We had a full house in the boardroom last Friday with James Simpson MW, managing director of Pol Roger (UK), in the chair for the latest in our series of Spectator Winemaker’s Lunches. Oh, and by the way and quite coincidentally, our current Wine Club offer with Private Cellar is a Pol Roger offer, so do head there if you haven’t already done so.
We kicked things off with the Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV, formerly known as the ‘White Foil’ because of its, er, distinctive white foil. Blended from one third Chardonnay, one third Pinot Noir and one third Pinot Meunier, it really is a fabulous champagne – creamy, toasty and honeysuckle-fresh – and is much loved at the Spectator where no party is complete without it.
With the first course we had a brace of vintages – the 2004 and the 2006. Both are in great form at the moment (the 2006 in is said offer) and yet both are so different despite being identical blends of 60 per cent Pinot Noir and 40 per cent of Chardonnay. Both have that lovely weighty fruit one expects from Pol vintages and that vibrant freshness and both are delicately honeyed with baked brioche and toast but where the 2004 has citrus notes and even a faint hint of spice, the 2006 appears more savoury and with a touch more baked apple. Whatever the differences, both are gorgeous and matched our Forman & Field smoked salmon perfectly.
With our main course we had two reds in the Pol portfolio, the sublime 2012 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny – remarkably scented with rich ripe damson and black cherry fruit and the softest and silkiest of tannins – and the 2010 Robert Sinskey Los Carneros Pinot Noir from California – raspberry-ripe and juicily fresh with a long savoury finish. So well did these go down I had a hard job keeping everyone’s glasses filled.
Finally, with the cheese we had one of my all time favourite wines: the Pol Roger Rich Demi-Sec NV. I cannot get enough of this. It is pretty much the same wine as the ‘White Foil’ (James Simpson hates us calling the Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV that but old habits die hard) but with a much higher dosage of sugar, some 34 grams per litre as opposed to 9 grams. It’s light, it’s fresh, it’s absurdly elegant and really doesn’t taste too sweet at all, just sweet enough. Indeed, I’m hard pushed to think of a finer 11am sharpener than this. A fine Bloody Mary, Manzanilla or Dry Martini maybe but on its current form I’d vote for the demi-sec. I reckon a Brut champagne is just too brutish and too acidic at such an early hour.
Best of all the Pol demi-sec suits wedding cake perfectly. How many times have you been invited to toast the health of the bridegroom and bride with wedding cake and champagne? You do your bit and knock them back and the combo tastes, well, vile because the cake is sweet and the champagne is dry. Try demi-sec instead. And, strangely, if you have it with said cake or with Eton Mess or strawberries and cream it doesn’t actually seem sweet at all. It just seems right.
Few of the guests round the table had ever had the Pol demi-sec nor indeed any other. A quick show of hands, though, showed that everyone present would have it again and again. It’s a cracking wine and no mistake. James Simpson makes fun of my fondness for this fizz. I just wish he’d stop giggling and get Pol to make more of it.
As we all know (and as I mention in the current offer) Pol Roger was the favourite champagne of Sir Winston Churchill, his vintage of choice being 1928. There’s a bottle of that vintage in the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms just round the corner from the Speccie. Or rather it isn’t a bottle it’s an Imperial Pint, Churchill’s favourite measure.
“Clemmie thinks that a full bottle is too much for me,” the great man once said. “But I know that half a bottle is insufficient to tease my brains. An Imperial pint is an ideal size for a man like me. It’s enough for two at lunch and one at dinner. It pleases everyone, even the producer.”
The Imperial Pint (roughly equivalent to 50cl) was outlawed by the EU and my old chum and former boss at Berry Bros & Rudd, Simon Berry, has long campaigned for its return. He reckons that champagne is all about sharing, and that the pint is ideal for two people, giving them two glasses each. A half is too mean, and a bottle is too lavish. And for those who like mature champagne it is ideal too, the wine aging faster in this format that it would in larger sizes.
James Simpson, too, is a fan and if there’s one shaft of sunlight following our Brexit vote it is that we might yet get it back. In any event, James will be chatting to his French counterparts this very week to see if there’s any chance that Pol Roger (known for its many different-sized bottles, from halves to the mighty 20-bottle-equivalent Nebuchadnezzars) might be the first Champagne House to reintroduce it.