Bollinger Master Class

Hosted by Bollinger President, Jérôme Philipon & Chef de Cave, Gilles Descôtes

Bollinger's largest market by far is the UK, which is why they chose to launch the latest releases of their La Grande Année Champagnes here today. I was fortunate to attend their 'First Taste' at London's Royal Opera House.


The 2005 Harvest

  • After a cold 2004, the 2005 season returned to a higher than average annual temperature. 
  • Like 2004, 2005 was a dry year with annual rainfall well below the average.
  • Very few climatic incidents occurred (little frost in spring, little hail). There were many hot days, particularly in June and July, though August was fairly gloomy.
  • In terms of pests and diseases, bud-eating insects caused a small amount of damage to the Chardonnays. Mildew affected the parts of Champagne that received the most spring rain, with powedery mildew remaining scarce. 
  • The number of grape clusters was fairly low, but they were heavy enough to produce a generous harvest. 
  • September began with rain, leading to a risk of botrytis, but ended dry and sunny, promising a high quality harvest.
  • Harvesting at Bollinger took place from 15 to 27 September

The Tasting:

2005 La Grande Année

£300 per 6 under bond - ORDER HERE

70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay
95% Grand Cru, 5% Premier Cru
Dosage: 6 grams per liter.

Very fine and persistent mousse. Pale lemon straw. Aromas of lemon, beeswax, dried honey and lanolin. Dried banana chips as it evolves in the glass. Rich and fully ripe. Bold and fruit forward. Red and white currants, rose water. This exhibits a fine balance of power and elegance. Apricot jam emerges as the wine opens further. Fresh strawberries and cream follow. Baked apples and cinnamon round off the highly complex finish. All in all, there's a subtly different experience each tine I return to the glass. I would expect the 2005 to drink well continuously from now to 2035 and beyond.


1995 La Grande Année

63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay
82% Grand Cru, 18% Premier Cru

Darker straw. Still fine and persistent mousse. Ginger biscuits and caramel on the nose. Left alone to sit in the glass for 20 mins curry powder aromas come forth. Very refined and elegant. The acidity is much less pronounced than I would have expected for this under-ripe vintage. The wine has mellowed and evolved richness, making it honeyed and sensual, ample and engaging. It's absolutely gorgeous now. The balance is á-point. Further maturity will no doubt add greater richness and more dried fruit and nut character but I think I prefer the freshness it has now.


1985 La Grande Année

65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay

The colour is a further degree darker. The mousse still comprises very fine bubbles but there are somewhat fewer of them. First impressions on the nose are of ripe camembert and truffles, cocoa powder too. Once more, really spicy curry aromatics emerge with time in the glass. The chocolate theme continues with the palate; chocolate fondant, rich and creamy. Red currants and cherries, with black pepper emerge on the long, profound finish. This is a revelation. Incredible freshness for a 30 year old wine.


Madame Bollinger agreed to a Bollinger rosé under one condition, it had to be extraordinary, and that is how La Grande Année Rosé was born: the unique blend between a great vintage champagne and a red wine from a unique plot, the legendary Côte aux Enfants.

2005 La Grande Année Rosé 

£380 per 6 under bond - ORDER HERE

72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay
95% Grand Cru, 5% Premier Cru
5% red Côte aux Enfants
Dosage: 7 grams per liter.

Vigorous and fine mousse. Delicate salmon pink. Elegantly restrained and subtle aromas of strawberry brioche. This too is very ripe and fruit focussed. Vibrant summer pudding flavours fill the senses. Baked strawberry cheesecake, too. The finish is perfumed and sensual. There is plenty of structure here to see this wine through the next one to two decades.


1995 La Grande Année Rosé (magnum)

66% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay
83% Grand Cru, 17% Premier Cru
7.5% Pinot Noir from Ay
Dosage: 10-12 grams per liter.

Denser, darker salmon colour. Powerfully effervescent, fine bubbles. Figs, plums and dates on the intensely aromatic and heady nose. Some curry spice here too, though more subtle. This is powerfully intense. Packed with sweetly ripe red and black fruits, both fresh and dried. Caramelised red onions, with star anise. It has a much higher dosage than the 2005 and it shows but I like that off dry style. Delightfully mature and complex though this is, there's no hurry to drink up. I would expect well cellared magnums to maintain their freshness for a few more years yet.


2012 La Cote aux Enfants

100% Pinot Noir Grand Cru from Ay

Deep ruby red fading to violet at the rim. Very intense and highly aromatic. Victoria plum and elderberry. Very enticing nose. This is gutsy and structured for ageing. Packed with dark fruits. Fully ripe and well fleshed out. This is a much more serious cote aux enfants than I've experienced before. Unforgiving as it is now, the potential is clear. Buy and cellar for 10 years plus.


Bollinger has over 180 years of history and remains a family owned business to this day. The wines produced by this great house have a unique style based on a set of core principles:

• Most of the grapes used are sourced from their own vineyards, 85% o which are either Grand Cru or Premier Cru.

• Pinot Noir is always the dominant grape in the blend.

• Reserve wines are held in magnum, never in vat.

• The wines are aged in old barrels in order to micro-oxygenate them, which improves their capacity for extended ageing.

• All of Bollinger's wines are aged in their cellars for 2-3 times longer than required by the Appellation regulations.