Sue Ray Uncorked
Champagne Pol Roger
The Champagne Pol Roger Masterclass was part of the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter held at the stunning Landmark Hotel, Marylebone Road, London on Saturday 7 November. It was hosted by Hubert de Billy, fifth-generation family member and Director of Pol Roger & Cie and James Simpson MW, Managing Director of the Pol Roger Portfolio.
This was a fantastic opportunity to taste 10 stunning Champagnes and to hear more about Champagne Pol Roger.
So what do you think of when you hear the name Pol Roger? Sir Winston Churchill perhaps, or maybe even Sir Winston Churchill’s horse? 2015 is the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death and whilst I knew that he had connections with Pol Roger, I didn’t realise how much it had influenced his life.
But first let’s talk about Champagne Pol Roger.
Champagne Pol Roger is one of the few Champagne houses still family owned. It was created in 1849 by Hubert de Billy’s great-great-grandfather, Pol Roger, who originally came from Aÿ. Pol moved to Epernay in 1851, bought some land, dug cellars and bought pretty much everything around the estate and the Avenue de Champagne.
Pol Roger produces approximately 1.6 million bottles per annum and is one of the smallest of the big houses. Compare that to Moet & Chandon who produce around 30 million bottles.
Pol Roger last used oak for ageing in 1945 but now prefer stainless steel. They have used concrete tanks since 1930 and concrete is still used for ageing some reserve wines. The first fermentation is long and cool at around 16C which helps retain the true fruit flavours of the grapes and maintain high levels of acidity. Stainless steel is neutral, easy to keep clean and easy to maintain temperature control.
Only grapes from Grand Crus vineyards are used for Champagne Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs. Champagne Pol Roger only produces vintage Champagnes in the very best years; on average, 4-5 vintages per decade. No Pinot Meunier is used in their vintage Champagnes; wines made solely from Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay are better for ageing. Non-vintage Pol Roger Champagne has only been produced since 1955.
Before the 2nd World War, large negociants were kings in the Champagne region. They had the know-how and the market. When harvests were good, they bought everything. When they were bad, they bought nothing. After the war, inter-professional contracts were put in place which obliged growers to sell grapes and negociants to buy them, irrespective of quality, at a fixed price agreed before harvest. This arrangement initially protected the growers as it guaranteed a source of income. In 1989, the market changed and demand began to outstrip supply. As a result, negociants started producing non-vintage Champagnes as they were already committed to buying in grapes. Before the war, more vintage Champagnes were produced.
Champagne Pol Roger undertakes all remuage “riddling” (the process by which bottles are turned gradually to move the sediment into the neck of the bottle) by hand, and it takes around 3 months to complete the process. A skilled remuer can rotate 50,000 – 60,000 bottles per day. Riddling by hand is a very gentle process and requires skill.
All of the Champagne houses in Reims however use mechanical gyropalettes for this process. These are the large cages which automatically rotate bottles to move the sediment into the neck of the bottle.
Hubert trained at Mumm, where the remuer at the time was only rotating around 20,000 bottles per day. His boss, Hubert’s uncle, therefore needed to invest in gyropalettes. The Champagne houses in Reims produce too high volumes to riddle everything by hand, whereas Epernay is a much smaller operation. Whilst most remuers would prefer to undertake the process by hand, if they rotate less than 50,000 bottles per day, gyropalettes need to be installed to keep up with the volumes.
Hubert was born in and lives in Epernay. His office is less than 200 yards from his house and he went to school with Olivier Krug, sixth-generation of the Krug family. Hubert’s sister, Evelyne de Billy is Vineyard Manager at Champagne Pol Roger and the Cellar Master is Dominique Petit.
Hubert told us that his Doctor only drinks Pol Roger because his Doctor’s mother was born in the Champagne Pol Roger cellars during the 1st World War!
So what about Sir Winston Churchill?
Churchill was born in November 1874 at Blenheim Palace and is reported to have started drinking Pol Roger in the 1890’s. In 1908, he bought a stack of 1892 and 1895 Vintage Champagne Pol Roger from a wine merchant in Pall Mall. From 1932 to 1937, he suffered financial problems and in 1937, he restricted himself to 1 bottle of Champagne Pol Roger per day. His favourite vintage was 1928.
Odette Pol Roger was the grand-daughter of Lord Wallace. Churchill met Odette in Paris in 1944, was captivated by her elegance and grace, and they became great friends. Odette owned her own room at the Ritz and commuted regularly between London and France. From the moment Churchill met Odette Pol Roger, he only drank Champagne Pol Roger and he even named his favourite filly after her.
Churchill died in January 1965 and it has been estimated that he drank 42,000 bottles of Champagne Pol Roger in his lifetime. The final vintage he purchased was 1947 which he drank until he died.
In 1975, Champagne Pol Roger launched the Prestige Cuvées in honour of Sir Winston Churchill in the style he preferred, i.e. full-bodied and aged. Whilst the blend is a closely guarded secret, there is a large proportion of Pinot Noir which provides structure and backbone, whilst Chardonnay adds a touch of elegance. These wines are produced in very small quantities and made entirely from grapes from Grand Crus vineyards which were under vine during Churchill's lifetime. Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is only produced in the best vintages and always aged considerably longer than other Pol Roger Vintage Champagnes.
Pol Roger Pure NV
An Extra Brut style, with no dosage, made from one-third Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Pure was first produced in 2008 and designed to reflect a wine in its most natural state. It is aged for at least 4 years.
Light delicate mousse, extremely light bodied, bone dry with searing acidity.
Pol Roger Brut Reserve Non-Vintage
This wine was made from one-third Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from more than 30 different villages. A Brut style, blended with 25% reserve wines and aged for 4 years.
A biscuity, brioche nose and a very light mousse, rich and fruity with high levels of acidity.
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2008
This wine was made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes from Grand Crus vineyards in the Côte des Blancs. Recently disgorged, aged for 7 years before release and as a result, much rounder and fuller.
Mineral nose, high acidity, light, toasty notes, creamy yet very fresh.
Pol Roger Brut 2006
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from Grand and Premier Crus vineyards. This wine was aged for 8 years before being disgorged and only released in October 2015.
A yeasty, bready nose, high levels of acidity, good structure and some complexity. This wine opened up with some exposure to air.
Pol Roger Brut 2004
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, aged 8 years on the lees before disgorgement.
Medium gold, rich and full bodied, with the typical high levels of acidity, a rich biscuity nose, ripe citrus, green apple and a fine persistent mousse. This wine was better integrated than the previous wines and whilst drinking well now, will improve further with age.
Pol Roger Brut 1999
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay
1999 was a hot ripe vintage and this was one of my favourites. Drinking perfectly now, medium gold and full bodied, with a toasty biscuity nose, rich, creamy with medium (+) acidity, very rounded and far more balanced, with a long finish.
Pol Roger Brut 1996
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay
Medium gold, full bodied with a firm structure, the usual high levels of acidity and plenty of toasted bread, honey and cream, with a hint of orange peel. This wine also improved with exposure to air.
Pol Roger Rosé 2006
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, to which 15% still red wine (Pinot Noir) was added to provide colour before bottling. This wine was aged for 7 years before release and was another favourite. Fresh strawberries and raspberries on the nose, high acidity, extremely smooth and well integrated with a fine delicate mousse.
Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2004
Released in 2015, medium gold, high levels of acidity but very smooth, rich and full bodied with ripe red fruits and a fine mousse.
Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2000
This completed my top three. Medium gold, with high levels of acidity but very smooth, full bodied and fruity, and better integrated than the 2004.
Copyright of suerayuncorked.com - November, 2015