In the cool-climate winegrowing region of Champagne, the tradition of blending sparkling wines across multiple vintages developed as a way to mitigate the risk of unpredictable harvests and deliver a consistent wine. But with great risk comes great reward, and today Dom Pérignon remains a house dedicated solely to vintage Champagnes. “Each vintage of Dom Pérignon brings something new and unique, and that is an idea I love,” says Dennis Kelly, master sommelier. “Only by passing on the reliable consistency of non-vintage blends are you able to deliver excitement, to realize the potential to make something truly extraordinary,” he adds.
For cellar master Richard Geoffroy, each harvest represents a challenge and an opportunity, as he aims to reveal the best of the vintage through the lens of the legendary Dom Pérignon house style. In some years, when quality is lacking, there can be no Dom Pérignon. This is high-stakes winemaking. “Vintage Champagne is about being free enough to go for it, to take the risks,” says Geoffroy. “When you are exclusively vintage like Dom Pérignon, it is a different state of mind, more like a sport that requires readiness, always ready to go for the gold.”
THE SECRETS OF SUCCESS
While other houses also make vintage Champagne, it usually accounts for a small percentage of their total production. Dom Pérignon makes 100 percent vintage wines. “Basically, we are always pushing the envelope of ripeness and of the vintage. In the recent releases, you can see that each vintage is very distinctive, with both the qualities of the vintage and the style of the house moving forward in tandem. Dom Pérignon is a balancing act,” explains Geoffroy.
Another hallmark of Dom Pérignon is extended aging on the lees, typically nine or 10 years before release, and even longer for Dom Pérignon rosé wines. “A long yeast maturation brings extra intensity and mouthfeel to the wines, a key characteristic,” says Geoffroy. Select wines are held back much longer, as much as 30 to 40 years in the case of the coveted “P3” releases. “One of the finest Champagnes I ever tasted was a Dom Pérignon 1975. At almost 40 years old, it was fresh and vibrant, with complexity and elegance, showing nutty notes, toast and blonde coffee,” waxes Kelly, who first moved to Napa Valley to work at Martini House before heading to The French Laundry in 2005, where he is now head sommelier. These are precisely the kinds of moments that Geoffroy wants to bring to more wine lovers. “Dom Pérignon is about not limiting ourselves in any way, so that we can be a witness to all of those glorious vintages,” he says.