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Dom Pérignon: The Incomparable Champagne
By Ed McCarthy
Jul 11, 2017
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Eight years have passed since I wrote my last column on Dom Pérignon for Wine Review Online. After a recent visit two weeks ago to the historic Hautvillers Abbey of the Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon--now owned by LVMH, the parent company of Moët & Chandon--it is time to write another column on arguably the world’s most renowned wine, and certainly its most famous Champagne.

Let’s get out of the way a question that I hear often about DP (as it is called): “Isn’t it overrated”? My answer is a distinct, “No, it is not overrated, but you might be drinking it too soon.” Like almost all great wines, Dom Pérignon needs time to mature and be at its best--especially in the better vintages. (As my tasting notes suggest, some vintages are fine to drink just a few years after release).

Cuvée Dom Pérignon (the 1921, a legendary vintage in Champagne), was first introduced to the world on New Year’s Eve, 1936, at a grand ball in New York City. Dom Pérignon was a hit from the beginning, especially in the U.S.A., its biggest market. But it is known throughout the world.

About 30 years ago, I was fortunate enough to drink the 1928 Dom Pérignon, another superb vintage. It is clearly one of the best Champagnes I have ever tasted. Yes, a good vintage of Dom Pérignon can live for 50 years or more, if well stored in a cool cellar.

The current caretaker of Dom Pérignon is Richard Geoffroy, the chief winemaker, or Chef de Cave, as they are called in France. Geoffroy is actually an MD, but has never practiced medicine. His family members were grape growers in the Côte des Blancs region of Champagne, and the call to the vineyards of Champagne was too strong for Geoffroy to ignore. Medicine’s loss, but Champagne’s gain: Geoffroy is Champagne’s most renowned winemaker. In fact, he is now in charge of all of Moët’s wines, but Dom Pérignon is Geoffroy’s personal baby. I have known Richard Geoffroy from the time he first took over DP nearly 30 years ago--the first vintage of Dom Pérignon he made was the 1990--and I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed many amazing DP tastings with him at the original Abbey of Hautvillers, where the good Dom was cellar master.

Moét-Hennessy’s policy is to not reveal the volume of Champagnes it makes, probably in recognition of a common fallacy that large numbers of wines and top quality cannot co-exist. We do know that Moët & Chandon, the world’s largest Champagne house, produces 30 million plus bottles annually. My guess is that Moët makes about four million bottles of Dom Pérignon annually; it could be more, it could be less. In my mind, this production makes Geoffroy’s work at Dom Pérignon even more amazing.

Two weeks ago, I joined Geoffroy at the Abbey. He was tired, having just arrived from abroad that morning. But he revived, and laughed and joked as usual.

We began by tasting the last seven vintages of Dom Pérignon, from 2009 to 2002, excluding the 2008, which has not been released yet. Geoffroy noted, “I usually don’t believe in skipping vintages, but 2008 is so good that I decided it needs more time to mature.” (I heard about the 2008 all that week as I visited other Champagne houses. Jean-Baptiste LeCaillon, head winemaker at Louis Roederer and its Cristal, went so far as to say it will even be better than the great 2002 vintage.)

Dom Pérignon includes a much smaller quantity of Rosé Champagnes. While Dom Pérignon retails in the $150 to $170 range upon release, the Dom Pérignon Rosé retails for $300 or more, depending on the vintage.

Richard Geoffroy states that his goal in producing Dom Pérignon is to make a wine of elegance, finesse, and perfect balance, not one of power. Usually medium-bodied and subtle In most vintages, DP is typically composed of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir. Geoffroy uses grapes from about six Grand Cru Villages (both from the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims sub-regions, and from one Premier Cru in Hautvillers.

Following, I give my brief assessment of the last seven vintages of Dom Pérignon:

2009 Dom Pérignon: Warm vintage, floral, rich and fleshy. It shows amazing aromatic expression. It can be enjoyed soon. 92

2008 Dom Pérignon: (will be released in early 2019)

2007 Dom Pérignon: Warm, ripe vintage; small crop. Ideal for drinking soon, even now. Quite Delicious. 90

2006 Dom Pérignon: One of the best Doms of the decade. Quite powerful for a DP; young now, will live for decades. “Difficult to make,” according to Geoffroy. Classic structure, Very concentrated, creamy. 95

2005 Dom Pérignon: Firm and solid; mushroomy; easy-drinking. A Pinot Noir vintage. 91
(On a separate occasion, I tasted the Dom Pérignon Rosé; stunning in the 2005 vintage. So delightful! DP Rosé 2005, 94)

2004 Dom Pérignon: Very good, almost great DP. Rich, with great depth Fleshy, with high acidic backbone, Classically balanced. Really fine 2004. 96

2003 Dom Pérignon: Brutal vintage; just too hot. Low acidity. According to Geoffroy, “It just needs time; released too early.” Good for a 2003. 89/90

2002 Dom Pérignon: So fresh; so great! With such a long finish on the palate. High levels of glycerol. A great DP; and also the DPR. 98

2001: Very poor year; terrible weather. DP not made.

An easy way to remember this decade: Very good to great in the even years; average to below average in the odd years.

In 2000, Geoffroy began the Oenothèque program at Dom Pérignon.
His idea was to put away a certain portion of the better vintages of DP and release them when he thought they were ready to drink. Geoffroy explains that in his opinion Dom Pérignon has three stages of development:

The First Pléntitude: When just released; drinkable, but young.

The Second Plénitude: hen Dom Pérignon has reached its peak.

The Third Plénitude: When DP is fully mature.

Geoffroy explained that the concept took about three years to catch on, but now Oenothèque Champagnes are thriving in the market. I have tasted DP’s Second and Third Plénitude Champagnes on a number of occasions, and I am a convert. Aged in Dom Pérignon’s cellars in Epernay and late-released, the wines are significantly better than when first released. This is a brilliant way to drink Dom Pérignon. But it comes at a price, of course. Second Plénitude Dom Pérignon retails for about twice the price of just-released DPs, and Third Plénitude Doms range from three to four times the price of just-released DPs.

Of course, if you were thoughtful enough to buy and save Dom Pérignons in a cool cellar, you can save that extra money. I own a few older bottles (1996; 1998), but I drank most of my older DPs long ago. I suspect most Champagne drinkers have done the same.

The following is a description of the four Second and two Third Plénitude Dom Pérignons I tasted on my recent visit:

2000 Dom Pérignon, 2ndP: Vintage 2000 was generally an average-to good vintage in Champagne. Geoffroy is quite proud of his 2nd P 2000, and for good reason. Disgorged in 2014, It has great depth and concentration, with a long finish. This was the most surprising DP of the tasting for me. Incredibly great. (Geoffroy also informed us that the 2000 vintage marked the turning point for him in producing better DPRs). 96

1998 Dom Pérignon 2ndP: Disgorged in 2009 and 2010, it is a classic Dom with rich texture, mushroomy notes, and a rich finish. Geoffroy has always preferred DP’s 1998 to his 1996. One taster rated the 1998 2nd P a 94. I found that it had a touch of age. I never thought the ‘98s would age well. 91

1996 Dom Pérignon 2ndP: Disgorged in 2007 and 2008, the 1996 has more depth than the 1998. I had always rated 1996 a great vintage, but most Champagne Chefs de Cave, including Geoffroy, have always preferred the 1995. In fact, the 1996s are not holding up as well as I originally thought. They seemed to have had all the ingredients when they were young: Great acidity, great fruit. One winemaker confided in me, “We blew it in 1996.” Apparently, the grapes were picked too soon. And yet I found the 1996 2nd P to have a firm structure and still quite young for a 21-year old Champagne. 94

1995 Dom Pérignon 2ndP: With this super-great 1995, I must admit that Geoffroy and his colleagues were right. The 1995 2nd P is a fantastic Champagne, one of the two best DPs of the tasting. Disgorged in 2007 and 2008, it is ample, round, and complete, with an orange peel finish. Still tight, it should show well for at least a decade or more. Stupendous Champagne. 99

1973 Dom Pérignon 3rdP: Disgorged in 2013, the 1973 was another surprise to me. I never thought of the 1973 as a good vintage, but here it was, not only still alive, but showing caramel and coffee aromas and flavors and good concentration. It was in perfect condition, at age 44. 93

1969 Dom Pérignon 3rdP: Amazing concentration, with coffee and chocolate aromas and flavors. Ample and fruity, long finish. A perfect Champagne, from a great vintage. 100

We ended the tasting with a 1996 Dom Pérignon Rosé, 2ndP. Rich on the palate, with great concentration and a long finish. 94

What foods accompany Dom Pérignon the best? Geoffroy prefers Asian food, especially seafood and fish. I love all kinds of seafood with Dom, and especially good caviar.

A highlight to my visit to Reims was a visit to L’Assiette, a 3-star Michelin restaurant at the northern edge of Reims, just outside the city. Its 5 star hotel is also reportedly great, but we just dined at the restaurant, now considered Reims’ best. On my first visit there, perhaps 20 years ago, the restaurant was very good. Now it is superb. Worth the splurge, on your next visit to Reims.

What to drink while there? This column should give you some pretty appealing options….