It's no secret that champagne has been one of the major success stories of 2013 - not just at BI (although it's certainly true here, with an all-time record breaking year of sales of the fizzy stuff) but across the world. There are multiple reasons for this: a string of wonderful vintage releases for both keeping and drinking has certainly helped, along with a continued recognition that at the top of the wine tree champagne actually looks like incredible value for money - the quality has never been higher. Perhaps most significant has been the burgeoning understanding of champagne as a wine to be consumed with food, rather than purely as a celebratory 'pop' - we firmly believe that top class vintage champagnes have a place on the dining table.
And so it was with a purely educational hat on (!) that we decamped to the ever-welcoming environs of Fulham's finest eatery, the Harwood Arms, for an evening of fabulous cooking and the magical champagnes of that most venerable house, Bollinger. The richness and depth of all Bollinger's champagnes make them obvious partners for food - when you think about it - and yet one might be considered brave for pairing them with the famously hearty, country-inspired cooking of this fine, Michelin starred gastropub. Not so. All the champagnes showed beautifully and more than matched up to the food, with a few stand outs to boot.
Bollinger Special Cuvée from jeroboam
This is one of the fascinating things about Bollinger: whilst SC is their entry level fizz, it is also the one which defines them, and of which they are most proud. No other non-vintage champagne aside from Krug can compare to the depth, richness and complexity - and served from a well-aged jero (4-5 years additional time), this was majestic with fresh, bright citrus fruit and freshly baked bread, toasted nuts and a fine, persistent mousse. 92pts BI
Harwood Game Platter (scotch eggs, lamb rissoles etc)
Bollinger Special Cuvée, Bollinger Rose
This was washed down with more Special Cuvée and Bollinger's lovely non-vintage rose, from magnum. No sickly salmon or baby pink liquid here: just the most delicate rose pink. Pure, clean flavours which are clearly reminiscent of SC but with a hint of strawberry, redcurrant and raspberry. Bone dry. Grown up rose. 91pts BI
Treacle cured Salmonwith cods roe and spelt, Mylor prawns with lemon and samphire
Bollinger Grande Annee 2004, Bollinger Grande Annee Rose 2004
The Grande Annee 2004 was already open for business, albeit from bottle rather than a larger, slower-maturing format. Richer, tighter and with more savoury, toast-and-marmite characters than the SC, this will be a deeply impressive bottle to further age. The freshness of the fruit made a perfect foil to the sweet, saline salmon and prawns. Delicious. 93pts BI
The Grande Annee Rose 2004 was perhaps the only bottle not quite 'ready' - on the nose at least, this was very tight and not giving much away. The palate by contrast was more generous, and as with the NV wines, there is clearly a 'same parents, different children' thing going on here. Totally dry, refreshing and sophisticated, soft, supple and yet framed by the kind of acidity you'd find in a perfect English red apple, this woke up in the glass but frankly needs time. 92+pts BI (but will be better in time)
Lamb neck on the bone, crispy garlic potatoes, Bay and Jerusalem cream, Roast Onions
Bollinger Grande Annee 1997, Bollinger RD 1999
A big dish needs a big wine and boy did we get it. Grande Annee 1997 from jeroboam was next up and it was truly outstanding. It had taken on a deep golden hue and was just so expressive on the nose... Still that gorgeous toasty, bready character but this time bringing in hints of marmalade, spice and roasted pineapple. Truly brilliant – proof if it were needed that a) Grande Annee is a wine seriously capable of ageing, and benefits hugely from it, and b) jeroboams are utterly brilliant. 96pts BI
As with the Rose 04, the RD 99 was really too young. Whilst it was extremely tight on the nose, it was already showing those classic fresh yeast and baked lemon characters which epitomise RD; the palate was pretty explosive and complex but really needs a few more years to show its best. This was poured from magnum, which Bollinger believe to be the optimum format for this vintage – and who are we to argue? 95pts BI
Citrus Doughnuts with Bramley apple and sour cream
Vin de Constance 2008
Nothing whatsoever to do with Bollinger – they just happen to share the same UK agent! It’s worth mentioning though, as the 08 VDC is utterly majestic. Really, really wonderful. The Harwood’s mini doughnuts are a treat which everyone should enjoy at least once in their life and with the amazing, rich, deep, sweet but perfectly balanced VDC, they were bang on.
Many thanks to the team at the Harwood Arms who excelled themselves once again. If you haven’t been to this foodie heaven, you really must.