The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin notes that on his visits to Bordeaux the proprietors of the châteaux typically serve Pol Roger: “Sure, if they are out to schmooze then Cristal is poured, but when they want to share a champagne that they like to drink themselves, then Pol Roger is the bubbly doing the rounds.” (To the House of Defiance: Pol Roger 1914 – 1998 by Neal Martin, October 2007, eRobertParker.com)
I’ve just finished reading Anne Sebba’s fascinating biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Sir Winston Churchill was one of the central figures in the dramatic events that led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 so the King of England could marry the twice divorced Mrs Simpson.
Pol Roger was, of course, Churchill’s favourite Champagne, of which he famously quipped: “In victory, deserve it. In defeat, need it!” Churchill apparently made his first purchase of Pol Roger in 1908 and became a huge fan of the 1928 vintage, which he admired for its sweetness and richness. In the 1940s he developed a close friendship with Odette Pol-Roger, who was famously photographed by Cecil Beaton, the Duchess of Windsor’s favourite photographer.
By the time of his death in 1965, Churchill had procured over 500 cases of Pol Roger, and to mark his passing the Champagne House placed a black band on the white foil of bottles destined for the UK. In 1984 Pol Roger released the first Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, based on the 1975 vintage and only soured from grand crus vineyards that were active during Churchill’s lifetime. Made in the richer style that Churchill preferred, the wine is now Pol Roger’s top cuvée, and is greatly admired for its complexity, elegance and finesse.
Located in the heart of Epernay, Pol Roger is the last of the grandes marques still owned by the founding family. Pol Roger’s Chief Executive Patrice Noyelle told Martin that once a year the whole family gets together to taste and blend all the components that will go to make the Brut Reserve, Vintage, Blanc de Blancs, Rosé, the Winston Churchill and the “Rich” – made of dosage of 34gms/litre compared to the others which have around 11gms/litre. Noyelle and Chef de Caves Dominique Petit believe that great champagne is all about the fruit. The House owns over 85 hectares of vineyards, which supply about 50% of the fruit required for an annual production of more than 1.5 million bottles. Careful attention in the vineyard is matched by meticulous care in the winery and cellars. Four remuageurs riddle an astonishing 50,000 to 60,000 bottles per day in Pol Roger’s vast network of chalk cellars underneath Epernay!
Martin believes that one of the reasons why Pol Roger is so popular with Bordeaux proprietors is “There is just so much freshness and nervosité in great vintages.” I found the 1998 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, recently tasted at a Vintage Cellars Champagne Tasting, surprisingly fresh and fruity for a wine of its age. But the wine also made me understand how the complexity of great Champagnes sensuously unfold on the palate. The forward fruit flavours and acidity give way to a complex honeyed richness and creamy texture with nuances of almonds and toasted brioche.
The whole range is exceptional. Champagne expert Tom Stevenson MW, describes the Blanc de Blancs Vintage (100% chardonnay) as “an insanely delicious, classy, and ridiculously undervalued Champagne.” Paradoxically, he notes, that although Pol Roger Champagnes are renowned for their longevity, “all vintages of this cuvee are so sumptuous and creamy when first released that there is little point in ageing them, although they will develop nicely for a further three to five years in your cellar….If you want a Champagne guaranteed to last fifty years or more, buy Pol Roger Vintage, but if you want an instant and mesmerising hit, open a bottle of Blanc de Blancs.” (1001 Wine You Must Try Before You Die, Neil Becket, General Editor, 2010: Cameron House).
Perhaps a bottle of Pol Roger is a great way to see in the New Year!
Photo Credit: Corks Out