Jonathan Ray reviews our recent Spectator Winemaker’s lunch with James Simpson MW of Champagne Pol Roger
As readers well know, Pol Roger is pretty much the Spectator house pour. Anything of note that happens at 22 Old Queen Street is marked with a bottle or so of Pol. Indeed, the fabled Spectator Summer Party the other week was awash with the stuff.
And we did pretty well at our recent Spectator Winemaker’s Lunch too. Our host – Pol Roger UK’s MD, James Simpson MW – was generosity itself and brought some cracking bottles with him. He started by explaining that Pol Roger is one of the few family-owned champagne houses remaining and that it’s also one of the smallest, producing some 1.5m bottles a year. He further told us that the UK was the company’s first export market. That it remains its biggest is helped in no small measure, he mused, by the Speccie’s titanic consumption.
Pol Roger’s HQ in the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay was dubbed by Sir Winston Churchill as ‘the world’s most drinkable address’ and many Churchillian anecdotes duly followed. James Simpson estimates that the great man got through around 42,000 bottles of Pol’s fizz during his lifetime. Of her father’s fondness for Pol, the late Mary Soames once declared “I saw him many times the better for it, but never the worse.”
Although Churchill’s favourite bottle size was the long-discontinued Imperial Pint, one reader recalled that he once stated that “a magnum is the ideal size for two gentlemen to share over lunch, especially if one of them isn’t drinking.”
Happily, the ever-ebullient James Simpson took a similar view and we started proceedings with the Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV in magnum. The so-called ‘White Foil’ is a perfectly balanced blend of one third each of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay and the consensus around the table was that it is as fine a non-vintage fizz as you will find. It’s composed of over 30 still base wines (Pol has remarkable stocks of old wines and the current NV is comprised largely of the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages), sees no oak at all and is aged for at least 3 years in bottle before release. It’s a belter.
With our Forman & Field lunch we moved on to the nutty, biscuit, creamy 2004 Pol Roger Brut Vintage and the glorious, yet still youthful 2012 Pol Roger Brut Vintage, a 5* fizz for sure which, with its high Pinot Noir content and high acidity, will last forever.
We then enjoyed the treat of treats, the 2006 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, the stupendously fine prestige cuvée named after the house’s most celebrated customer. Although the exact blend is a close family secret, Pinot Noir is the dominant force here, too, giving structure and oomph, whilst the Chardonnay contributes elegance and élan. The Pol CSWC is made only in the finest vintages and only from Grand Cru quality fruit. Crikey, it’s good, all citrus, cream and toasty nuts enveloped in the gentlest of bubbles. It got a resolute thumbs up from around the table.
As did our final wine, the Pol Roger Rich Demi-Sec NV. I love this wine to distraction and drink far more of it than I should. It’s the exact same blend as the White Foil but instead of 8 grams of sugar per litre it contains 34. It’s lusciously sweet and the perfect foil for rich starters of smoked fish or pâté de foie or cheeses or puddings such as Eton Mess or crème brûlée. I don’t know why more folk don’t serve it at weddings instead of dry champagne which tastes ghastly alongside wedding cake. The Pol Roger Rich Demi-Sec NV simply tastes right.
I felt honour-bound to point out that it also makes the perfect 11am kickstarter, a notoriously tricky time of day for the wine lover. A Brut champagne can be too harsh a wake up call at such a time whereas the Rich Demi-Sec is spot on. I’m sure Sir Winston would have agreed.
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