I have been aching to write about my visit to Bollinger since I closed the heavy iron gates behind me. The visit to the legendary champagne house was by far the best of the whole trip to Champagne. Bollinger is not easy to gain access to (not as hard as Krug though), but we were able to book a special tour through the Swedish importer. During our three hour tour and tasting, I learned many new things about champagne and Bollinger. We visited Bollingers backyard where they have a display of all the different grapes that are grown in the champagne region, including Arbanne, Pinot Blac, Pinot Gris and Petit Meslier; Gamay that in no longer grown in the region, and several Pinot Noir clones. It was fun seeing the differences between the vines. We were let in the gates of the Bollinger VVF vineyard that displays a very ancient way of tending to a vineyard. The VVF vines are the last original, pre-Phylloxeira French vines that are left in Chamagne. All the rest have an American heritage. I must say that this peek into the most prestigious plots in the region has given me a new interest into investing in a few bottles (still gathering the courage to pay ~400-700€ a bottle). We also toured through the production facilities learning what gives Bollinger its signature taste. It was indeed an educational and fun tour.
So what makes Bollinger Bollinger? What is different in the production in the champagne of James Bond compared to the rest of the big name champagnes on the market shelf? I would summarize it to three things: Vinification in oak barrels, reserve wines are aged for a long time in magnum bottles and the use of real cork instead of cap in the bottle fermentation (for vintages). A cork breathes in a completely different way than a cap having an effect on the oxidation of the wine. There three practices in the Bollinger production separate this champagne from many others. Barrel vinification is rare though not unique (eg Alfred Gratien does it), and reserve wines most commonly aged in steel tanks. Madame Bollinger used to call her reserve wines flavor bombs.
Bollinger uses a large share of Pinot Noir. The black grape gives the wine a beautiful golden color. The long aging gives very fine bubbles and a mouth feel of velvet. On the nose, Bollinger wines have beautiful aromatic complexity. The aging in oak gives the wines notes of ripe fruit and spicy aromas and flavors of pear, brioche and herbs.
Thank you Bollinger for the wonderful tour and tasting. We really fealt very privileged to have such a great tour around your facilities. We hope to be able to visit again soon! And now with my strengthened interest for your wines, I can start daydreaming about those VVFs