Pol Roger 1900-2000

Yesterday lunchtime saw 14 of us gather in The Connaught’s sumptuous Coburg Bar for what promised to be an extraordinary lunch featuring 100 years of Champagne Pol Roger. The occasion was a celebration of three exciting new developments for Pol Roger (the launch of the 2000 vintage), The Connaught (a new Champagne list featuring vintage Pol back to 1914) and ourselves at Bid for Wine (our soon-to-launch Singapore site, about which more shortly!).

Proceeding kicked off with a glass of the 1999 Blanc de Blancs – a lovely soft gold with a fine mousse and elegant fresh nose loaded with white fruit, a gentle nuttiness and some minerality. In the mouth this was beautifully elegant and poised – the offer of a second glass was hard to refuse. Charles Hamer commented that in his view this is a long term wine and will probably come around a little later than the 1999 Vintage Brut. Jancis Robinson used the wine as an excuse to give James Simpson of Pol a masterclass on Twitter, much to the amusement of all present – for those minded to do so he can now be followed @pol_roger.

Having emptied our glasses of the 1999 we progressed through to the hotel’s private room for lunch itself. No sooner had we taken our seats when a beautiful Tartar of Scottish scallops, Caviar from Aquitaine and Brittany cauliflower veloute arrived to accompany the 2000, 1999, 1998 & 1996.

The 2000 was hugely mineral on the nose – very tight but showing hints of vanilla, fresh nuts and white fruits with time. The minerality continued on to the palate giving a fine backbone to this very elegant young Champagne (4*, 4.5* with time). Hugh Johnson noted how the cauliflower veloute (an incredibly subtle and beautifully textured component) seemed to help the 2000 to open up.

The 1999 (4.5*) seemed quite reductive at first and had a big toasty palate. My notes for this read ‘dense wine, chewy & vinous’.

Vintage 1998 (NR) possessed a distinct lactic/dairy note on pouring. This eventually blew off leaving some stone fruit and a green, elderflowery character. A poor bottle? Certainly unlike others Pols of this vintage that I’ve tried.

Pol Roger 1996 is a wine I’ve been lucky to drink a lot of and bought with great enthusiasm around 2005. I haven’t however tasted it since Christmas day 2007 so was looking forward to reacquainting myself. The nose was loaded with truffles, hints of apricot and a touch of fresh mushroom – really quite giving. In the mouth though this is still coiled up tight with a massive streak of acidity. I admire the structure of this wine but am wondering where it will go. Certainly it’s not a crime to open a bottle now to decide for yourself whether you will like this in its old age.

Following on from the flight of youngsters we were served 1995, 1990, 1989 and 1988 alongside a Ravioli of wild mushrooms, Aromatic herbs, lardo di Colonnata.

The 1995 was an interesting counterpoint to the acidity and intensity of the 1996 and came across as a more complete wine. The nose showed a touch of honey, some spice and white chocolate and in the mouth this was quite a dense, poised wine with great harmony between all the components. 4.5*

If the 1995 was a lesson in harmony, the 1990 came as a lesson in flamboyance with a very ripe, full and almost sweet nose. Semi-tropical, this wine came across as just a little too obvious, though one had to admire the freshness of the fruit after nearly 20 years. James Simpson noted that this vintage was unusual in not requiring any chapitalisation.

Sadly the 1989 was corked and/or slightly oxidised (some discussion around the table on exactly which) but the 1988 showed well. This possessed a creamy, slightly honied nose with a touch of biscuity oxidation. Very fine, round and satisfying wine – good balance.

Progressing on to a main course of Roasted pigeon “flambé au capuchin” (beautifully cooked – rare and tender), cromesquis of simmered pigeon, citrus confit turnips, spicy jus we were served the 1985 in jeroboam. This was the only format in which this wine could be located and an abject lesson in the benefits of larger formats. Light gold in colour and with wonderfully freshness and complexity. Very concentrated with notes of praline, patissiere and fresh cashew nuts. Continued to evolve in the glass taking on a distinct resemblance to a great white Burgundy. Interestingly this bottle was almost still.

Alongside  the 1985 came the 1982 – quite a delicate creamy, buttery wine with good freshness and finesse and  the 1979 (en Magnum). The latter did not seem entirely right at first but regained its composure after a few minutes to show a well balanced older Champagne with a very gentle mousse and a nose of baked apples and spice.

To round off the Champagne we tasted 1966, 1964 and 1900 – these were poured alongside a stunning dessert of Passionfruit crème brulee, light cream perfumed with green Maccha tea, roasted Chestnuts, chestnut jelly  but most of us chose to focus on our glasses first. The 1966 showed a remarkably youthful colour and had a lovely nose of crème brulee. In the mouth it was still fresh with good acidity and just the faintest hints of petillance. In contrast the 1964 possessed a delicate ‘old gold’ colour, some maderisation and was completely still. Upsettingly the 1900 was in very poor condition and resembled motor oil in both colour and smell – it was declared DOA.

The cheese course came alongside Joseph Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Rouge 1990. Deep crimson in colour with a ruby rim the nose was utterly intoxicating – loaded with sour red cherries, a touch of gaminess, dried herbs and wonderful lift. Like most Drouhin wines I have tried there was a purity to the wine but also a powerful backbone of fine tannins and acidity to keep things in check.

The final wine of the afternoon was a private joke between myself and my guest and was presented blind to those guests who hadn’t been whisked off to Oddbins’ afternoon press tasting. It arrived looking suspiciously murky in colour and had a nose of fresh mushrooms. In the mouth it was still full and quite rich. It was clear that this had some serious age on it and guesses varied between the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Simon Berry bravely declared that he thought it could be a 1945 and had got it smack on. The wine was in fact a 1945 Clos de La Roche bottled by The Wine Society and it seemed very appropriate that Marcel Orford-Williams (their current Burgundy buyer) was there to taste it.

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One Response to “Pol Roger 1900-2000”

  1. Hi Lionel,
    Unless it’s an insidious creeper of a disease, your 98 was indeed ‘off’. I still have 4 mags left, but the last one (1 year ago) was quite lovely. Such a shame your bottle didn’t perform, now I can’t judge the worth of 98 relative to the others!
    Cheers, Bill

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