Bollinger R.D. 2007 Champagne: Recently Disgorged, Ready To Drink Now, And Likely To Get Better And Better
by Ken Gargett
Bollinger has long been a popular champagne house here at Quill & Pad. It has featured in these pages on several occasions because Bollinger makes wonderful champagnes.
Bollinger’s latest release, the 2007 R.D. or, more specifically, the 2007 “Récemment Dégorgé” (“Recently Disgorged”), is the house’s flagship wine (although, as with everything in Champagne, it is not quite so simple – Bollinger did not see R.D. as its flagship when it was first released, but rather as another version of the house’s best champagne).
I looked at the history and method behind this wine when Bollinger released the brilliant 2004 R.D. and it is worth a recap.
We have to go back to the 1950s when Madame Elisabeth “Lily” Bollinger ruled the house. She was in her forties when her husband passed away in 1941 and so during the midst of the worst conflict Europe had ever seen she had to take over a prestigious champagne house. She ran it brilliantly until her own passing in 1971.
Madame Bollinger was an extraordinary woman about whom there are a great many wonderful stories. My favorite is how she dealt with the Germans during World War II. Champagne cellars are amazing places – miles and miles of dimly lit (well, pitch black unless the rather antiquated lighting systems are working) and perennially cold (around 10°C, winter or summer) tunnels filled with millions of bottles of the good stuff slowly maturing.
During the war, Madame Bollinger realized that these tunnels would provide a great place to hide escaped prisoners of war, members of the Resistance, and downed Allied airmen until they could be sent back to the UK. Despite their orders, German soldiers knew that it could be decidedly dangerous for them to search the champagne tunnels as it was easy for their enemies to hide and ambush them. And one could literally get lost down there for days.
Also, to hide anyone all that needed to be done was to quickly set up racks of bottles across a tunnel, making it look simply like the end of the road or a wall.
Of course, if the Nazis had discovered this, Madame Bollinger’s reign as head of the famous house would have come to a very quick and unpleasant end.
As cover, she maintained cordial relations with the local German occupying leaders and regularly entertained them. During one dinner in the famous Bollinger dining room with the local Kommandant, a messenger arrived from Berlin with orders for him to instigate an immediate search of the cellars, rumors having been circulating.
He apologized profusely to Madame Bollinger and gave the order. Madame Bollinger, knowing full well that there were a number of escaped Allied soldiers hiding in the tunnels, and unprepared for such a search, was all too aware that she would soon be exposed and in all likelihood executed.
She did the only thing she could: she stood up – apparently Madame Bollinger was tiny – to her full height, which wasn’t very much at all, and launched a tirade at the commander. How dare he accept her hospitality, eat her food, drink her champagnes, and then have the temerity to accuse her of such behavior? Was there no chivalry left in the German army? And so on.
The Wehrmacht officer was said to be so chastened by this, and so embarrassed, that he turned on the messenger and told him how preposterous the very idea was and suggested he return to Berlin immediately, advise that all was well, and not come back.
Post World War II: the first Bollinger Récemment Dégorgé
After the war, most champagne houses were struggling. Economies had suffered and yet some champagne brands were launching prestige cuvees – very common today but almost unheard of then.
The team at Bollinger was very keen to also release a prestige cuvee. Madame Bollinger was horrified and dismissed the very idea! How could she possibly face her customers with a new wine, better than anything they had done before, when for years she had assured them that they made the very best champagne they possibly could. Now she was expected to go to them and say there was something better?
She would not do it.
Madame Bollinger had a better idea. She would take a small percentage of her fabulous vintage champagnes, known as La Grande Année, and, if the vintage was appropriate, hold them back for more time on lees. That way they could have their prestige cuvee, and Madame Bollinger could face her customers integrity intact. And so, R.D. was born.
The first R.D. was the 1952, which was released in June 1967.
Bollinger R.D. 2007
The 2007 is the 26th release of an R.D. The price is likely to be in the range of AUD$350 and AUD$450 per bottle. Bollinger does not give out production figures, but it is believed that R.D. represents less than one percent of its production.
Not only is Bollinger reticent when it comes to production figures – and it is hardly the only wine producer in the world to act in that manner – the house is also not keen on providing information about forthcoming vintages. Again, it is hardly on its own.
I could not even convince Bollinger to confirm that the next La Grande Année release would be the 2013. This is an interesting vintage. Effectively overlooked in the shadow of the wonderful 2012s, it is slowly starting to emerge on its own and it seems another fine year.
Will it be the next Bolly? Who knows? Well, the team at Bollinger presumably does but they are not telling me.
As for the next R.D., the easy way is simply to look at what vintages of La Grande Année have been released and assume that an R.D. will follow, but of course it is not that simple. Just because a champagne was released as a Grande Année does not mean it will be an R.D. The team looks for different things.
Hence, the Grande Année releases from 1989, 1992, and 2005 were never released as R.D. wines. And we have even seen one vintage, the 1981, deemed not good enough to be released as a Grande Année, but then offered as an R.D., and a wonderful one it was.
All that said, it is impossible to imagine that the scintillating 2008 vintage will not see the light of day as an R.D. And 2012 after it.
Lees and disgorgement
All vintage champagne must spend at least three years on yeast lees (the residual yeast) before disgorgement. In practice, most houses leave their champagnes on lees for four to ten years or even longer.
For example, at Bollinger the brilliant 2012 vintage, the current release, was disgorged in 2019. Hence, an impressive seven years on lees. The team put away a tiny amount of the production while it was still on lees and left it for a further period.
This period on lees however is not set in stone. When the team believes the champagne is ready, and in the R.D. style, it will be disgorged. But even then, stocks will be retained for subsequent disgorgements. So you might, as an example, have the first release of a vintage of R.D. at 12 years; the second could be as soon as the next year; then again, say, at 18 years; and perhaps even 25 years. Each vintage of R.D. varies.
Disgorgement is the process in which the lees (the deposits of dead yeast) are removed from the bottle. The lees result from the yeast-consuming sugar in the base wine, transforming that into alcohol and carbon dioxide (the fabulous fizz we all love), which leaves dead yeast cells behind.
Obviously, no one wants unsightly “muck” in their bottle so it has to be removed. Prior to disgorgement, the bottle is inverted – the process of riddling – so that the “muck” collects at the base of crown seal or cork and then frozen by being dipped into an extremely cold brine solution – about -20°C. And yes, I have been silly enough to stick my hand into the solution to see just how cold it is – extremely.
The “muck” shoots out, dosage is added, and the bottle re-corked.
Bollinger’s R.D. is one of the few champagnes still hand disgorged. One way to spot whether or not a champagne is hand disgorged or disgorged by machine (which, to be honest, is generally preferable as less liquid is lost and the process can be done in an instant) is to check the lip of the bottle.
If thee bottle has a rounded lip like a beer bottle it is by machine. A square edge is the giveaway for hand disgorging as those bottles will have spent their time aging under an agrafe cork rather than the typical crown seal. Bollinger uses the agrafe cork for La Grande Année as well.
With increased interest in any and all information one can get on the wines we drink, Bollinger includes the date of disgorgement on each bottle. For example, the 2007 R.D. I tasted was disgorged on July 10, 2020. Thirteen years on lees is impressive indeed for any champagne.
But Madame Bollinger insisted that the date of disgorgement should be included from the very first vintage – unheard of at the time, literally: the 1952 R.D. was the first champagne to have such information on its label.
One advantage is that it allows anyone interested in further aging the champagne under cork to keep track. Bollinger has even reverted to the past for the new labelling for the R.D. with the font and material (aluminum alloy) as it was then.
What is the Bollinger R.D. style?
Bollinger R.D.s usually have additional complexity, often in the form of increased toastiness and truffly notes. Greater length. It also has a much lower dosage than most champagnes of the era.
At the time Madame Bollinger came up with the idea for R.D., the vast majority of champagne was drunk young, on release. Even when I first got interested in champagne, granted that was some years ago but certainly more than a few decades after Madame Bollinger created R.D., champagne houses insisted that their wines should be drunk on release, that this was the perfect time.
One suspects that there was a touch of self-interest in that. If you drink the thing as soon as you get it, you need to buy more. A small coterie of wine lovers knew just how wonderful mature champagne could be. There was also no great love of lower dosage champagne at the time, but, again, Madame Bollinger knew that more mature champagnes needed less dosage to reveal their hidden depths.
Bollinger R.D. 2007 tasting notes
The 2007 R.D. is 70 percent Pinot Noir and 30 percent Chardonnay, coming from 14 crus, of which 91 percent are Grands Crus and 9 percent are Premiers Crus. Typically, the house sources grapes from around 20 villages for La Grande Année/R.D.
Bollinger is in the very fortunate position of owning 174 hectares of vineyards, which provide around 70 percent of its needs. As is usual for Bollinger, fermentation was entirely in oak barrels. Dosage was just 3 grams/liter.
While we do not know the actual production figures, 2007 was around 10 percent down on the previous release, the 2004. Both 2008 and 2012 are small vintages so R.D. may be hard to find over coming years. For once, down under might prove the place to be. Australia is Bollinger’s second best export market behind the UK, and the same applies for the R.D.
Something a little different, the house has strongly communicated that the ideal match for this wine is saffron.
Bollinger is very much an Aÿ House, but on this occasion, while Aÿ Pinot Noir certainly contributes, the team has used more from Verzenay: 29 percent as opposed to 26 percent from Aÿ. The remainder of the Pinot Noir is mostly from Bouzy, Louvois, and Tauxières. The Chardonnay is largely from Avize, Cramant, and Oger.
Why a greater percentage of Pinot Noir from Verzenay? The weather in 2007 produced an early, warm, but uneven, vintage, and Verzenay is a cooler district with a north-facing aspect. This allowed it to provide the requisite freshness, and this is certainly noticeable in the finished product.
The 2007 was the first vintage under which the new regulations permitted a maximum yield of 15,500 kgs/ha, but the conditions were such that few growers were able to achieve that.
It is early days for the 2007 R.D., and it is perhaps not exhibiting anything like the truffle and mushroom notes that should come in the years ahead. That said, this is certainly a brilliant champagne, wonderfully complex, and with a seductive and appealing creamy texture.
It offers notes of cumquats, nuts – walnuts and cashews – orange rind, ginger, stone fruits, and even honey. There is the merest hint of brioche. Great length and that delightful, if quite surprising, freshness. Perhaps more than with most R.D.s, this is one that really is an either/or proposition. Enjoy it now or be confident that a few more years in the cellar will not do it any harm at all.
For me 97.
For more information, please visit www.champagne-bollinger.com/en/FR/stories/stories/bollinger-r-d-2007