Pol Roger 2012 Champagnes: Grand Releases For Perhaps The Grandest Vintage
by Ken Gargett
One of the things most appealing to me when doing champagne classes or presentations is to see the realization dawning on the faces of the participants that all champagnes are not alike. They can be extraordinarily different.
I’m not just talking about the styles – non-vintage, vintage, rosé, blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs, prestige, single vineyard, growers, sweeter styles – but also between houses. House “DNA” leads to the revelation that the power and richness of a Bollinger or a Krug is a mile from the elegance of a Taittinger Comtes or a Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque. Every house has its own focus and it is why champagne lovers have different favorites.
Growing up in Brisbane, Australia (even in a household that did not drink), Pol Roger was the ubiquitous champagne. Seems that one of the local businessmen’s clubs had a special relationship with Pol Roger, and it was everywhere.
Not bad for one of the smaller producing champagne houses. I wrote about my early experiences with this Pol Roger when we looked at the 2006 Sir Winston Churchill, the house’s flagship (the 2009 has recently been released, but that is not our focus today). I have absolutely no doubt that I have drunk far more Pol Roger than any other champagne, possibly more than all the rest together (okay, that might be an exaggeration).
Today is a good day. We are looking at the 2012 releases from Pol Roger – the 2012 Pol Roger Sir Winston is a year or two away, but what a wine that promises to be. So, the 2012 Brut (AUD$160), 2012 Rosé (AUD$195), and 2012 Blanc de Blancs (AUD$195). The prices have risen significantly in recent years. On one hand, that is a bit disappointing; on the other, they are still more than fair.
Pol Roger is a house that produces richly flavored champagnes, not quite the power one sees with Krug or Bollinger. They are always finely balanced, offering excellent length, and are champagnes that can age amazingly well. A well-stored bottle of an older Pol Roger vintage is one of the world’s great wine experiences. These wines are sheer class.
Pol Roger is largely a Pinot Noir house and yet it produces one of the greatest blanc de blancs from all Champagne. The Non-Vintage is exemplary; the Vintage is almost always among the best from the year; the Rosé is always solid, if not spectacular; the Blanc de Blancs, as mentioned, is one of the great wines of that style from the entire region; and finally, the great Sir Winston Churchill is a contender for one of the best of all prestige releases.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was the wonderful 1975 Pol Roger that first ignited my love of great champagne (it had the benefit of reasonably extensive aging before I came to it). The 1976 gets lots of plaudits as well, but I have always preferred the ’75, not just from Pol Roger but across the board. Vintage Pol Roger from 1982 and 1985 (a small but stunning vintage) were fabulous; 1988, 1990, and 1996 were all superstars.
The Pol Roger 2012 vintage in context
The great vintages of this century have been 2002, 2008, and now 2012; 2004 follows by a whisker.
The 2002 Pol Roger was a champagne that still stands out for me. Aside from being an amazing bargain – pretty sure it was around AUD$80 when released – it was of such stellar quality that I have no doubt that many other houses would have been proud to exhibit a wine of that brilliant quality as their flagships. For Pol Roger, 2004 and especially 2008 came close but, for me, the ’02 remained undefeated. Can the ’12 knock it off its perch?
The 2012 is the next great vintage of the century after 2008 – now we will have to wait for the champagnes from 2018 for a challenger, although there will be plenty of fine bottles released in the interim. I think 2015 might surprise.
As a generalization, 2008 was a classic year of elegance, refinement, finesse, vibrant acidity, laser-like focus, and great length. These are wines that will age for many years. For me, this is a style I absolutely adore. It is the closest thing I have seen to the superlative 1988 vintage.
Two thousand twelve is much more exuberant, richer, riper, more forward, and open. It offers a decadence that is impossible not to love. These are wines that will also age well for many years, though perhaps not quite as long as the best from 2008.
While each vintage is, of course, unique, there are some similarities with 2002, though many of the Champenois consider it to have surpassed that very fine year. There have also been comparisons made with both 1990 and 1996.
Whether one opts for 2008 or 2012 really comes down to which style one prefers. Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe. Nothing wrong with loving both. Put as much of both vintages in your cellar as you can afford.
The conditions in 2012 are considered to have best suited Pinot Noir rather than Chardonnay. Pinot had early issues with low yields as a result of frost and some hail (especially in the Aube, although Pol Roger also suffered hail damage in April) as well as some disease (notably mildew early in the season). An inauspicious start.
Things turned in August and the result was a harvest of superb fruit with ideal acidity. For Pol Roger, the harvest took place from September 10 through 26. Potential average alcohol is 10.6° and the total acidity was 7.8 grams/liter.
The trade-off for the seriously reduced yields suffered by Pinot Noir was excellent concentration, providing that hedonism, exuberance, and opulence that seems to be the hallmark of the vintage. Some have claimed that the Pinot Noir is the best since 1952.
This does not mean that Blanc de Blancs champagnes won’t also drink beautifully, but makers may need extra care with this style. Pol Roger’s Blanc de Blancs (once known as Blancs de Chardonnay) is evidence of how good they can be. Chardonnay did not suffer quite the same extensive reduction in volume as Pinot Noir.
I suspect that it is fair to say that this will not be the last time champagne from 2012 features in this publication.
So how did Pol Roger fare with its 2012s?
Pol Roger 2012: Whether or not it will ultimately be seen as topping the 2002 is probably immaterial. Suffice to say, both are spectacular. This is, for me, the best since that great wine. A blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, it was aged for seven years on lees before disgorgement and then spent further time in the cellars. Dosage is just 7 grams/liter. The grapes were sourced from 20 vineyards across the Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs, both Grand Cru and Premier Cru. The wine sees full malolactic fermentation. Riddling is by hand, which is the exception these days.
I thought it was an absolutely glorious wine, one that again would make many houses very proud to have as their flagships. It is that good.
Pale green gold, the aromas open with stone fruits and citrus, more specifically white peach and grapefruit. A minerally backing. Florals, notably white jasmine, and a sea breeze freshness. A hint of red fruits sneak in and out every now and then. It reminded me of a perfect Queensland autumn morning, intense blue sky and the ocean sparkling like diamonds have been scattered across it. The wine has great length and carries the vibrant acidity with it. Fine balance. Decadent, hedonistic. The stone fruit and peaches dominate the finish. This wine has an assured future ahead of it and should drink magnificently for many years to come. A glorious champagne now, with even better things to come. 97.
Pol Roger Rosé 2012: This champagne is a blend of 50 percent Pinot Noir and 35 percent Chardonnay, with the remaining 15 percent Pinot Noir vinified “en rouge” and then added later, the typical manner in which most rosé is made in Champagne (there are some sources suggesting that the blend is closer to 60/40 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay). The dosage here is 8 grams/liter, marginally higher than the vintage. Vineyard sources are noted as the same as for the vintage. Again, full malolactic fermentation and hand riddling.
Lovely color, perhaps a little deeper than one might have expected, but it matters not. Ripe raspberry notes, spices, fresh berries, dry herbs. A hint of milk chocolate. Bright acidity, medium length. A bold and full-flavored style of rosé, which has a lovely cream and berry note. Delightful slippery texture. Don’t be afraid to put this away in the cellar. It has an exciting future ahead.
This would be a brilliant champagne to match with many dishes – duck, lamb, Parmesan, venison, salmon. Personally, I’d be avoiding most desserts. Rosé is so often lumped with the dessert, presumably because of the lovely bright pinks and crimson notes, but in fact the sweetness in most desserts often destroys rosé. 94.
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2012: After raving about the quality of Pinot Noir from the 2012 vintage, we now have this wine made from 100 percent Chardonnay. Fear not, it is a brilliant wine (it always is). Seven grams dosage, the grapes are sourced from some of the finest Grand Crus found in the Côte des Blancs – Oiry, Chouilly, Cramant, Avize, and Oger (it doesn’t get much better). Again, full malolactic fermentation and hand riddling.
Entrancing green/gold color. The aromas move through hazelnut, fresh lemons, peaches, white jasmine. A combination of ripeness and richness but always balanced, always refined. This wine combines the elegance of the house with the exuberance of the vintage. Great length, it just persists. Clean, refreshing and complex. A very gentle smoked note creeps in near the finish. Vibrant acidity, intensely focused. Again, a wine with such an exciting future ahead of it. Don’t be swayed by 2012 having the reputation as a Pinot year. It might well be, but that does not mean that there are not some wonderful Chardonnay-based wines. Stunning stuff. 97.
For more information, please visit www.polroger.com.