“ Brand: Bollinger „
~~ In victory, you deserve champagne. In defeat, you need it ~~ Napoleon Bonaparte
Despite ever increasing doom and gloom from the media with regard to falling house prices and dropping high street store sales, champagne consumption in Britain has hit an all time high. In fact, us Brits drink nearly as much of it as the French. It's easy to see why it's become such a popular drink, as it's no longer viewed as just the tipple of the rich and famous. It's no longer solely reserved for weddings, christenings and graduations, it's more than likely to be drunk on a picnic, at a race meeting or to celebrate Christmas. Women, in particular, love the stuff as it's something that is viewed as being rather luxurious and special, but with only a mere 90 calories per glass. And let's face it, there's nothing quite like the sound of a champagne cork popping, to denote connotations of luxury and something special going on.
Bollinger is one of the oldest brands of champagne, but I don't think it's as well known as other more famous marques such as Moet et Chandon, Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot. However, Bollinger is by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, James Bond drinks nothing else (apart from his "shaken not stirred" Vodka Martinis of course) and it was, of course, splashed all over by Patsy and Edina in "Absolutely Fabulous". Of all the well known brands of French champagne, and there are plenty to choose from, Bollinger is my favourite. Given a choice between Krug, Moet et Chandon, Dom Perignon, Laurent Perrier, Veuve Clicquot or Taittinger, then I will choose Bollinger everytime.
~~ THE HOUSE OF BOLLINGER ~~
Bollinger is not merely a brand of champagne...it is an institution. To this day it remains a family run firm. It was established in 1829 by Jacques Bollinger and Paul Renaudin. The business was extended by both sons and grandsons over the decades. The most famous character associated with the House of Bollinger was the widow of grandson of the founding owner, Lily Bollinger. Madame Bollinger steered the House through the troubled German occupation of the 1940's and went on to double their output. She was a familiar and well loved character of the Champagne region, often seen cycling through her vineyards to check her grapes. Upon her death in 1977, her nephew Christian Bizot took up the reins. In 1994 the House of Bollinger was handed over to the great great grandson of Jacques Bollinger, Ghislain de Montgolfier and he remains at the helm to this day.
~~ COST & AVAILABILITY ~~
The standard bottles of Bollinger Special Cuvée are readily available from most good off licenses or supermarkets, though you will have to hunt a bit harder for different sized bottles.
~ Half Bottle (37.50cl) = £15.45
~ Standard Bottle (75cl) = £29.95 to £32.50
~ Magnum (equivalent of 2 bottles) = £60.40
~ Jeroboam (double magnum or equivalent of 4 bottles) = £145.00
The following are not freely available to buy and tend to be made for special occasions only (like Royal Weddings or Coronations):-
~ Rehoboam or Mathusalem (triple magnum or equivalent of 6 bottles)
~ Salmanzar (equivalent of 12 bottles)
~ Balthazar (equivalent of 16 bottles)
~ Nebuchadnezzer or Nabuchodonozor (equivalent of 20 bottles)
A good website to source the more unusual sized bottles and vintage variants is Berry Bros & Rudd (website at www.bbr.com).
~~ SERVING TIPS ~~
All champagnes are sold ready to drink. They are best served chilled, but not too cold as the delicate flavours will be spoiled. The best temperature for serving champagne should ideally be between 6°C to 8°C and is easily achieved by refrigerating the bottle for about 3½ hours before serving. When opening champagne, do take the utmost care. Never ever shake the bottle. From the moment, you rip off the foil and start to remove the wire casing, you must be aware that the cork could fly out at any moment. It's happened to me more times than I can remember (years spent working at a racecourse), but it can be a rather startling experience. It's best to have your glasses all lined up ready to go, as well as a tea towel in your hand. Point the bottle away from other people (and yourself), and gently twist the bottle whilst easing the cork out. The cork *should * emerge with a gentle hiss or plop (described rather crudely as similar to "a duchess passing wind" in some circles), and a tiny waft of misty smoke. As a rule of thumb, the louder the noise, the faster the liquid will emerge from the bottle. Keeping the bottle at a 45° angle should help reduce the speed and keep you, and not the champagne, in control of the pouring. Do avoid the temptation to pretend you are a Formula One driver and spray everyone with the stuff......it's such a waste, and it's as sticky as hell. Having the glasses to hand is a good idea as sometimes the champagne will emerge at speed no matter how gentle and careful you are (there are about 49 million tiny bubbles in the average bottle of champagne all itching to get out). Champagne is best served in flute or tulip style glasses with long stems as the tapering shape helps keep your fizz fizzy. The long stem is so that your hands don't warm the champagne and the long narrow tapering top enhances the bouquet and flow of bubbles. Splash a tiny bit into each glass, leave it to fizz up and then settle. Once the initial foam has died down, go back and top the glass up.
~~ APPEARANCE & TASTE ~~
Bollinger Special Cuvée is a non-vintage brut (dry) champagne. That means that it is not a champagne from a single specific year, but a blend from several different years. Vintage champagne is always champagne from one specific year - usually when the crop is of a particularly high quality. Like all champagnes, Bollinger Special Cuvée is sold in a thick glass dark green bottle. This is topped with a yellowy gold foil wrapper hiding the wired down cork at the neck of each bottle. The bottles are decorated with the Bollinger logo and labelling.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm some kind of champagne buff here. In a blind tasting test I very much doubt I would be able to differentiate between any brand of champagne, be it Marks & Spencer, vintage Krug or Bollinger itself. I reckon I could just about pick out an Asti Spumanté, but that would be solely due to the sweetness of it. Therefore, I will do my best and attempt to describe the flavour of Bollinger to you, but please bear in mind I am no Jilly Goulden.
Bollinger is known for being a full-bodied and complex brew, a champagne with guts. It's a creamy fizz with a rich and fresh flavour. It's pale golden in hue capped by a delicate white lacy foaming mousse. Taking your first appreciative sniff into the glass, and you are greeted by the sweetish aromas of grapes, apples and honey, but with an acidic lemony undertone. The bouquet immediately reminds me it's summer, but there's a nuttiness, almost reminiscent of crumbled digestive biscuits. Champagne should be sipped, never gulped, mainly because you need to savour and appreciate the delicate flavours, but also because gulping it will make you belch loudly in due course..... Take a small sip and let the bubbles do their work on tickling and awakening your tastebuds and palate. You can taste the rich fruitiness of the grapes and the sweetish flavours of apples, pears and honey, but there is a definite underlying acidic bite to the beverage, tempered with a creaminess. It's not overly fizzy and delightfully refreshing.
If you find any champagne too dry or just not sweet enough for your palate, then you can always add some orange juice (to make a Buck's Fizz) or Cassis (alcoholic blackcurrant to make a Kir Royale). However, some purists will hold up their hands in horror (the same types who never add ice or water to their malt whisky).
~~ LOADS OF DOSH ~~
If you're feeling flush you may like to upgrade your bubbly to a vintage option. The House of Bollinger offer vintage variants:-
Grande Année 1997 = £60.00
Grande Année Rosé 1997 = £65.00 (red wine is added to the blend to get the rosé tint)
Bollinger RD 1995 = £77.50
Bollinger RD 1990 = £85.00 (top of the range prestige cuvée)
~~ CHAMPAGNE MAKING ~~
I'm not going to go into exhaustive detail on how champagne is made. Basically, champagne is made from black grapes (pinot noir or pinot meunier) and white grapes (chardonnay), which are carefully pressed to avoid damaging their skins, hence the lack of red colouring in champagne. Bollinger Special Cuvée is made with 60% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay and 15% pinot meunier grapes. The grapes are quickly pressed and left to ferment for approximately 10 days in stainless steel vats. The still mixture is then bottled and a blend of sugar, yeast and wine (liqueur de tirage) is added, which causes a second fermentation to take place in the bottle (thereby creating the fizz). The bottles are then stacked in cellars in special racks. Next comes the taping and turning process (known as remuage), whereby the bottles are rotated so that the dead yeast cells of the second fermentation fall into the top or neck of the bottle. In the olden days, this was done by hand but nowadays it is more likely done mechanically. The bottle necks are then placed in frozen brine, which in turn freezes the dead yeast cells. Finally the bottles are turned upright and sludge/dead yeast cells removed (degorgement). Finally, some sweetened wine (dosage) is added to the champagne to determine the sweetness level of the drink. You therefore end up with Brut Champagne (dry), Sec Champagne (medium) or Demi Sec Champagne (sweet). As you can see it is quite a long winded and involved process, thereby resulting in a more expensive beverage. In general champagne is aged for a minimum of 15 months, but Bollinger Special Cuvée is aged for three years in their cellars before being sold.
~~ BEWARE OF IMITATIONS ~~
True champagne must herald from the Champagne region of France. All the best known houses are located between Epernay and Reims, some 90 miles north-east of Paris. The House of Bollinger is in Ay, right in the heart of the champagne region. Any champagne manufactured and bottled elsewhere in the world has to be referred to as "Méthode Champenoise" rather than "Champagne", even if it has used the same grapes and method of bottling and fermentation. Quite simply, the best (and most expensive) champagnes, including Bollinger, herald from the North of France. The slightly damp and cold climate is ideal for the grapes. It doesn't allow them to ripen fully and they therefore remain relatively acidic. Similarly, the chalky soil of the region allows the grapes to remain light and delicate.
~~ CHEERS ~~
It's a definite indulgence and an expensive habit, but drinking any champagne makes you feel a little bit special. My champagne of choice has got to be Bollinger; I like the name, the taste, the prestige of the brand and I enjoy drinking it. In fact, Bollinger champagne is best summed up in the words of Lily Bollinger:- "I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty."
Recommended - cheers, santé, sláinte, l'chaim, prost, salud and Merry Christmas!
~~ OTHER INFORMATION ~~
The House of Bollinger
Rue Jules Lobet
Website: www.champagne-bollinger.fr (can be viewed in French or English) or telephone (0033) 220.127.116.11.31
Visits to the House of Bollinger to view their cellars/take a tour are by appointment or via an organised guided tour of the champagne region.
English distributors of Bollinger are:
Mentzendorff & Co Limited
Prince Consort House
27-29 Albert Embankment
Website: www.mentzendorff.co.uk or telephone 0207-840-3600
You've just got married, christened the baby, passed your exams, celebrated your birthday! POP! Bring on the Bolly....
....well, those are the kind of occassions that bring people into contact with champagne. As a drink, champagne is often kept back for the special events in life. It is rarely seen as a drink to accompany a meal (as in France) or an apperitiff before a meal.
Bollinger is to most one of the pre-eminent off-the-shelf brands of champagne. It is, particularly in the non-vintage form, widely available at most licensed outlets.
Bollinger (or the House of Bollinger as it is more correctly known) is one of the few remaining family run champagne businesses in France. Two thirds of the grape stock used to make Bollinger champagnes comes from their own estate and in this manner quality is maintained. The main grape that is used is the pinot noir and being an estate grown grape times of picking and methods of sorting can be accurately controlled. To this is added chardonnay and pinot meunier
Unless the stock is exceptionally good, only the cuvee, or first pressing, of the grapes is used to make the must (or base) for the champagne. The wine is then fermented in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels (save for the grande annee which is fermented in small oak barrels). The wine will have rested on its lees (or grape bits!) for at least 3 years before being bottled and will then rest (they must be tired!) for at least 3 months prior to shipment.
Bollinger only make two blends of Champagne, from which all of their range is derived. The biggest line is the Special Cuvee but, in exceptional years, Grande Annee will be produced from the cream of the crop. Both champagnes are capable of being "vintage" (ie made with the grape stock of one year only) but the quality of the Grande Annee will usually be much better.
For the Special Cuvee the blend is 60% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay and 15% pinot meunie
r. Of these, 5-10% of stock wine will be built into the blend to ensure the distinctive flavour of true bolly comes through.
And what is that flavour? Poured slowly into a long stemmed glass (or champagne flute) the first thing that you will notice is the wonderful pale gold colour. It has a very light, yet persistent and intense mousse (or fizz). This is a fruity champagne, apples and pears being dominant, but the finish (or taste as you swallow) is a creamy vanilla or caramel.
One of my main reasons for not selecting this champagne as my fizz of choice is that, for me, it is too fizzy. The fizz also lends itself to a quite harsh taste in the initial stages and it is only when the creamy finish comes through as the mousse subsides that you get the true taste of this wine.
Champagne should be stored horizontally at a temperature of 10-12 degrees C, away from light and strong smells. It should then be chilled in iced water (never the fridge or freezer) to 8-9 degrees. Just watch as you pop the cork and make sure that it is aimed away from the face and anything breakable. There is 70 psi of pressure behind the cork. Ideally you should grasp the cork in your hand and twist the bottle (not the cork) to ease the cork out into your hand.
Champagne is a drink that is in my mind under represented in the market. Granted you can get a much better still table wine for much less money (an average bottle of bolly can set you back between 25 and 30 pounds) but there are alternatives. One such comes from good old Marks and Sparks. Their house champagne is fruity, balanced and not too fizzy and would go ideally with many menus. Try champagne throughout a meal and see what you think. You could be in for a pleasant suprise! (just watch the hangover - the fizz takes it straight to your head!)
My feelings towards champagne are summed up so well by Madame Lily Bollinger:
"I drink when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty!"
The Champagne House of Bollinger was founded in 1829 and remains to this day a family concern. Although it ships over two million bottles a year, twice as much as it did just thirty years ago it remains true to its long commitment to quality. As well as being the favourite bubbly of eighties yuppies it was the favoured brand of that sixties icon James Bond 007. Could there be a connection? Unusually amongst present day champagne houses Bollinger still produces 70 per cent of its grape requirements from its own vineyards. The vines grown are mostly Pinot Noir the Pinot Moret being dominant and some Chardonnay. Bollinger produces six wines of which I am aware ( if you know of others let me know). Bollinger Special Cuvée is the best known of their wines. It is produced from predominately Pinot Noir Grapes after pressing the juice or must is then fermented a first time in stainless steel tanks before being blended and bottled and undergoing a second fermentation. This is a full bodied wine with a biscuityalmond aroma, youthful and very lively in the mouth. Bollinger Grand Année is only made on years when the harvest is of exceptional quality it is first fermented in small oak barrels before being blended with wines of the same vintage and then being bottled to undergo its second fermentation. It is a very similar wine to the Special Cuvée a bit more honeyed and fuller bodied with a longer finish. It is twice the price of the Special Cuvée but not twice as good. Grand Année Rosé is made in a similar manner to the Grand Année but has ten per cent Red Champenois from the village of Ay added this gives a more fruity flavour with richness not found in the others and greater body. Bollinger RD Basically the same as the Grand Année but is matured for eight years on the lees, this is said to give the wine a more youthful and fruity taste. Vieilles Vignes Françaises This wine is made only from Pinot Noir grape
s grown on ungrafted vines from surviving pre phylloxera stock which are hand cultivated and hence the wine is very very expensive, I have never tasted this wine, in fact I have never seen a bottle. Cote Aux Enfants is a red wine from Pinot Noir grapes grown on 70 acres of vineyards at Ay, the years when it is made very little is produced (1995 2300 bottles) it is said to be similar to the wines produced in the area hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately this is another wine I have not tried. I hope that you found this interesting I am going to attempt to review all the major champagne houses over the next few weeks as long as my liver holds up.