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Sir Winston Churchill 2002 launch in Epernay

by Philippe Guittard, Purchasing

When I got invited by Pol Roger to the launch of their long-awaited Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 2002 I knew it would be a special experience but in truth it exceeded all my expectations. Myself and a selected group of guests were welcomed at the home of Pol Roger in Epernay; after a quick visit of the facilities and some time spent in the cellar we were off to an amazing tasting of various vintages of this great Cuvee plus a few surprises…

We started with the newly-released 2002 which is very fresh on the nose with aromas of citrus peel, minerals and a hint of brioche. On the palate it is a typical Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill with a powerful, rich structure due to the dominance of Pinot Noir in the blend. It shows a very intense ripe fruit character of toasted lemon, white pear and blossom. Most importantly, the full-bodied structure is perfectly balanced by a refreshing high acidity giving it great elegance. It is already wonderfully (and surprisingly) open today but clearly has all the ingredients for long ageing potential. 96+ points

It was followed by the powerful and vigorous 1996. On the nose it was showing aromas of tobacco, fresh butter and nuts. The palate was complex and mature with rich pear on entry followed by subtle notes of brioche and butterscotch - but this wine is not in any way heavy. The chalky, racy mineral character was in perfect balance with the mouth-filling, opulent fruit giving intensity and precise focus. The great acidity produced a very long finish with green apple and pure floral notes. A wine of power, purity and finesse. Superb! 97 points

We then had the 1988 Sir Winston. On the nose it showed aromas of white flowers, biscuit, banana and apple; as it developed it became richer and more plump with honey and caramel. This is a seriously full bodied Winston with intense flavours of ripe fruit, hazelnuts and freshly-baked bread. The finish was long and ample, dominated by a more lively citrus character. Clearly the Pinot Noir dominates here in the grand tradition of the Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. 95 points

Just when I thought the tasting couldn't get any better we were offered to taste three mysterious “Vinotheque” #1, #2 and #3. These were unveiled one by one starting with the youngest vintage… 1921! This was already, and by far, the oldest Champagne I have ever had the chance to taste so I wasn’t sure what to expect. What a surprise! How can such an old wine taste so young? The entire wine exuded charm, elegance and youthfulness. On the palate it started with a very intense, ripe fruit character of citrus, pear and orange peel which was then followed by aromas of brioche, spices and honey. Of course the mousse was discreet but it had kept a wonderful creamy texture and the high acidity lifted the wine giving it a near-perfect balance. It was full of energy and youth and obviously not yet fully mature. Extraordinary. 98+ points

The following vintage was exactly 100 years old: vintage 1914. The nose was very complex with loads of evolved aromas of orange peel, honey, mushrooms and hints of earthy character. On the palate it started with very intense flavours of ripe pear, orange peel, boiled sweets and honey. As the wine evolved on the palate it gradually gained richness and weight with a new array of flavours of chocolate, coffee, toast and a bit of fudge. There was also an earthy element giving it rusticity and charm. Balance was provided by the ever-present vibrant acidity (a clear hallmark of the Churchill style), the perfect foil to the very intense and rich character of the wine. The finish boasted wonderful freshness and lighter aromas of citrus and minerals that kept it going on and on… There was so much going on in the glass that I had to keep going back to the wine to catch and understand all its complexity and dynamics. And I could find new things at every sip… This was pure perfection. Astonishing! 100 points

Finally we were offered to taste a 1892. It was presented to us as a “great vintage” in Champagne. I have to admit that I am not hugely experienced in the world of 19th century Champagne vintage (yet) but I can certainly agree it must have been a great year after tasting this wine. The taste was chewy and tremendously sweet (dosage used to be generally much higher when it was done for this wine), almost like an old Sauternes. It had deep flavours that started on ripe and dried fruit notes followed by honey, spices and tertiary character aromas. Despite the sweetness it was not heavy in any way; a fine acidity was supporting the very rich structure, giving the wine finesse and elegance. Of course it did not sport quite the same freshness as the previous two but provided both an idea of where these will evolve – and gave an insight into a totally different era of Champagne production. 97 points

Sir Winston Churchill 2002 Launch

This was the perfect conclusion to this amazing tasting which must rank as one of the greatest wine experiences of my life!

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