This week sees the release of the much-awaited Bollinger R.D. 2008, the longer lees-aged version of the house’s celebrated La Grande Année cuvée. Eagerly anticipated due to the hugely hyped 2008 vintage, this cuvée remains one of the very last of that vintage’s wines to be released.
Despite the Champagne market being extremely heated right now, Bollinger decided to extend the lees-ageing of R.D. (Récemment Dégorgé) from 12 to 14 years. ‘This wine is evolving so slowly, and overall we felt that a longer break between La Grande Année and R.D. releases was desirable. Fourteen years was exactly the time Lily Bollinger gave to the very first R.D. 1952 upon its launch in 1967’, says Denis Bunner, Bollinger’s recently appointed chef de cave.
After almost a decade in the house, Bunner was handed the cellar master’s keys in January. This launch, however, is an occasion to pay tribute to his predecessor Gilles Descôtes, who passed away after a long illness at the end of January. ‘Gilles’ aim was to increase the purity and precision in the wines, a project he started back in 2003 when he joined Bollinger’, Bunner explains.
Before being appointed cellar master in 2013, Descôtes held several positions in the house. The development of viticulture was one of his great accomplishments. As a result, in 2012, Bollinger was the first Champagne House to receive the Haute Valeur Environnementale (High Environmental Value) certification, and two years later the first to obtain the Viticulture Durable en Champagne (Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne) certification.
It was still early days for Descôtes’ viticultural developments in 2008, but many improvements in the winemaking process were already taking place. One of the steps towards better control of oxidation, a shift to a new narrow-necked bottle shape, was first introduced for the wines of the 2008 vintage. The neck diameter going down from 29 to 26mm lowers the oxygen ingress significantly, which adds an element of interest to this release.
‘It was not a good summer to spend holidays in France’, Bunner jokes, referring to the cool and moist growing season. ‘The crop was saved by the rain stopping a couple of days before the mid-September harvest and an eastern wind drying the conditions and halting the growth of botrytis.’ As a result, the 2008s are classically-styled wines with tight acid balanced by sound ripeness, achieved by a long and slow ripening.
Due to the high quality of the Pinots Noirs that year, Bollinger went for a high proportion in the blend: 71% in total, mostly from Aÿ and Verzenay. The key Chardonnay villages included Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Cramant in the Côte des Blancs. Ninety-one percent of the fruit used was from Grands Crus and 9% from Premiers Crus, helping ensure this R.D.’s great ageing capacity.
Many wondered about the short original release of La Grande Année 2008, but Bollinger wisely kept back a large number of bottles for release as R.D. thanks to the wine’s colossal ageing capacity. Even today the wine is remarkably youthful, but the aromatics are already beautifully enriched by a fine, charred and biscuity complexity. The Bollinger R.D. 2008 is an age-defying beauty, and a fitting wine to mark the baton exchange, when Denis Bunner shared it with Gilles Descôtes before Christmas.