B is for Bubbles — and Bollinger

Champagne is a celebratory beverage but it is also something to drink every day. We do not need an excuse to drink it, as Lily Bollinger implied in her famous for saying. And if I am going to drink it, I would love to be drinking Bollinger. It is the Champagne of the Queen of Englad and of James Bond and I wrote about it in the Napa Valley Register and you can read it here.

One of the most famous quotes about Champagne was made by Lily Bollinger who said, “I only drink Champagne 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 in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty.”

As I write this, the world is in a state of confusion and panic. We are embracing a lifestyle of “social distancing.” The majority of us have been, or are about to be, quarantined in our homes for the unforeseeable future. I think there is no better excuse needed to drink Champagne!

Champagne Bollinger (originally called Renaudin Bollinger) was founded in 1829 by partners Athanase Louis Emmannuel Hennequin, Count of Villermont, Paul Levieux Renaudin, a local winemaker, and Joseph Bollinger, a commercial maverick. Bollinger married Hennequin’s daughter and inherited his shares when he died.

By 1854, Bollinger became the sole owner of Champagne Bollinger. Lily Bollinger (née Elisabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers) born in 1899, married Jacques Bollinger, the grandson of Joseph Bollinger, in 1923. Following his death 18 years later, she took over the Champagne house and continued to expand Bollinger’s share of the market. Today, Champagne Bollinger is one of the three houses in Champagne still independently owned by the same family.

Bollinger owns the majority of their vineyards (approximately 60 percent). Comparatively, many other Champagne houses of the same size own only 10-20 percent of their vineyards. Bollinger’s vineyard holding covers 178 hectares, 85 percent of which are classified as Grand Cru or Premier Cru. These vineyards can be found in the commune of Aÿ, where Pinot Noir dominates and is the backbone of the Bollinger style.

Bollinger has an unrelenting dedication to quality and can be described as elegant, reserved, and harmonious. The British, who have a long history with Bollinger, affectionately call it “Bolly.” The Court of England has awarded the Royal Warrant to Champagne Bollinger continuously since 1884 and it is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite Champagne. Bollinger also has been the Champagne drunk by James Bond after first appearing in 1956 in Ian Fleming’s fourth Bond novel “Diamonds are Forever” and in the James Bond films since “Live and Let Die.”

It was a special opportunity to taste through some of the expressions of this favorite of the Queen of England and James Bond at a seminar at World of Pinot Noir led by U.S. director Valerie McDaniels.

— Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee NV – This Champagne represents the signature style of Bollinger. It is a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir, 25 percent Chardonnay and 15 percent Pinot Meunier. Considered the “entry level” Champagne from Bollinger, this is one of the most difficult wines to make.

The blend consists of three elements: the most recent vintage (currently 2014 or 2015), a base wine that has been held in tank for three to five years, and neutral oak Chardonnay or Pinot Noir reserve wines that have been in magnum bottles for 5 to 15 years in the chalk cellars at Bollinger.

The recent vintage gives the wines its lemon confit notes, the base wine contributes golden apple notes and the reserve wines add the brioche and walnut notes. The wine has beautiful acidity and texture and is bright and vibrant.

Champagne Bollinger NV Brut Rosé – The Champagne is a blend of 62 percent Pinot Noir, 24 percent Chardonnay and 14 percent Pinot Meunier. They vinify red wine on the side and add five or six percent to add color. The result is a rich, bold rosé that is fresh and balanced.

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2012 – A blend of 65 percent Pinot Noir and 35 percent Chardonnay, La Grand Année is made from the best grapes from one single vintage. The grapes come from exclusively Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards from 21 different villages and the wine is vinified in oak. The wine is aged for seven years under cork, not crown, before disgorgement. The 2012 La Grande Année has aromas of citrus, apricot, baked apple, almond and honey and is fresh and full with a silky texture.

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2007 – The La Grande Année Rosé is only two percent of what Bollinger makes. It is a blend of 72 percent Pinot Noir and 28 percent Chardonnay sourced from exclusively Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards from 14 villages. The wine is vinified in oak and five percent of still wine is added for color. The resulting Champagne is full bodied with notes of citrus, redcurrant and black fruit and has a lovely creamy texture on the palate.

After tasting four primary expressions from Champagne Bollinger, Valerie surprised us with a very special wine. Historically, Aÿ has been important for Pinot Noir. A favorite of King Henri IV, Pinot Noirs from Aÿ were the most popular wines of the French court and rivaled the great wines of Burgundy. Today, in the very best years, Bollinger produces a still red wine from a single plot of four hectares.

La Côte aux Enfants 2014 – A 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Aÿ, the wine is vinified in the traditional Burgundian style, spending eight months in small oak barrels. The 2014 is a beautiful garnet color and has aromas of cranberry, cherry, black currant and brown spices. On the palate the wine has a velvety mouthfeel.

There is no reason to wait for a special occasion or celebration. I say that there is no better time than the present to open up a bottle of bubbles, especially a bottle of Bollinger!

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.