It seems that so many French wines – be it of Bordeaux, Burgundy, even from North and South Rhône – produced so many sensational vintages in 2010. In Champagne, however, very few houses declared a vintage for that year, the main reason being that on the 15 and 16 August, the region had the equivalent of two months of rain.
So, in a fascinating masterclass to mark the recent global release of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2010, the esteemed label’s Chef de Cave, Vincent Chaperon, explained how the champagne house took a massive gamble with its Pinot Noir grape harvest – leaving 20% of their plots to ripen knowing they would lose most of it to the botrytis fungus.
“The creation of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2010 took equal parts mastery and humility. The Vintage 2010 is the fruit of intuition and a mastery nurtured by experience, passed on and reproduced. I hope it never ceases to inspire you,” Chaperon said proudly.
Noting that after numerous mild winters, 2010 had followed the coldest winter since 1996. He then emphasised the warmth of July and August that came with rain. The ensuing combination of humidity and heat is rightly feared in vineyards, yet Chaperon turned this on its head by noting that “this phase really allowed us to have the perfect condition for the vines to nourish the grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” leading to a “dynamic maturation”, which is one of 2010’s key characteristics.
The results: both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvests reached the “third-highest sugar content of the last decade, very close to 2002 and 2003” and higher than the notably ripe years of 2005, 2006 and 2009. “Even more surprisingly,” Chaperon continued, “the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes had the second highest level of acidity of the past decade, just after 2008. So, the fruit we picked had a fantastic balance of richness on one hand and freshness on the other.”
The wine bears this out with its immense concentration and a beautifully integrated but firm acidity. To describe Dom Pérignon Vintage 2010, Chaperon focused on two facets of the wine. “The first is its generosity. When I first smelled this wine after disgorging a year ago, there was a generous fruitiness, tropical fruit, but also very rich and generous stone fruit. This fruitiness is completed by this amplitude, this volume on the attack. The wine is really embracing, is very ample, and really charming.”
The second facet appears later in the tasting on the mid- and back-palate. “The wine becomes firmer; we start to feel the tension and the backbone, the phenolics, on the back palate. The finish is unexpected and unique, and has a kind of sapidity, a kind of saline dimension, a kind of savoury sensation.”
Chaperon believed that launching this particular vintage that not many houses can match was even more exciting, giving him “the opportunity to insist on the unique Dom Pérignon philosophy – our idea is to make it every year and we want to testify to the nature of every year, so we put all of our resources to making it.”
Upon uncorking, the luminous sweetness of tropical fruit – green mango, melon, pineapple – instantly shines. It then cedes to more temperate notes, the tingle of orange zest, the mist of a mandarin orange. The wine breathes, revealing its freshness. The bloom after the rain. A tactile sensation of peony, jasmine and lilac.
The wine immediately imposes its ample presence, full and massive. A sappy sensation dominates as the tactile is rapidly overtaken by the aromatic. The body unfolds: generous, firm and controlled. Then it contracts, letting the wine vibrate with spices and pepper. And finally, the energy is sustained to a scintillating, saline finish.
In short, a very fine champagne to bring 2020 to a close and welcome in the New Year. Better put it on your shopping list, then.