Calgary Wine Life: Dom Pérignon Luncheon with Winemaker Nicholas Lane

13 12 2018

By Dan Steeves

It’s hard to believe that almost six months has passed since my last post on Pop & Pour (I’m still getting used to the deprivation of free time with a further expansion to our family!) and I was thrilled at the opportunity to get back into it by attending a luncheon with the beautiful wines of Dom Pérignon, paired with stellar cuisine from Chef Dave Bohati at Murrieta’s Bar & Grill Calgary.  Thrilled is definitely an understatement, actually. I’ve always enjoyed Champagne, but after travelling to the region a few years ago, I really fell in love with the bubbly concoction for which the region is so famous. Seeing with my own eyes the vineyards, the massive underground cellars, how these magical wines are actually made, and tasting many different bottles from various Champagne houses, all gave me a connection with the region that I am reminded about every time I pop open a bottle. So having the opportunity to try the legendary wines of Dom Pérignon with one of the actual winemakers…well, let’s just say it was more of a dream come true!

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A throwback to the time we were crazy enough to vacation in Champagne with a 6 month old baby. Luckiest baby ever? Definitely!

Dom Pérignon is the prestige brand from Champagne giant Moët & Chandon, and is one of the oldest prestige cuvees to be marketed by any of the top Champagne houses, with the first vintage being the 1921, which was released in 1935. It is named after the Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon, who in 1668 became the cellarer at the Abbey of Hautvillers, located just outside the Champagne capital of Épernay. Although he is commonly credited as being the creator of Champagne, Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine (at the time it was considered a fault), but he did provide many advances to wine production in Champagne. His goal was to create the best wine in the world, an ambitious task for anyone and especially those in the cool and harsh Champagne region, but his work perfecting the science of blending various grape varieties and pressing to create white wines from black grapes set the foundation of the great Champagne wines we have today.

So what is it that makes Dom Pérignon so special? Nicholas Lane, oenologist and winemaker with Dom Pérignon, described the cuvee’s wines as having an intimate relationship with time, with each vintage offering a new opportunity to tell a story about what the growing season was like in that year, while still hewing to the style of Dom Pérignon. Being a vintage-only bottling, Dom Pérignon is made using grapes from one harvest year only, a relatively rare occurrence in Champagne, where 95% of all wines released in the area are non-vintage, made using a blend of various current wines and reserve wines from past vintages. Dom is not always released if the wine doesn’t meet the house’s strict standards in a given year; historically there have been around 7 vintages released every decade. At most there are only two wines made each vintage, a blanc and a rose, and both are always a blend using only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The grapes are sourced from the best vineyards in Champagne, those designated with Grand Cru status (which can only be planted to Chardonnay or Pinot Noir), and the Dom Pérignon winemakers have the first pick from all Grand Cru vineyards of Moët & Chandon’s extensive holdings. There is one exception though, as grapes from the prestigious Premier Cru vineyards of Hautvillers, where Dom Pierre Pérignon himself once resided, are always used in the blend no matter what. The terroir where the grapes are grown is critical to the style of Dom Pérignon, and the minimalist approach to the winemaking lets the fruit stand out alongside the mineral character that is ever-present. Once the wines are made and secondary fermentation has commenced, the wines start a period of slow maturation on the lees in the deep cellars underneath the town of Épernay.

Tasting line-up (Right to Left) Dom Pérignon Blanc 2009, Rose 2005, and P2 2000

The luncheon was designed not only to introduce the current releases of Dom Pérignon, (the Blanc 2009, P2 2000, and Rosé 2005) but also to showcase the wines’ ability to pair with various cuisines. Champagne, and sparkling wines in general, are usually consumed as an aperitif or when celebrating milestones and accomplishments, but they are delightful food wines and can be paired with a wide range of various dishes, as Chef Bohati demonstrated impeccably well. Our first course was a foie gras torchon served with brioche cubes, quince, and freeze-dried manuka honey, paired with the Dom Pérignon Vintage 2009.

Dom Pérignon Blanc 2009 (~$250)

Historically it has been rare to have multiple consecutive vintages of Dom Pérignon released…that is, until the 2000s, which for the first time saw 5 consecutive vintages released (2002-2006). Another first happened when the 2009 vintage was released ahead of the 2008 vintage, breaking a long-standing consecutive streak of chronological releases (the 2008 is slated to be released in March 2019). The 2009 vintage is characterized as a hot vintage, although the year had a rough start with mild and rainy weather through July. The weather turned around in August and was hot and dry right up to harvest, which allowed the grapes to achieve a perfect ripeness that is rarely seen in Champagne.

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The opulent Dom Pérignon Vintage 2009

Upon pouring the 2009, an initial wave of toasted nuts, brioche, and hot sauna rocks hits the nose, supported by citrus notes of grapefruit and lemon peel and spicy ginger. It is clean and precise, and with some time in the large-bowled glass the ripeness of the vintage starts to shine with further aromas of pear, peach, and passionfruit dusted with icing sugar coming through. On the palate, the same citrus and tropical fruit dances and bitter notes of citrus peel firmly make their presence known. The extra brut dosage is apparent in the powerful acidity that tingles the tongue with a very fine mousse and an outstanding dry finish that lasts easily for over a minute. Big and powerful yet fine and precise, the wine was a perfect pairing with the creamy and delicate foie gras course.

95 Points

Dom Pérignon P2 2000 (~$500)

Champagne undergoes a period of aging “sur lie” (or “on the lees”) after the secondary fermentation has completed that is responsible for the autolytic flavours and aromas commonly found in traditional method sparkling wines. This interaction between the wine and the dead yeast cells also impacts the texture of the wine by producing finer bubbles and providing more integration between the various elements of the wine. Champagne AOC regulations require that vintage Champagne must be aged a minimum of 3 years on the lees, but Dom Pérignon far exceeds this standard, with wines being aged a minimum of 7-10 years. Furthermore, they have found that wines will continue to evolve and will achieve several stages of maturity, which they call Plentitudes. The first Plentitude is reached after 7-10 years, and this wine is bottled as Vintage Dom Pérignon (i.e. the Blanc 2009, above), followed by the second Plentitude, P2, after 16-18 years, and then a third Plentitude, P3, after 25-30 years of maturing on the lees. Each successive Plentitude shows more vibrancy and completeness as everything integrates together in harmony.

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The majestic Dom Pérignon P2 2000

I was absolutely thrilled when I saw the P2 2000 was on the roster for the tasting, as I’d never had a Champagne with such long lees aging before. The second iteration of the Vintage 2000 which was originally released in 2008, the P2 2000 was left aging on the lees for a total of 16 years  to achieve a new level of completeness. The P2 2000 has a rich and generous nose of apricot, sweet brioche, and mixed nuts with hints of chamomile, flint, and oak cabinets. As it continued to open, notes of lightly roasted coffee, vanilla, and toast emerge. On the palate it is still surprisingly vibrant and fresh with that characteristic powerful acidity, velvety soft bubbles and advanced flavours of mocha and toasted brioche. There is a sense of roundness to the wine; it feels like it has been carefully polished like your grandmother’s silverware set. It carries weight on the palate but is not fat by any means, and everything just fits together like it was meant to. Once again, the finish is incredibly long and the wine is nothing short of outstanding, not to mention a fantastic pairing to the dish of Atlantic lobster and BC prawns with duck fat roasted almonds, guanciale, tarragon, and sliced green apple.

96 Points

Dom Pérignon Rosé 2005 (~$350)

Our final wine in the tasting flight was the Dom Pérignon Rosé 2005. While the most common production method for rosé wines is to use limited skin maceration with black grape varietals to impart a light pink colour to the wines, in Champagne it is most common to simply blend in a red wine (usually 15-25%) with the white base wine (made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier). By blending in a red wine, the producer can have better control over the colour and flavour of the blend, which allows them to match the house style they want to replicate year after year. The Dom Pérignon Rosé 2005 was made with a blend of 17% Pinot Noir red wine that underwent 10 days of skin maceration and 83% white wine comprised of a near 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Having a good vintage year for red wine is rare in Champagne but 2005 was favourable with a warm and dry growing season until just before harvest when heavy rains threatened the crops. Selective harvesting was carried out to obtain great fruit but at the expense of lower yields than anticipated.

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The beautiful Dom Pérignon Rosé 2005

The wine has a beautiful coppery salmon colour and starts off with an intense mix of red fruits and nutty aromas. Red cherry, strawberries and cream, and freshly ground coffee beans stand out against a backdrop of fresh flowers, hazelnut and vanilla. The wine has a rich texture and shows off some of the tannin from the red wine addition as well as well-developed flavours of raspberry, navel orange, almonds and a hint of smoked meat. The crisp acidity is lovely even if it doesn’t reach the heights of the prior two wines; even so, the wine has impeccable balance and an extended finish and it is once again hard to find anything amiss or out of place. The food pairing really showed off the versatility of pairing food with Champagne as the Rosé 2005 easily held up to wagyu beef striploin accompanied by a mushroom raviolo and pureed celery root with a truffle jus.

94 Points

Upon finishing this magnificent tasting I couldn’t help but reflect on my ever-expanding love of Champagne as memories flooded my brain from previous tastings and past travels. Every Champagne house has a certain style, and having the opportunity to explore a few renditions of Dom Pérignon’s identity with Nicholas Lane was such a fantastic experience, one I will remember for some time. I was already a fan of the iconic brand before, and I can confidently say I will remain a lifelong disciple of Dom forevermore.

There’s just something about the unmistakeable classy look of those labels that makes me thirsty!

Many thanks to Nicholas Lane and Charton Hobbs for organizing such an incredible event at the beautiful Cellar Wine Store in downtown Calgary, and to Chef Dave Bohati for his culinary mastery in devising such great pairings and preparing to perfection!

Chef Dave Bohati’s creations. Clockwise from top left; 1st course – foie gras torchon; 2nd course – Atlantic lobster and BC prawns; 3rd course – Wagyu beef striploin; and, dessert – Yuzu tart

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