We at The Spectator drink a lot of Pol Roger Champagne. It’s more or less the house pour. Not every day you understand, just on high days and holidays such as the Spectator summer party, from which more than a few of us are still recovering.
And I must say that when standing like a vertical sardine in the crush of said party, stuck fast between a resolute Remainer and a wild-eyed Brexiteer, both about to kick off, there is nothing more heartening than the sight of the familiar white-foil bottle. A tap on the waiter’s shoulder, a pirouette-like turn, a swift gulp and I was away, free to muscle in on the gossip behind me about what happened at that Boris barbecue.
The Spectator and Pol Roger were founded a mere 21 years apart — the Speccie in 1828 and Pol in 1849 — and both continue to go from strength to strength. Pol Roger remains one of the few family-owned houses in Champagne and enjoys the rare-distinction of having had royal warrants under both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.
Pol’s most famous customer of all, though, was Sir Winston Churchill, after whom the company’s prestige cuvée is named. Pol Roger was his firm favourite and he developed quite a taste for Odette Pol-Roger too, the striking wife of Jacques Pol-Roger, eldest grandson of Pol Roger himself. Indeed, so smitten with her was Churchill that he named his racehorse ‘Pol Roger’ and promised to visit Odette in Épernay. ‘Invite me during the vintage, and I’ll press the grapes with my bare feet,’ he declared.
It’s said that Churchill got through more than 500 cases of Pol Roger in the last ten years of his life, leading his daughter, Lady Soames, to remark, ‘I saw him many times the better for it, but never the worse.’ So highly regarded was Churchill by Pol Roger that it was only ten or so years ago that they finally removed the black mourning band from the label of the non-vintage fizz that had been in place since the great man’s death in 1965.
The day this issue comes out, James Simpson MW, managing director of Pol Roger (UK), will be hosting a Spectator Winemaker’s Lunch in our boardroom and I’m delighted that he’s agreed to offer readers two of the fabulous fizzes we’ll be sampling via the good offices of Private Cellar, one of our esteemed partners.
The Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV, the aforementioned ‘White Foil’, is blended from 30 or more base wines drawn from several different vineyards and several different vintages (Pol being famous for the high percentage of reserve wines it uses). It’s a tidy blend of one third Chardonnay (for lightness and elegance), one third Pinot Noir (for body and character) and one third Pinot Meunier (for freshness and vigour) and is about as fine a non-vintage Champagne as you can find. UK stocks have an extra six months in bottle before release, leaving the wine full of nuts, apple, brioche and even honeysuckle. £35.95 down from a list price of £39.95.
The Pol Roger 2006, the most recent vintage to be released, is made from 60 per cent Pinot Noir and 40 per cent Chardonnay drawn from 20 Grands and Premiers Crus vineyards in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. It has been aged for nine years in the cavernous, chalky Pol Roger cellars and is deliciously creamy and toasty with hints of baked apple and peaches and a wonderful underlying citrus freshness. It’s perfect now, of course, but I’d suggest hanging on to it for a bit and allowing the nutty, brioche-like flavours to develop further. £57 down from £60.
The wines are sold in boxes of six, with free delivery for 12 bottles or more and any reader buying two boxes, mixed or unmixed, will receive an elegant and indispensable six-bottle Pol Roger-branded jute bag.