300 QUID … YOU’RE ‘AVING A LAUGH. 

 

A friend of mine’s wife gets really annoyed if I recommend wines over £10 in any of my wine columns, not to mention my mates in the pub, so I’m expecting a lot of flack this week. The wine in question? It’s Champagne Dom Perignon P2. 1996. ‘Case you’re wondering, no, I’m not having a laugh, it really is £300. Oh, that’s £300 a bottle, not £300 a case folks!

There’s Champagne and there’s Champagne. The bottle you and I pick off the shelf from time to time as we part with our 25 quid or so will probably be ‘Non Vintage’; that means that it’s a blend of several years’ grape harvests. If we push the boat out and splash £50 it’ll probably be Vintage Champagne, a wine made from grapes from a single, exceptional year’s harvest. As you’ll see, the message is the better the fruit, the better the wine, the higher the price. So, for 300 quid you’ll be expecting amazing fruit and a phenomenal wine! The wine is very special but £300? Mmmmmmmmm.

All of the top Champagne Houses have a flagship vintage brand; Veuve Clicquot has La Grande Dame, Louis Roederer has Cristal, Taittinger has Comtes de Champagne and Moet et Chandon has Dom Perignon. These carry price tags between £100-150 …. so how come this Dom Perignon P2 1996 is £300 I hear you say. Good question! The answer stirs heated argument but Moet et Chandon winemaker Richard Geoffroy was confident about his wines and his prices as he presented the first ever ‘vertical P2 Tasting’ in London …. I felt honoured to be amongst a small band of the good and the glorious of the British Wine Trade invited on that sunny spring London SW1 morning. I wouldn’t pay £300 for any bottle of wine but that said, such wines are the Rolls Royces and Bentleys of the Wine World and it’s no surprise that people who enjoy cruising in expensive motor cars may also revel in popping the cork of these vintage sparklers with a few chums.

The ‘P’ stands for Plenitude, “the state of being full or complete” and when Moet apply it to their ‘DP’ it’s linked to the age of the wine and how long it’s been lying on it’s ‘lees’, that is, on the dead yeast cells that lie on the bottom of the cellared bottle after the completion of the second fermentation. Richard Geoffroy explained that in Moet-speak, P1 covers the younger DP vintages of say 2004, 2005 or 2006 whereas P2 is Dom Perignon that’s been ‘on the lees’ for between 15 and 20 years; we tasted 1998, 1996, 1995 and 1993. The 1996 was my favourite; toasty citrus flavours with a tight line of mouthwatering acidity and a long, complex, creamy yet edgey finish. P3 wines by the way will be between 30 and 40 years old; that’s a lot of long term cash tied up in the cellars which of course, pushes up the price.

The P Plan is new to me but although the price tags scare me, I can understand the concept of letting a top Champagne develop to its full capacity; a P1 will have the depth, balance and harmony to be Dom Perignon but if kept on its lees will have the platform to produce P2’s and hopefully P3’s. Geoffroy explained that the lees are an excellent anti-oxidant for the wine, hence the freshness of all the P2’s on show. That said, 20 years is about the maximum lees contact period, “after 20 years there’s nothing more to gain”, Geoffroy explained.

Interestingly, the wines were poured in normal wine glasses and not flutes; a growing trend in Champagne and one that gets my vote, and has done for years. I was also pleased to see that Richard wasn’t decanting the Champagnes, “too harsh and more to loose than gain”, he thought.

‘Just off to buy a tin hat!