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1996 BOLLINGER ‘VEILLES VIGNES FRANCAISES’  | 100PN  | aprox  €1 500 | RJpoints 98(99) 

TASTINGNOTEJust as expected: a monumental wine experience! The wine belongs to the select few that behave with such evident, obvious authority that commentary and comparison feel superfluous. Still, to me the ’90 is its closest cousin, with its vigor and velvety, young creaminess. Deep golden hue with extremely small bubbles that slowly make their way up through the glass. The bouquet is mute, tight, and powerful, like a distant rumbling thunderstorm. The palate is met by an oily, creamy essence of dark fruit and licorice. Long and wide as an American highway. A complete Champagne in its make-up. Drink it soon or wait ten years for the next phase. There’s a great risk that it’ll go hide in a tunnel for a few years—the second bottle I opened six months after launching already showed signs of heading into that tunnel.’

Bollinger’s greatness?

  1. Bolinger only produces their own champagne. No wines are bought as ‘vins sûr lattes’.
  2. A large ownership of vineyards,  60 percent, which will garanteea consistent house style.
  3. 325 crus, which 17 are grand crus & 41premier crus.
  4. Pinot Noir is the base in all Bollingers Champagnes.
  5. Bollinger only uses ’la cuvée’.
  6. First fermentation only in oak barrels.
  7. Réserveviner matures in magnums under natural corks.
  8. Long maturation sûr-lie.
  9. Only four winemakers during the last 60 years.
  10. Low dosage. 7-9 grams for Spécial Cuvée & La Grande Année & Vieilles Vignes Françaises, 3-4 grams for R.D.

RJ ON BOLLINGER Joseph Bollinger was the German from Würtemberg who founded this ancient house in 1829. The French called him simply “Jacques.” The firm’s large estates in the best Pinot villages were bought by his sons Georges and Joseph, and in 1918 it was time for the next Jacques to take over the property. He became the mayor of Aÿ, but died during the German occupation at the age of forty-seven. The most colorful person in the history of the house is his widow, Lily Bollinger, who kept a watchful eye on every bunch of grapes by cycling through the vineyards regularly. Her rigorous demands for quality still run through the house to this day. Now Bollinger is run by Jérôme Philipon, who control over 144 hectares, providing 70 percent of the grape supply. The winemaker today is Gilles Descôtes. Besides the house’s exceptional vineyards, they also use very expensive vinification methods. All the vintage wines are fermented in small, aged oak barrels and are never filtered. Malolactic fermentation—which would probably take place very late in the process—is not encouraged either. The reserve wines are stored at low pressure in magnums. Bollinger make the heaviest and most full-bodied champagnes of any house, and their wines always have a smoky and hazelnut-y complexity that is very hard to beat. The vintage wines are among the very best, but the question is whether the rare and fantastic Vieilles Vignes Françaises, made with grapes from non-grafted Pinot vines, can reach even greater heights. All wines highly recomended.

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