Pol Roger, Sir Winston Churchill 1999
Sir Winston Churchill's relationship with Pol Roger dates back to 1945 when, during a luncheon given by the British ambassador to France after the liberation of Paris, Churchill met the charming and captivating Odette Pol Roger. A friendship began which, indulged by his wife Clementine, lasted until his death in 1965. Each year on his birthday, Odette would send Churchill a case of vintage champagne. So close was his relationship with the family that upon his death, Pol Roger put black-bordered labels on all of their bottles destined for the UK. In 1975, Pol Roger went one step further and named their prestige cuvée after him, producing it in the robust and mature style that he liked so much. The exact composition of this cuvée is a family secret but it is likely that Pinot Noir dominates 70-80% of the blend with the remainder being Chardonnay. The grapes are all from Grand Cru vineyards which were under vine during Churchill's lifetime.
The wine is a deep yellow gold, typical of most Churchill champagnes. On the nose an abundance of citrus and toasty notes leads to a palate full of expressive fruits with hints of honey. The bubbles are extremely fine and with a constant stream. The finish is long and lingering with such intense flavours.
Weather: The 1999 harvest saw extremely healthy vineyard conditions follow a peculiarly mild winter. A sunny and mild September ensured many parcels performed very well, particularly Pinot Noir.
The family Maison of Pol Roger was established in 1849, setting out to produce Champagne of quality and finesse. It is one of the only large houses that still remains family-owned, an increasing rarity in this highly commercialised and successful region. Carrying on from his father Pol, Maurice Pol-Roger is the real man behind the bubbles, and is largely responsible for elevating the brand to where it is today. After befriending Maurice’s daughter-in-law, Sir Winston Churchill became their greatest patron and made Pol Roger his bubbly of choice.
Churchill’s support is not forgotten and lives on today in the Pinot Noir-led Prestige Cuveé Sir Winston Churchill, which shines particularly brightly in the great red vintages, 2002 being the next one to keep an eye on. This is not to say their pursuit of quality is neglected in their vintage and non-vintage offerings. Pol Roger’s flagship is their Non-Vintage Brut, affectionately known as “White Foil” in the UK. Proud bearer of the Royal Warrant, the Non-Vintage Brut holds the title as the official Champagne at the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Harvested from over 140 different vineyards, more than 30 base wines are created to make a single, unified non-vintage Champagne.
Their enviable location in Epernay and on the Côte-de-Blancs imparts a delightfully clean minerality, with a delicate fragrance. Pol also offers a Vintage Blanc de Blanc, as well as a Vintage Rosé in the appropriate years. The house is also one of the few producing an extra dry brut with zero dosage, the Pol Roger Pure. Without any sweetness to hide behind, the purity of the base wine becomes the showcase. Another recent addition is the off-dry Pol Roger Rich, their non-vintage demi-sec offering, perfectly suited as an accompaniment to Indian cuisine and subtle desserts.
Although the cellar has been devoid of wood for many years (abandoned in the 1930’s), Pol Roger has a great capacity for ageing, with some of the top vintages being able to lay down for up to 20 years. Ironically, current wine-maker, Dominique Petit, was the former Chef de Cave at Krug - who favour a specific oaking regime to their wines.
Recently retired Christian Pol-Roger sums up the Paul Roger brand succinctly: “We’re not the best known, but we’re known by the best.”