No doubt, the consummate marketer Lily Bollinger, who up until her death in 1977 tirelessy travelled the world promoting the brand, would be pleased that her Champagne is a favourite of one of the world’s most sophisticated and stylish spies!
Of course, Lily herself didn’t shy away from the limelight. She is perhaps most famous for the following oft-repeated quote about when to drink Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” (Lily Bollinger, 17 October 1961, Daily Mail, The Wine Doctor).
But as Chris Kissack of the Wine Doctor notes, Lily’s marketing prowess was just one of her many skills: “She was a hard taskmaster, personally directing operations in both vineyard and cave, everything from harvest and selection through to fermentation and blending. It is perhaps not surprising that much of Bollinger’s success today is traced back to her exacting methods.” (Bollinger, The Wine Doctor).
Bollinger was founded in 1829 by German businessman Joseph Jacob Placide Bollinger, who partnered with Athanase Hennequin de Villermont and Paul Renaudin. The Germans were huge fans of Champagne in the early 19th century and other famous German nationals, including Johann-Josef Krug and Charles Heidsieck, also founded their own great Champagne Houses during this period.
The individualistic style of Bollinger Champagne is partly due to the fact that it is one of the few Houses to ferment all of its vintage cuvées and some of the non-vintage wine in seasoned oak barrels. Bollinger believes the oak barrels allow for a more gradual oxidation of the wine, which in turn aides harmonious development of the aromas and flavours.
Bollinger also has a unique approach to the storing of its reserve wines, of which at least 10 per cent are used in the house blend of the non vintage Special Cuvée. Unlike other Houses, which typically store reserve wines in stainless steel tanks, Bollinger bottles its wine in magnums topped off with a micro-dosage of sugar (only 6 grams) and a small dose of yeast. This micro-fermentation creates lightly pétillant wines, which rest for a minimum of five years in Bollinger’s vast underground web of cellars until they are required for blending.
Today Bollinger releases several labels, including the very rich and extremely rare cuvée Vieille Vignes Françaises, which is made from two low-yielding small plots of ungrafted rootstock. (Remarkably neither of the prized vineyards succumbed to the phylloxera louse which devastated all the surrounding vineyards many decades ago.) Each bottle is numbered and typically only 3000 to 5000 bottles are produced in years when vintage conditions are optimal.
The vintage Grand Année and R.D., which stands for récemment dégorgé or recently disgorged, both spend extended time on lees to develop flavour and complexity. Both are made from the best wine, selected cru by cru, and unusually aged in bottles under cork instead of crown seals. The R.D. spends at least eight years on lees.
Photo Credit: Lily Bollinger surveying her vineyards on bicycle. James Bond 007 Museum
For a detailed discussion on how the Bollinger Champagnes are made see the Wine Doctor