When it comes to celebrating life’s great moments, or elevating commonplace moments to greatness, there’s nothing like popping open a bottle of champagne. And in the world of champagne, there’s one name people know more than any other: Dom Pérignon. Even those who have never tasted it know that Dom’s the good stuff. Fortunately, the French wine producer deserves its lofty perch in the collective consciousness, and its newest vintage, the Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2002, is one of the finest you’ll ever taste. I sampled some yesterday with the man himself. No, not Dom Pérignon, the wine-making French Benedictine monk. He died in 1715. But rather Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave, which means he
cooks food in a cave is in charge of selecting and blending the grapes and deeming certain years’ production "vintage."
As for that vintage thing, here’s what you need to know. Dom Pérignon is always a vintage champagne, which means that during years when the grape harvest is anything less than stellar, they don’t make it. This keeps the total supply down and the quality high, resulting in its longstanding position at the top of the champagne world. This generally adds up to wines being produced three to five years out of every decade, and it’s very rare to have three vintage years in a row.
I was at the Greenwich Hotel to taste the 2002 rosé, and Geoffroy told me all about it. He said that the weather in France’s Champagne region in 2002 started out really weird, but turned out great, and ended up being called "the year of golden light," which sounds nice. Spring was marked by a drought, July had some storms, and August was mostly gray, which slowed the maturation of the grapes. Then, in late August, it rained again, before a brilliant September helped those precious little chardonnay and pinot noir grapes mature to perfection.
Geoffroy, a native of the Champagne region who has been Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave since 1990, sunk into a leather armchair in a suite overlooking the Hudson river as he recalled the harvest, waxing poetic over the ripeness of the fruit and the characteristics of the wine. The 2002 rose "has the capacity to take the light," he said. Indeed, it has a dark amber color that looks more like a barrel-aged rum than some pink champagne from a music video. "It has an intensity that goes beyond the taste buds, leading to complexity and memory," he continued, emphasizing the "overall palate sensation" and "contradictions and lines of tension" enjoyed by those who taste it.
This all might seem a bit obscure to read, but it makes sense when you take a sip, and becomes crystal clear when you compare it to a lesser champagne. The taste of Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2002 is indeed "extended," with flavors that seem to expand, stimulating every part of the tongue.
But how does it really taste? On the most basic level, it’s a really upscale champagne, with tart yet balanced fruit flavors and a zingy effervescence from its tiny bubbles. (For the full experience, drink it from a wide-mouthed, deep-bowled wine glass rather than a flute or a coupe.) As for its tasting notes, its maker refers to a "creamy fleshiness and caressing intensity" on the palate. My own notes say that I experienced apricot and black cherry flavors and a luxuriously long finish. Suffice it to say, I liked it a lot. It’s the kind of champagne that makes you close your eyes and think about what you’re tasting and where it takes you.
At a suggested retail price of $335 a bottle, and probably twice that at the kind of fancy nightclub that would carry it, it’s clearly a luxury product. But if you’re in a position to spend that kind of money, it offers a lot of bang for your buck. You could spend your C-notes on some vodka that you mix with cranberry juice or soda, or you could spend it on a singular vintage champagne that you and your guests will remember forever. By that logic, it’s almost a bargain.
"I want the wine to spread its wings and be as complete as possible," said Geoffroy. Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2002 does more than spread it wings. It flies.
[Photo: Mi Hyun Kim]