Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill Comes Alive

No, not that one, of course. Rather, I'm talking about a recent tasting I organized with some friends of Pol Roger's prestige cuvée, the Sir Winston Churchill Champagne. The great man was a big fan and supporter of the Pol Roger house, and of Champagne in general. In fact, he is quoted as having said of it, "In victory, deserve it; in defeat, need it." As someone who enjoys a bubbly now and then, I couldn't agree more!

The line-up awaits: 2000 Rose, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1998 Sir Winston Churchill

This cuvée was born in 1975, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Winston Churchill's passing. The actual assemblage is a jealously guarded secret, but seeing how he preferred more robust Champagnes, it's likely this is a Pinot Noir-dominant wine.

We started with the 2000 Pol Roger Rose, which was very tight at first, but slowly uncoiled to show lovely flowery notes backed up by soft red berries, and a gorgeous mouthfeel that was both mouthfilling and elegant at the same time. I kept going back to this over the course of the evening and kept getting happier and happier with it. What a great way to start the night.

We had decided to do old to young, and so the first pour was also one of the best, the 1986 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill. It was poured alongside the 1988 Sir Winston Churchill in an attempt to revisit the Eighties. Almost from the start, the 1986 was showing better, with gorgeous notes of dark yeast, apple pie, caramel/toffee, cafe au lait, brioche, and hints of red berries. It also had that lovely musk that older Champagne sometimes gets, but which blows off quickly as the wine breathes. Gorgeous, and it developped nicely over the course of the evening. The 1988, on the other hand, had something weird going on. I thought it might be slightly corked, as I got whiffs of TCA every now and then, but then again I am SUPER sensitive to that (lucky me). Others disagreed about the cork but did agree that there was something off with it. Too bad, as I had been looking forward to trying it next to the 1986.

There were a few other wines too...

Next up came the Nineties, with the 1990, the 1995, the 1996 and the 1998 Sir Winston Churchill. Of the four, my favorite was the 1998 and 1995 to drink right away, the 1990 to hold and watch evolve in the glass, and the 1996 to hold for another ten years. Profile-wise, as expected, they were all relatively similar, with vintage variations coming through in terms of their openness and power. The 1990 was extremely full-bodied, as was the 1996, but the 1995 and 1998 were more (relatively) lean and easy to drink. These last two were also not as complex or promising, IMHO, as the 1990 and 1996, both of which seemed to be teasing us with greatness to come.

Overall, it was a great learning experience. The wines had many similarities as could be expected, but vintage variations really came through. As did storage, of course. But the great man was correct, Pol Roger is making some lovely wines. For a big house, this was a pretty impressive showing.

Oh, and the other wines? Well, the Burgundy was nice, but WOW was that 1937 La Tour Blanche Sauternes fantastic, with the color of Cognac. This was a wine I had to sit with for a while, if only for the history that it represented. It was gorgeous, with lovely aromas of honeyed caramel brule, figs, almonds, with whiffs of herbs, and a thick, slightly oily mouthfeel that covered the palate and then faded slowly away into the mists of time. Fantastic, and extremely generous of my friend to share.

God, I love wine.

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