Perhaps no winemaker analyzes his wines like Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave of Moët & Chandon’s Cuvée Dom Pérignon. Even he says he has analyzed it "like a psychiatrist putting it on a couch."
Perhaps because he trained as a medical doctor, he casts a more empirical eye toward his work. Geoffroy has deconstructed his wines and studied them with all types of cuisines and ingredients from Japanese and Thai to olive oil and caviar. Meeting and tasting with Geoffroy is always a pleasure and a learning experience.
One of the results of Geoffroy’s study of Dom Pérignon is the Oenothèque program. He introduced it in May of 2000. "I was faced with the situation where I didn’t want the gates of the wine library wide open," he said at the time. "There is a proper, optimum time to disgorging," he added, explaining that the three successive stages are on release, 12 to 16 years later, depending on the vintage and 20 to 30 years after the vintage.
The idea is that each re-release is disgorged at the same time to have consistent character. "It’s all monitored and driven by taste. Every vintage has a different curve of development." At that time, the current release was the 1992 and the Oenothèque bottlings were the 1985 and 1973.
The DP style comes from its relatively equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Thus, it might be considered the center of gravity between full-bodied Champagnes made primarily from the black grapes and the fresher, lighter blanc de blancs. "Its intensity comes from precision rather than power," said Geoffroy.
He looks for harmony in the wines, where each element isn’t necessarily at the highest volume, yet with everything in the right proportion. "It’s about hitting right, not hitting hard," he explained.
Mouthfeel is key in the way that it touches the palate, including the fizz, which adds another dimension to Champagne as opposed to other wines. The acidity should be seamless and integrated.
When we met a few weeks ago, Geoffroy presented the current release 2000, along with the 1995 and 1975 from the Oenothèque series.
The 2000 is already changing. Geoffroy likes to describe the young wines as having a "gray, somber character" that comes from the reductive state. When I first tasted the 2000 six months ago, it struck me as silvery and green. It was lustrous and fresh like the dew on a verdant forest, yet sleek, with a clear, bell-like tone.
Now it is already beginning to soften and gather more richness, with toast, cream and butter notes beginning to show (91 points, $150).
The 1995 Oenothèque ($450) reveals a beautiful nose and complex flavors of graphite, citrus and honey, with hints of toast, coffee and mineral, all in harmony and balance (not yet rated). One of the hallmarks of the ’95 vintage in Champagne is the balance and generosity. As charming as it was on release, it is gaining depth and has plenty in reserve.
"The minerality in the ’95 is more from the sea [than the earth]," commented Geoffroy.
The 1975 Oenothèque ($1,500) is simply stunning. Its limpid yellow color draws you in visually, while the bouquet of oyster shell, coffee and toffee signal even greater things to come. They come in the form of truffle, butter and mineral flavors matched to a round yet very fresh profile, ending with a long, subtle aftertaste (not yet rated). It is luxuriating Champagne.
Geoffroy hinted at some changes in future vintages, but I couldn’t squeeze any details out of him other than most of the changes affecting future vintages have occurred in the vineyard. He did say that "the 2002 is like the 1982, but there’s more to it vertically and horizontally. It’s expanded."
In the meantime, we can savor the 1975.
Lorenzo Erlic — victoria canada — December 19, 2008 9:21pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — December 22, 2008 9:21am ET
Lorenzo Erlic — victoria canada — December 23, 2008 3:30pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions