Yesterday I went to the launch of the latest vintage of Dom Pérignon, the 2003. It was a memorable event, showcasing a wine that might not reach the heights of the acclaimed 2002 (don’t ask me, I wasn’t invited last year) but is nevertheless damn fine, brilliantly versatile and more food-friendly than than a rugby team at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Now I don’t generally believe that readers of blogs need to be tortured with all the amazing things that the blog-writer has been doing. However, I’m willing to make an exception. And I think that the effort the folks at Dom Perignon went into deserves it.
I was expecting a glass of wine, some kind of presentation from Richard Geoffroy, the chef de cave, half an hour milling about with some other winey folk and a quick thanks-for-coming from a PR I’ll never see again. I got a lot more than that. What I really learned was this: if vintage Champagne, despite the ever-rising number of vinous alternatives from across the world, remains uniquely linked with exclusivity, luxury, class and quality, clearly it’s because a lot of people go to a lot of trouble to make damn sure of it.
We sat down, and were given a glass of wine and a presentation from the chef de cave. That much at least went as expected, although we were also given a leather wallet made by Aspinal of London, which was less easily predicted. But then we were split into small groups and ushered into separate darkened side rooms, each of which contained a black bar, five bar stools and a sombre-uniformed sommelier/waiter/guide. If this all seems a bit gloomy it was no coincidence – Geoffroy told my group that his employers had just patented the colour “dark”.
“Today it’s dark. Dark is it,” he enthused. “We found it so appropriate that we decided dark would be the colour of Dom Perignon. We just patented the colour with the Pantone company. It’s proprietary to Dom Perignon.”
So let’s just get this straight, we asked. You have patented the colour “dark”?
“Yes, dark. It’s a blend of the brown, the grey, the yellow, the red. It makes a very very profound colour. And you will see in the future that Dom Perignon is going to move from the black, to the dark. We find it more profound and more complex than straight black.”
Righty ho. We were then served four plates of food. Not only had their flavours been designed to highlight the versatility of the wine, but their colours were important too. First came a posh egg (“I’ve always had a fascination for the egg”), inspired by an amuse bouche served at l’Arpege in Paris. “The first plate is about the white, the primary colour of the prism of dark,” explained Geoffroy, who is blessed with a gift for coming up with statements even more extravagant than his promotional budget. The remaining plates would take us through the remaining primary ingredients of Dom Perignon’s “dark”: yellow, red and brown. “We are going to start at the light, and go to the dark. In four stages.”
The attention to detail here was astonishing. The food not only had to have the right colours and the right flavours, but it also had to tick the refined exclusivity box where Dom Perignon has made its home. We were served caviar, foie gras and saffron; even the rice, ultimate food of the masses, was extraordinary (Acquerello rice is grown by a single family on a single farm in Piedmont, aged for at least a year and then farted dry by genuine princesses before packaging, lending it unique starch-retention qualities. I made up the bit about princesses).
And what, then, of the wine? Well, faced with these bold flavours, it revealed the many facets of its character: salinity, minerality, florality. “The wine is assured enough to cope,” said Geoffroy. “You cannot be gentle with this wine.” Across western Europe the summer of 2003 had been extraordinarily hot, and remembering it tends to generate among winemakers the kind of horror thespians feel at the mention of “The Scottish Play“. But Geoffroy seemed thrilled to recall a year that forced him to think “outside the box when it comes to viticulture”. “The situation in 2003 was difficult enough to come up with radical solutions when it came to picking,” he said. And so, for the second time in Dom Perignon’s recorded history, picking began in August. The result is “a wine that is somewhat against the odds, against expectations”. His hope is that this wine “will be remembered as the one true witness from the vintage” – “The mistake in 2003 would have been to make it about just strength and power. Here it’s more about intensity.”
Perhaps the most incredible thing about this unique, personal and intense experience, and Geoffroy’s enthusiasm in sharing it with us, is that he’d done it four times the previous day, once that morning and had another few to come before bedtime. Still, I suppose some things are relatively easy to get enthusiastic about.