noir, which makes up the remaining 48%. Released in Spring 2002, which was when I bought my bottles, they have been resting in my cellar for the past fifteen-or-so years. Unsurprisingly the cork is now quite firm and inelastic, but once it was persuaded to part company with the bottle it revealed a good pressure behind it. The aromatics are certainly complex and evolved, with desiccated fruits, especially dried apple and orange leading the way, and although this presents a bright and fresh facade there is behind it an undeniable vein of Brazil nuts and beach driftwood, quite prominent after a little air. The palate has a very confident presence but is certainly dominated by this evolved character, with the Brazil and macadamia nuts speaking louder than the concentrated citrus freshness. It all comes combined with a slightly sour acidity which adds lift albeit in a somewhat challenging style, accompanied by a surprisingly persistent mousse. It certainly has length and form, but is showing some very evolved signs of age now. Perhaps it is a good thing that I only have one other bottle remaining, which I suspect I should tackle during the next few years. 95/100 (8/1/18)
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