Pol Roger Champagne is pretty much the house pour at the Spectator. Not every day, you understand, only when the occasion demands it. You know the sort of thing: mid-morning on Monday to beat the blues; lunch time on press day to celebrate that week’s issue; afternoon on Friday to welcome the weekend.
Well, maybe we’re not quite as bibulous as that. But there are certainly more bottles of Pol Roger in the office fridge than there are of milk and it’s a fact that no party of note or celebration at the Spectator passes by without several familiar white foil bottles being broached and hugely enjoyed. The Spectator summer party in particular is a veritable Pol-fest.
Needless to say, our budget stretches only as far as non vintage Pol and more’s the pity for the latest vintage incarnations – the 2008 Brut Vintage and the 2009 Blanc de Blancs – have been released this very week and they’re both absolute corkers, as fine as any vintage Pol Roger as I – and pretty much anyone else – can remember.
My old chum David Roberts, Master of Wine at Goedhuis & Co, knows his stuff and he reckons Pol Roger has hit the jackpot this time. “Vintage years of true greatness and exceptional class are rare,” he says. “2008 in Champagne is one such year and boy, has Pol Roger conjured up something special!”
I was lucky enough to be invited to sample the sublime 2008 Brut Vintage last month at Pol Roger HQ in Avenue de Champagne, Epernay (the world’s most drinkable address, according to Sir Winston Churchill, the company’s most famous customer). And, since I was in the illustrious company of wunderkind racehorse trainer Hugo Palmer (winner of the 2015 Irish Oaks with Covert Love and the 2016 2,000 Guineas with Galileo Gold) and Marcus Armytage, the last amateur jockey to win the Grand National (in record time aboard Mr Frisk in 1990), the bottles kept popping and I managed to get my beak stuck into some of the 2009 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs too.
Both these wines are of exceptional quality. The 2008 Brut Vintage is a typical Pol blend of 60 per cent Pinot Noir and 40 per cent Chardonnay drawn from 20 Grands and Premiers crus vineyards. Most of the other major Champagne Houses released their 2008s last year but Pol was content, as ever, to wait a bit longer than is usual, to add a little oomph and character to the wine. (“Actually, it was because we’re just ridiculously slow and lazy,” Pol’s MD Laurent d’Harcourt told me.)
The wine matured for eight years in Pol Roger’s chalk cellars – the deepest in the region, the maze of corridors stretching for some 7km – before being disgorged in October 2016. The result is a wine of stunning elegance and precision. It’s delicately honeyed with hints of nuts and truffles, toast and red berry fruit. There’s a touch of spice too, an absurdly fine and persistent mousse and a gloriously long finish. It’s an absolute beauty and, unless my memory is messing with me, the best Pol I’ve ever had. In short, it’s what fine vintage champagne is all about.
The 2009 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs is a top-notch cracker too, made from 100 per cent Chardonnay drawn from a handful of Grands Crus vineyards on the Côtes des Blancs. It was aged for seven years before release and is the palest of pale straw colour in the glass. It’s crisp and rounded, vibrantly fresh with honey, citrus and cream on the palate. There’s a sense of power here too and a firmness to it hinting at great ageing potential. If you can keep your hands of it that is, so downright tasty is it.
All of us in the tasting room at Pol Roger were completely smitten with the two wines and if Hugo Palmer plays his cards right he’ll get to drink plenty of them over the next year or so, Pol Roger having just announced a three-year sponsorship deal with the trainer.
Sir Winston Churchill, whose favourite racehorse was named ‘Pol Roger’, famously declared of champagne that “In victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it.”
Palmer would do well to follow such a dictum. That way he gets to drink Pol win or lose. Although the way he’s heading it should be plenty of the former and little of the latter.