Mon 07 Jul 2014

Pol Roger: A Taste of History

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Pol Roger bottlesEarlier this month I was privileged to attend a special Pol Roger event held in Epernay. The tasting showcased the new release ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (Pol’s prestige cuvée, launched in 1975), from the excellent 2002 vintage, which will be available to Society members in August.

Pol Roger’s top wines age superbly, and to illustrate the point in some style, our generous hosts opened a few old – some may even say ancient – bottles for our group to taste. Our hosts, Christian Pol-Roger and Hubert de Billy, had carefully chosen vintages from years that represented some truly era-defining moments in the history of Champagne (and the world):

1921 Pol Roger
The 1920s were tough times for the Champagne trade: the Russian revolution caused the closure of the lucrative Russian market and the declaration of prohibition in the US closed off this important market for the Champenois (though unofficial records show that 40 million bottles made it to the US during this time nonetheless!). The area under vine was just a third (10,000 hectares) of what it is today.
The exquisite 1921, disgorged in the 1950s and undisturbed since then, was a bright pale lemon gold. Nutty, fresh, with an exotic fruit quality, light mousse, wonderful texture, and just off dry.

Pol Roger 1914
1914 Pol Roger
In 1914 second generation Maurice Pol Roger was mayor of Epernay and acted admirably when, on the 4th September, the Germans invaded Epernay, which culminated in the Battle of the Marne and resulted in an Allied victory eight days later (just in time for harvest…).
Although the mousse had all but disappeared, the flavours and structure of the wine literally took my breath away. Salty, sherry-like flavours combined with honey and burnt sugar, flowing beautifully thanks to its fine line of acidity and unctuous, intense palate. Off dry.

1892 Pol Roger
The 1880s and 1890s were boom time for Champagne: it had made its mark and was embedding itself into popular culture. It was the vintages of the 1890s (as well as the 1904 and 1911) that Sir Winston Churchill started buying Pol Roger ‘in quantities’!
1892 was a remarkable vintage in Champagne: spring frosts reduced yield by 25%, concentrating flavours. Our bottle was still very well preserved. Distinctly sweet (consistent with the fashion for higher dosage n the 19th century), delicate and fine. In many ways it reminded me of a fine Loire dessert wine. Liquid gold.

Pol Roger 1892

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer for Champagne

Comments

  1. Colin Adamson says:

    The much missed Mary, Lady Soames once showed me what would stand for the English store of Pol Roger history – I recall a small hut in her garden filled with the cases of Pol Roger sent every year in her father’s memory. Deliveries seemed to be running ahead of consumption at the time of viewing – many years ago now so things may have changed. She was a most charming hostess unfazed by our children finding and pushing the security alarm button in the hall. Equally untroubled was the local police force – one man and his dog turned up in their van about 45 minutes later.

    • Pierre Mansour says:

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, Mr Adamson. Every new vintage of Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill would be tasted (and approved) by Lady Soames, alas not the 2002. At this historic Epernay tasting, her absence was noted by Winston’s great grandson, Randolph, who represented the family

  2. Freddu says:

    Well that sounds amazing. I can just imagine Hubert’s grin when these bottles were opened up! A lovely chap and always brilliant host.

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