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An icon in the fizzy world of Champagne, Bollinger is to Champagne what Marilyn Monroe is to women: it knocks you out with its body and then reels you in with its brains. Often described as being “the complete package”, its fans are legendary. Notwithstanding Edina and Patsy’s Absolutely Fabulous love affair with it, the British Royal Family love it (it is the only bubbly to carry the Royal seal) and Bond, as in James, will drink nothing else. So really, when it comes to Champagne, it’s all about the Bolly, baby.
One of the last remaining independent Champagne houses, Bollinger can trace its roots in Champagne all the way back to 1585. It rose to popularity in the 20th century under the inspired leadership of Lily Bollinger. Notable for raising awareness of the Bollinger brand, she also coined one of the most famous Champagne quotations: “I drink it when I'm happy. I drink it when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty.”
Thirsty work
Bollinger’s winemaking is akin to alchemy, from harvesting, for which pickers are rewarded with bonuses for selecting the best grapes, to pressing, where only the first press, or the cuvée, is vinified, or fermented, for four to six months in oak barrels from Burgundy. Once the first press has been fermented in oak barrels, the wine is blended with reserve wines and transferred into bottles with sugar and yeast. Over three years, all the lovely bubbles form, but it's another six months before we can sample it - the wine is disgorged, the cork added and the bottle rested.
2018 a rarity: Exceptional vintage for quality and quantity
“If 2017 was the hardest and shortest, 2018 was the easiest and longest,” says Bollinger cellar master, Gilles Descôtes. When pushed to continue he adds “2018 displayed aspects of three harvests – 2003, because both this year and 2003 were hot and dry, although 2018 didn’t suffer the heat spikes, nor low yields of 2003. 2002, which was a brilliant vintage with similarities in terms of sugar-acid balance in the grapes and 2004, as it produced a large crop.” Only time will tell just how “exceptional” the release will be. What is certain is there will eventually be a highly prized (and investible) expression of this vintage.
Notable facts and vintages
  • 2002 was a particularly celebrated vintage: Jancis Robinson generously awarded 18/20 for 2002 RD (and an aggregate score of 96 overall for its 50th anniversary) and 2002 Grande Annee received an aggregate score of 94 overall, Mundus Vini’s “Grand Gold” in both 2011 and 2012 as well as “2 Stars Coup de Coeur” from Le Guide Hachette des Vins. The vintage also included a special “002-007” edition suitably fitted with a 007 combination to unlock its gun-silencer-shaped box
  • The 1996 Millesime will be hard to find today, but Bollinger’s Grande Annee and Recently Disgorged have both sold well over estimate (+50% and more) at auction in recent history. Not surprising given 1996 Grande Annee’s perfect scores from La Revue du Vin de France and Vinum Wine Magazine, as well as 1996 RD’s 97 points from Wine Enthusiast and 96 points from Robert Parker Wine Advocate
  • While 2018 is considered to be quite possibly the “best” vintage, the wines will require some time to show this most excellent year’s true potential. The “legendary” 2008 Grande Annee was released and immediately snapped up in early 2019.