2008 Champagne at Langtons
Thursday, August 29, 2019 in News
Richard Geoffroy, former Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon, has described 2008 in Champagne as a ‘miracle vintage.’ We take a look at Dom, Bollinger La Grande Année and Louis Roederer Cristal, extraordinary prestige cuvées in one of the best vintages in memory. Shop Champagnes 2008 at Langton’s.
Right around the time the Champenoise began harvesting their precious fruit in mid-September 2008, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. While they are in the business of growing grapes and making wine, the Champenoise are also in the business of selling Champagne. Bankers losing their shirts (and other people entire wardrobes) was a cause of concern, but there was still hope in Champagne.
The growing cycle began with too much rain and with the dampness, mildew became a problem. August took a little pity and conditions became a little drier. Then, in September, the rain abated. Dry harvest, long bright days and cool nights—a perfect trifecta. This lead Richard Geoffroy, the former Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon, to declare this ‘a miracle vintage!’ for what would be his valedictory cuvée release.
But it wasn’t just Geoffroy making the call. Wine Spectator gave 2008 a 95-point score (and you have to go back to 1996 to find better). On this side of the globe, Tyson Stelzer called 2008 ‘a vintage of classic finesse, crystalline purity, tightly clenched acidity and monumental longevity.’ He added that 2008 is ‘the essence of Champagne,’ in his 10/10 review in The Champagne Guide 2018/2019. Nick Stock, writing for James Suckling, opined on tasting the wines that ‘the procession of great Champagnes from the 2008 vintage is already considerable,’ and this was prior to releases from Bollinger, Krug and Salon.
Indeed, the Financial Times described 2008 (a year they may well like to forget) ‘the vintage set to make history.` They're not wrong there.
Dom Pérignon 2008
2008 was a special year in Champagne, particularly for Dom Pérignon. It would be the penultimate vintage to be released by Richard Geoffroy, who reigned for 23 years as the Maison’s Chef de Cave. Geoffroy, a former medical doctor, joined the house in 1990 and went on to declare 15 vintages (his last being 2009). He is also credited with creating the Dom Pérignon Plénitude programme—in which late disgorged wines (much later than the 6-8 years for ‘standard’ Dom) from their œnothèque are labelled as Plénitude 2 and 3 or P2 and P3.
There are two 2008 Dom Pérignon labels. The standard, if any Dom Pérignon can be said to be ‘standard’. And the Legacy edition—a gilt trimmed label with the name of Richard Geoffroy next to that of his successor, Vincent Chaperon.
The wine itself? Jeb Dunnuck has described it thus: ‘This is a legendary Dom that surpasses all the great vintages of Dom I have experience with, including the 1990, 1996, and 2002.’ He liked it then.
Shop 2008 vintage Champagnes from the Langton’s portfolio.
Bollinger La Grande Année 2008
Bollinger has taken the 2008 release of their prestige cuvée as an opportunity to show off new designs for both the bottle and the label. Iterations, really, but improvements nonetheless. Along with Pol Roger, Bollinger is one of the most British of the Champagne houses. The curvature of the bottle seems reminiscent of a 60s E-Type Jaguar or a more modern Aston Martin. And is that bottle green or British Racing Green? Either way, chin chin.
The Bollinger house style puts Pinot first and here it sits at 71% with the balance being Chardonnay. The wine is like a study in citrus with what might be described as an exhaustive exploration of juice, zest and pith. It is also a wine that requires multiple uses of the word ‘yet.’ Broad yet precise, liner yet round, mature yet youthful. Antonio Galloni describes the wine as ‘one of the best Grande Années I can remember tasting.’
Louis Roederer Cristal 2008
‘The 2008 Cristal is a perfect wine, and Champagne simply does not get any better.’ Jeb Dunnuck appears to be enjoying the 2008 vintage. It’s hard to disagree. And while it’s easy to be seduced by that clear Cristal bottle, resplendent in baroque livery, the wine inside would do the same served in a paper cup. It is glorious.
Perhaps it’s the historical links to Tzar Alexander II, but the wine has an imperial bearing in that it seems to command all of the senses. Composed of roughly two-thirds Pinot Noir, the balance being Chardonnay, the 2008 Cristal is structured, powerful and present, while at the same time being nuanced, elegant and precise. The length on the palate doesn’t linger so much as it resonates like a struck tuning fork. It’s floral (honeysuckle) and spicy (nutmeg) showing sweet fruit (yellow apple). The liveliness and the chalkiness of the region so desired by Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon are just parts of what add up to so much more than the sum.
This is just a brief look at three prestige cuvées from three great Champagne houses. But there is so much more. Indeed, the weather gods threw down the gauntlet to the Champenoise to make anything less than great vintage wines in 2008. Across the board, from growers to the great houses, to the (relative) bargains to be found from the more commercial producers, 2008 is in itself a vintage worth popping a bottle and celebrating.
Follow Decanter’s John Stimpfig’s advice on the 2008 Champagne vintage and ‘buy as many of these miraculous wines as you can.’