Pol Roger Visit & Tasting Notes

Do you remember the millennium bug? Unlike the recent pandemic, it wasn’t actually a bug that threatened the immune system, but instead the systems of our clunky PC’s and other technology of the time. It turned out to be all a bit of a fuss about nothing, but we’d have probably been worried about it interfering with our latest level on Simms/Snake or whatever we were into back then. 2000 for me mostly brings back memories of Pop. It was a time of Coldplay, Robbie Williams, The Spice Girls and Britney. And this, is a story about a girl named Lucky, lucky enough to have recently tried the latest releases from Pol Roger including the 2000 Brut Blanc de Blancs while visiting the esteemed house in Epernay one sunny October day.

It was the first time I had met Pol Roger’s managing director Laurent d’Harcourt and, without wanting to presume too much, I got the impression that d’Harcourt was dealing with a great sense of relief. I have always quite enjoyed the slight unattainability of Pol Roger. For such a renowned champagne house, it made them come across as almost quaint. However, I could also see the other side of this, the frustration and perhaps guilt at not keeping up with their beloved (and they are beloved) customers drinking habits. Being on the allocation list of Pol Roger was a bit like being in love with a scatty but very beautiful English man. Forever late, forever forgetful, holes in their cashmere jumper but when they do show up, the company is so damn charming, everything is forgiven in an instant. Charming as he was, there is a new lover in town. Pol Roger have completed the build on their €50 million project which will see them come into the precision era, or to continue with the meandering metaphor, the new lover is Swiss.

 

Winston Churchill adorns the walls alongside family portraits of the Pol Roger family, they describe Pol as, ‘The British Champagne house,’ a relationship that began long before Churchill’s due to the dry style of the champagne being more suitable to the English palate.

 

The major project is actually an extension to the Pol Roger site, an amazing feat considering they are along the main ‘Avenue de Champagne’ in Epernay, an area that doesn’t suggest much room for expansion. Thankfully, an architectural company with a better imagination than most, Giovanni Pace, turned the seemingly impossible into reality with the build of the 195,000 square foot extension to Pol Roger’s facilities. It took just three years to complete (amazing considering the last three years) and the resulting structure is the perfect blend of modern efficiency alongside the original structures. The new space will be largely used for disgorgement, packaging and labelling with the assistance of the most up to date machines from Germany which are mesmerising to watch. There is still an area where the magnums are hand labelled which is really the identity of the Pol Roger brand in a nut shell, tradition alongside modernity.

 

The tasting notes below include current releases and the very special new releases from the ‘vinotheque.’ “Up to now, our policy has been to keep these older bottles “pour nous boire”, as the saying goes. But recognising the growing demand from amateurs for older vintages, we have resolved to set aside a slightly larger proportion of wines and we will be ready to share some of these bottles starting as from 2024. Every year, the house will now release – in very limited quantities – one or two vintages of its four vintage cuvées that have benefitted from extra ageing after disgorgement: Brut Vintage, Rosé Vintage, Blanc de Blancs and of course Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill,” says d'Harcourt.  

Pol Roger Brut Réserve

 “We are finishing the 2018 base and just about to start the ’19 base,” says d’Harcourt. It’s worth remembering that the non-vintage is often the trickiest wine to make, but the most affordable. To create the same style every single vintage? It’s magic really. The Brut Réserve is the DNA of Pol Roger and as d’Harcourt says, “Every day you have to be at the top.” I love this wine; it oozes comfort as we dive head first into winter. Warm pastry and spiced apple pie swirl out of the glass inviting you to take a sip. It is reassuring, and the palate is reminiscent of those first notes, no tricks, no surprise acidity, perfectly well-balanced, rich, but certainly not jaunty, the perfect companion.

2015 Blanc de Blancs

Is now a good time to talk about the obsession with dosage? It isn’t a personal obsession…and maybe for writers talking to a totally wine-centric audience it is extremely necessary but I’m afraid I am on side with d’Harcourt when it comes to the nitty gritty of wines. “It loses all mystery and romance,” d’Harcourt complains, albeit half-heartedly as some of the group are quite fierce in their need to know the exact details of these wines. Why do we care so much about dosage? Why do we need to know every single detail. The devil is in the detail for many things but with wine I think we need to choose our audience very carefully as it is the detail that can so easily alienate the consumer. Plus, when was the last time you asked exactly how your food was cooked? I think there is another article needed here, ‘Dosage: Why do you care?

The 2015 Blanc de Blancs is straw like in colour compared to the NV. The nose is quite briochy but when livened up there is an injection of spice. They only use Grand Cru grapes for this wine and it only exists because the Chardonnay was exceptional in 2015 for a Blanc de Blancs is made up entirely of Chardonnay. As the wine hits your mouth however you start craving those delicious Gruyere cheese straws for is actually quite savoury and then this hugely concentrated cherry drop finish, quite fascinating.

2016 Vintage

This time we have a 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay blend on the vintage, quite common for their vintage wines to have this sway. The Churchill blends are a secret but it is documented well that Churchill preferred a Pinot Noir dominant champagne. Back to 2016, it has the most extraordinarily pretty nose, violets, supremely floral, delicate with it though and some fresh cream on the finish. A very summery drop, almost some peach and then lemon flowers (I only say that because I am used to the smell having some in flower at home.) Lovely wine, lovely vintage.

2018 Rosé Vintage

Same blend as before but they make the rosé by adding around 15% red wine which they source from other producers at the moment. So, for those that do want the technical gumph, by the end you’re looking at around 65-68% Pinot Noir and the rest is Chardonnay. This is a real mouthful with a spicey nose – just the most sumptuous palate though. It reminded me of sloegasms but in the BEST way and far more complex. Would be splendid with those roast beef on mini Yorkshire pud canapés.

Churchill '15

Only Grand Cru selection and dominated by Pinot Noir. Incredible nose, pure unadulterated boulangerie champagne delightfulness. Like a salty focaccia, warm, comforting, delicious.

The next wines are the aforementioned ‘vinothque’ releases, straight from Pol Roger’s cellar, provindence, is key. They will be available in very very limited tiny quanities from Hedonism, Fortnums, Berry Bros and maybe a few others. Also some high-end restaurants.

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2000
Disgorged Oct 19th 2011

Buttery yellow in colour, very fine bubbles. The nose is rich and generous and there is a slight oaty smell like harvest, a dusty combine on a summer morning. On the palate in is buttery and nutty, there was almost a milk chocolate note to begin with, or is that white chocolate, I will have to re-visit. The citrus burst is quite surprising on the finish, with a fluffy little entrance from kiwi too. The delight you find in complexity!

Réserve 2000 Brut Vintage
Disgorged Nov 22nd 2011

Richer yellow in colour, real Jesus in the manger straw colour. Nose is slightly yoghurty with some heather honey there too. Interesting palate, a slightly spicy woody note and fresh lemon zest. Not really meant to give wines genders anymore but it just comes across as more masculine, Tom Ford Oud vibes, almost a smoky finish. 

Brut Vintage 2002

Quite a salty nose, it reminds me of salty chips with a grating of lemon zest. Quite savoury throughout and would be my top pick for restaurants as it would be astonishing paired with food.

Rosé 1999
Disgorged March 6th 2013

 This spent 13 years on the lees! Long time. It is a beautiful colour, very salmony pink. But the real deal pink not the putrid farmed stuff we have grown so used to. Pol made their first rosé in 1959 just as a side. Stunning swet nose, wild wet hedgerow fruit that has been trampled under foot in the dew. Very ripe and some fresh cream. Hugely dry mouthfeel and a long finish reminiscent of a cherry  tangfastic. Another wine I would love to see with food…by someone more talented than me at those breathtaking combinations.

Churchill ‘98

Mostly a Pinot Noir based blend, but you’ll never know, because it’s a secret. Golden in colour, exuberant but fine bubble. This is 15 years post disgorgement…so lively still! There is something about the spice and slight woodiness/smokiness that makes me think this would almost certainly pair well with a cigar. Very powerful, showing no signs of fading. Beautiful vein of dried orange fruit running through it too.

Churchill ‘99

A very rich golden colour again but a totally different wine. More vanilla on those nose, toffee, cream, a custard filled croissant, pure indulgent delight, simply wonderful.

Told you I was lucky. Thank you again to the wonderful Pol Roger team, Meg and James and of course Laurent for the most beautiful and spoiling hospitality.  


 

 


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