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Aspen Times Weekly: Dom and the Plénitudes

by Kelly J. Hayes
EGLISE, CLOITRE ET BASSIN : REFLET DANS LE BASSIN
Richard NEWTON |

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

Flowers Vineyards Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir 2013

I can’t help myself. Valentine’s Day is upcoming and I always suggest bringing flowers. You can’t go wrong with Flowers, for this single-vineyard pinot noir from one of California’s finest producers is a complete bouquet. Camp Meeting Ridge sits high on the Sonoma Coast and the vines are buffeted by the influence of the Pacific. Give the gift of pinot and you’ll be thanked. Repeatedly.

1998 Dom Pérignon “P2” Champagne

So what does a 2nd Plénitude taste like? Ah, to be young again. The nose had a surprisingly nut-like characteristic upon first whiff. There was a touch of stone, even chalk, on the first sip, and the fruits ranged from tropical to pear-like. But the real revelation was the mouth feel. The 2006 had the creamy texture that many expect in a glass of Dom, but this was elegant, balanced and smoothly creamy. It not only tasted good, it felt good. I look forward to a future decade when I can hopefully sample a P3 of the 1998 release.

In all the world, few names or brands legitimately connote excellence in a single word. Think Ferrari. Apple. Aspen.

In the world of wine, that word is Dom. As in Dom Pérignon. Globally, if you want to use shorthand to signify that you will be drinking top shelf, you simply say, “Dom,” and the message is clear. It is ubiquitous as a word that expresses the best of champagne and wine, but also, the best of the good life itself.

So when Alexander Harvier, the gifted and precise sommelier at Cache Cache, asked, as I waded through a small but happy crowd in the restaurant’s bar following a day of sun-soaked skiing, “Would you like a glass of the 2006 Dom?” I simply nodded and smiled. Yes, Dom and Aspen. Two words that, used in the same sentence, celebrate one of life’s most delicious combinations.

About Vintage DOM

The 2006 Dom Pérignon is the latest release from the world’s most prestigious Champagne house. It is, in the words of Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon’s Chef de Cave, or chief alchemist, as he consistently produces magic, “pure, airy and bright, distinctive, opulent and succulent on the palette. In essence, a luminous and glorious Champagne.” That pretty much sums it up.

Dom Pérignon is all about the exploration and production of vintage champagne. That is to say, they produce wines from a single vintage. All of the juice in the 2006 vintage is from the harvest of 2006. This is important because many champagnes, many great champagnes, are blends of wines that come from the harvests in different years. These are called non-vintage Champagne, or NV.

But Dom is made with attention towards expressing the individual years of a wine’s birth. More years than not in the brand’s short history the vines have not produced grapes meeting the standards of the presiding winemakers. In those years Dom is simply not produced. The 2006 vintage Dom Pérignon, which was released in September of last year, is another in what is shaping up to be an exceptional decade for the champagne. It is the fifth vintage to be released in the new century.

Surprisingly, 2006 marks just the 41st vintage of Dom Pérignon to be produced. While many may assume the brand to be centuries old, the first vintage was actually produced in 1921 and released in 1936 as a prestige cuvée of the parent company, Moët et Chandon, which has a history in the Champagne region dating to the 1700s.

It should be also be noted that the wines of Dom Pérignon are built on the skins of just two grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, of the three (pinot meunier being the third) that are legally allowed under the strict laws of champagne production. The vines from which the grapes are selected bask in the sunniest climes of the Champagne region and only those deemed to be the best are used in each bottling. Dom Pérignon is Darwin-esque in their winemaking regimen.

Plénitudes

Which brings us back to Cache Cache and why, aside from a debut tasting of the most recent vintage, the group was assembled. It seems that, as people evolve and change as they age, so too does champagne, gaining different characteristics at different stages of life.

Richard Geoffroy has chosen to celebrate these changes by releasing wines from certain exceptional vintages at later stages in their lives under a program called the Plénitudes project. This was an opportunity to taste the 1998 Dom Pérignon P2, a re-release of wines from the outstanding 1998 vintage.

These wines have been stored under perfect conditions for close to two decades in the 250-year-old cellars of Moet & Chandon. The cellars, or caves, lie beneath the appropriately monikered Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, the heart of Champagne.

Moet & Chandon’s maze of cellars is hollowed out of chalk and features more than s17 miles of arched white tunnels which retain the vapors of wine and echo with voices and the clinking of bottles as they are turned by the riddlers (another story for another column).

“Plénitudes” is the word that Geoffroy has dedicated to refer to the stages in the life of a vintage of Dom Pérignon. The word is defined by Webster’s as: the quality or state of being full: completeness or, a great sufficiency: abundance.

There is the first Plénitudes, the time of the initial release in which the wine is still young and fresh. But according to Geoffroy, after seven to nine years spent resting on the lees (deposits of yeast cells leftover after fermentation that nourish and impart a character to a wine), the wine changes. Not in a steady linear fashion, but suddenly and with bursts of life. It is at this time that he chooses to release the wine for a second time under a label called “P2,” or the second Plénitude. In another 10 years or so the wine may again be released as a “P3” when it completes its third stage of maturation.

To all of this there is subtlety, artistry, philosophy, patience, promise and magic. And of course there is marketing. But the release of the 1998 vintage “P2” Dom Pérignon puts an exclamation point on a product that already exceeds the conventional.

It is a product that lives up to the promise of a single word. DOM.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and Black Lab names Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com


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