This morning I attended the annual vin clair tasting at Champagne Bollinger, an event I always look forward to every year. Bollinger hosts a whole week of vin clair events for various sectors of the trade, and the highlight is a walk-around tasting of about 15 different still wines from premier and grand cru villages. As Bollinger vinifies some of their wines in wood and some in tank, it’s also interesting to compare the two methods side by side.
This year’s tasting began, as usual, with a comparison of Aÿ pinot noir made in both barrel and tank. The wine made in barrel was full and ample, with typical Aÿ notes of peach and strawberry, and while it seemed a little softer than in years past, it did exhibit classic village character. The Aÿ from tank had a similar sense of ripe, forward fruit, if not feeling quite as voluptuous, and the acidity was a bit more prominent and defined. Among the other pinot noirs, I particularly liked one from the premier cru of Avenay, which showed delightfully fresh, vibrant fruit and a firm backbone of acidity. A pinot from Louvois, vinified in barrel, was also compelling, with an earthy, broad richness that was amplified and harmoniously shaped by the wood. Strangely, I was disappointed in the Verzenay, normally one of my favorite wines of the tasting (and one of my favorite crus in general). While it showed typical notes of dark fruit and spicy minerality, it felt a little too easygoing and accessible, and I missed the customary structure and definition.
Tasting the Côte des Blancs chardonnays reaffirmed for me that chardonnay is truly the star of the vintage. A zesty, lemony Vertus was taut and vibrant, backed by saline chalkiness, echoed at the other end of the Côte by a terrifically snappy, chalky Cuis, vinified in tank. A Cramant, vinified in barrel, was full in body and aroma, with creamy, subtly complex notes of Meyer lemon and fresh apple; an Oger, from tank, was chewy and unusually phenolic, yet demonstrated even more length of aroma than the Cramant, with a fine underlying sense of soil. However, the wine of the tasting, for me, was a chardonnay from Avize, made in tank. Absolutely classic in its breeding and poise, it showed a subtle, layered dimension of flavor, tethered by vibrant acidity and the characteristic graphite minerality of the cru.