Thursday, June 12, 2008

House Style (or, Why Pol Roger is Great)

I often think that too much emphasis is placed on “house style” in Champagne. I understand why we do it, of course. Most champagne is blended, so it’s difficult to categorize by terroir. Most champagne is multi-vintage, so it’s difficult to categorize by vintage. There’s little left to categorize except the style of the house.

My objection to house style is that sometimes it’s simply too dominant. It’s a fine line between making wines that consistently express the philosophy and character of the house and wines that feel industrial and mass-produced, all trying to taste as similar as possible. Or to put it another way, sometimes I feel that a house is trying to shape its wines too vigorously, pushing them in a particular direction instead of allowing the wines to simply express themselves. (Admittedly, in Champagne sometimes the base wines are so neutral that there’s little to express.)

I was thinking about all this the other day as I was tasting at Pol Roger, a house that I feel navigates this issue in exemplary fashion. Pol Roger has a very distinctive and readily identifiable character: a Pol Roger wine is bold in flavor and relatively robust in body, with a noticeably fine mousse and elegant, sophisticated harmony. Yet what makes Pol Roger’s style work so well is that while it exhibits a very particular personality, it doesn’t feel forced or manufactured in any way. It allows the wines to remain vinous and expressive, even while putting the house’s individual stamp on them. Other houses do this too, of course. But Pol Roger does it particularly well.


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