Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2006: From A Long And Complex History
by Ken Gargett
Critics are not supposed to have favorites, though we get asked exactly that question all the time. It ranks with asking parents which is their favorite child, and chances are you’ll get an equally noncommitted response.
For champagne, I have many favorites – too many – but the house of Pol Roger will always hold a special place.
It was, to the best of my recollection, the first champagne – possibly even the first wine – I ever had. I remember being around for a dinner party given by my parents to which someone brought a bottle; the 1973 rings a bell though not sure why. It was definitely Pol Roger.
I snuck a sip, thinking it looked like a grown-up form of ice cream. Needless to say, it was nothing like ice cream at all – to my immense disappointment.
The first case of champagne I ever purchased – how sad that in my student days it was easier to buy cases of champagne than it is now – was the Pol Roger 1975.
And the inimitable and wonderful Christian Pol Roger was the first person I met from the region, though that was hardly a glittering moment for me – we’d had an early morning footy game and afterwards I ducked in to the local independent wine retailer for a look. Christian had just finished hosting a tasting but when he saw a rather sweaty, barefooted youngster eagerly examining bottles and shelves, did he turn up his nose?
Not a bit. Christian came straight over and started chatting in that enticing accent. I have met him many times since, although he is almost fully retired now, sadly, but I have never reminded him of that first encounter.
The Sir Winston Churchill is the flagship of this house, though I always maintain that its standard vintage exceeds the quality of the wines many houses claim as prestige: 1975, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1996, 2002, 2004, and 2008 are all brilliant champagnes, and most houses would be chuffed beyond imagination to call them theirs.
The current 2009 is another very fine wine, although for me it was always going to be a tough gig to follow that glorious 2008.
Sir Winston Churchill drank well and drank widely, but nothing more so than champagne. And there was no doubt that he had a favorite house: Pol Roger! He is quoted as saying, “Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is stirred, the wits become nimbler.”
Sir Winston had a long and complex history with Pol Roger, both the family and the champagnes. It is rumored that he proposed to Odette Pol Roger, although this seems unlikely given that they were both married well before they met. They did become lifelong friends.
Churchill named his horse after the house, and, fittingly, on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, it won its first race. Fitting as this is the champagne house so often used to celebrate royal weddings and other events, including the latest hitching of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Odette was a very keen on fly fishing, a passion shared by Christian’s cousin and another former director of the house, Christian de Billy.
Odette always made certain Churchill had sufficient supplies of his favorite years. He went through huge quantities of the famous 1928 and was still drinking the 1934 when he passed away in 1965.
At that time, the house put a black border around its label in tribute to his life. And then, in 1984, when it finally released a prestige champagne, what else could it be called but the Sir Winston Churchill? That first release was from the 1975 vintage, all in magnum.
The 2006 marks the sixteenth release of this wine (AUD$360), following on from the 2002 and the 2004. It is a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, though Pol Roger doesn’t provide the percentages; from Grand Cru vineyards, no doubt the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims feature heavily.
Fermentation is in stainless steel at a temperature that is not permitted to exceed 18°C. There is a full malolactic fermentation, with the second alcoholic (ethanol) fermentation occurring in the deepest cellars that Pol Roger has – 33 meters below ground level. Here the temperature is a consistent, and chilly, 9°C.
The 2006 is a superb champagne, though still so youthful, so you will rewarded if it’s laid away for a couple of years.
The nose has an immediate marzipan note with brioche and biscuits and hints of honeysuckle. The palate is more grilled nuts, nougat, and honeycomb. Lean and long, the structure is tight, but everything is finely balanced although the power and richness of the excellent 2006 vintage cannot remain hidden.
Fresh acidity backs up the lingering intensity. Such a long finish. A champagne that will age magnificently. If you want a score: 97.
Churchill would have been delighted with this champagne. After all, as he said, “My tastes are simple, I am easily satisfied with the best.”
For more information please visit www.polroger.com.
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