Bollinger was founded in 1829 in the village of Ay. However, it was Lily Bollinger who led the house into the global luxury brand that it is today when she took over after her husband’s untimely passing in 1941.
Excellence was instilled in the Bollinger culture by Madame Bollinger, who was known to be quite the perfectionist. Today this has translated into Bollinger’s position as a premium producer amongst the big champagne houses. It has always been one of our favourite Champagnes, but it wasn’t until this visit that we understood why.
So what is it that makes their wines so special?
Firstly, in terms of raw materials, over 85% of the grapes come from either grand cru or premier cru vineyards. For production, they only use the first press (cuvee) and barrel fermentation is widely practiced at the house. In all but their special cuvee, the base wine spends 6 months in oak, a practice that is now uncommon in the region. Even the Special Cuvee uses a mixture of both barrel and stainless steel fermentation. They have their own cooperage on site to support this and we were lucky enough to see them at work on the barrels. However, it wasn’t until we ventured down into the cellars beneath Ay that the true madness of Bollinger was unveiled. The majority of their reserve wines lay resting in magnums under cork. This enables the reserve wines to continue to develop on the lees (dead yeast cells). In contrast, most houses store reserve wines in large pressurized stainless vats. This practice at Bollinger is labour intensive to say the least. Finally, the non-vintage champagnes are aged for over 3 years in bottle before they are released, which is double the minimum requirements for the region. It seems that nothing is too much when it comes to quality at Bollinger.
The house style is driven by Pinot Noir that provides both power and structure to the wine. The complexity and depth comes from both the barrel fermentation and the reserve wine ageing process which impart aromas and flavours of toast and brioche. It is truly evident when you taste a glass of their Special Cuvee along side another big house non-vintage champagne.
Our tasting line up included the Special Cuvee NV, the Rose NV and La Grande Annee 2002. Whilst we enjoyed the NV and loved La Grande Annee, it was the Rose style that stood out for us the most. Unlike a lot of Rose Champagnes that these days err on the side of fruity (with extra dosage), the Bollinger Rose is dry and elegant with subtle red fruit that mingles but does not overtake the toast and yeast. It is a unique Rose that has easily become our number one.
So this New Year’s Eve, when you are looking for a bottle of bubbly to share with your loved ones, spend the couple of extra bucks and get a bottle of Bolly… you won’t be disappointed!