If fine wine can be defined by how much it develops in the glass over time, prestige Champagne is by how well it stops time. Only Dom Perignon could make the District Line in winter peak hour feel as alive as being on a yacht in the Midi sunshine. It is a long time since I felt that beautiful.
I have been asked a few times since the tasting, “Is 2003 better than the 2002?”
Compared to the 2002, which had powerful white florals and laser-like lightness (and I love love love), the 2003 had a different richness and density. Chef de Caves Richard Geoffroy persuaded me not to use the word broad – not that Dom Perignon could ever be a rugby player wine – but perhaps a better word would be darker (I found out later there is a higher percentage of Pinot Noir in 2003). It is certainly a different animal to the 2002.
From the first moment of candy nougat that brightly swirls to an austrian bakery character and stripes of hazelnuts it dazzled like a fun fair alley at night. The cinammon and nutmeg spice caught me by surprise. As well as an exciting fresh sea-spray character that seared around the corners, which went very well with caviar provided in the “Dark Revelation” food-matching session (hosted by Douglas Blyde) - and even better when the caviar warmed from the skin on the back of the hand.
However, the 2003 did not have the ethereal lightness of what I associate with Dom Perignon. At this stage, 2003 would not be my first choice as an aperitif (I’d prefer the 2002) but 2003 is fantastic with substantial flavours such as foie gras. It will also shed some weight over time as it develops. Everything is in place for it to age gracefully despite the freaky vintage beginnings.
Although it was a hot year, there is good acidity and structure here. Considering this was one of the hottest vintages in Europe, “seared in the subconscious of France” as the summer where people died from weeks of relentless extreme heat, this is a unique message of this difficult year, and as Geoffroy explained, really tested the winemaking skills of his team. To the point where he said, each vintage after 2003 will be better because of what was learned from the tough test the weather provided. Steel is forged in fire, or as they say in Russia, ”Those who don’t take risks, don’t get the Champagne.”
2003 was a risk, we got the Champagne: and it was a risk well worth it.