Dom Pérignon 1996
Every once in a while some tremendous vinous treat crosses my path. In all honesty, it's probably a little more often than every once in a while, but a taste of this 1996 Dom Pérignon earlier in the week reinstated my belief in all things good and holy.
I was invited by a new friend to a small, casual celebration of her 30th birthday. Another guest brought the Dom, wanting to re-gift and share the little gem that had been sitting in her refrigerator for two years, which a friend had given her, appropriately enough, when she was ordained as a minister of the Episcopal church. Lucky me, lucky us, for the monk was singing that night. A toasty nuttiness - a sign of age - was clear and enticing on the palate, alongside a hint of fresh fruit and a creamy texture that coated the tongue with a blanket of sophisticated flavors that made me feel special, loved, and at peace with the world. Tiny perfect bubbles and a long, lingering finish made me want to savor every mouthful, yet hurry up and take the next swallow for fear of losing what was in the glass. It was a perfect demonstration of what Champange should aspire to. It was a perfect wine.
Dom Pérignon is considered among many to be Champagne's foremost 'prestige cuvée', and was the first wine to be released with that moniker. The concept of 'prestige cuvée' is largely a marketing one. Moët & Chandon released the first bottling with that tag in 1921, named for the French Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon. In wine legend, Dom Pérignon was the brethren who turned the Champagne region's mediocre still red wines into the royal sparkling gems we know today. He did, in fact, make tremendous strides in quality by practicing severe pruning methods, hand harvesting and low yields in the abbey's vineyards. He also experimented with blending finished wines, which is now common practice in the region (most Champagnes are a blend of red and white grapes). However, he did not make sparkling wine (on purpose) and it wasn't until the 19th Century that Champagne became the region known for sparkling wine, 200 years after Pérignon's death.
Moët only makes vintage Dom Pérignon and only in the years the gods and weather can agree to produce grapes worthy of a single cuvée. Most Champagnes, marked NV for non-vintage, are a blend of harvests from different years, in part, to maintain a house, or brand, style. It may have begun as a marketing concept, but prestige cuvées generally hold their own in price and quality.
Jancis Robinson says the 1996 Dom will drink well for a couple more years. If you can find one, and a couple extra hundred bucks to buy it, go for it. But make sure you're not in a rush. Relax and open yourself to the experience. You will be wooed. It doesn't matter that you're sharing the experience with a few women you just met, the wine will follow you home, so enduring is the finish.
And I think we can all agree the 30's are so much better than the 20's.