Richard Geoffroy the cellar master of Dom Pérignon had called me to announce his next departure from his post, to go explore new ways in the world of drinks. He announced a day to me in Hautvillers then to Paris to celebrate the transfer of function with Vincent Chaperon whom I have known for years because he accompanied Richard’s approach for a long time.
When the day comes, Richard Geoffroy welcomes a group of about a hundred people to the Thomas cellar, located slightly below the abbey of Hautvillers and offering an infinite view of the champagne vineyards. In the middle of June after repeated rains, armies of winegrowers are busy in the vineyards. Going down to the Thomas cellar, the place where the whole history of Champagne began, a superb chalky cellar used by Pierre Pérignon to create the champagne, we are given pecking pieces of a friendly country bread which we soak crumb in olive oil. Before sharing the wine, we share the bread.
Richard makes a happy welcome address in front of the Thomas cellar, presents his successor but also his predecessor Dominique Foulon, to mark the continuity of the story and we are all divided into the rows of vines where were arranged small easels distant of two or three meters on which glasses rest. It is in the vineyard around the Abbey that the tasting of the new vintage, presented for the first time today, Champagne Dom Pérignon 2008.
A delicate fresh air licks the vine leaves, so to taste this champagne in these conditions helps us to like it. For many, the 2008 stands out for its energy. For me, in this bucolic and romantic setting, it is the white fruits and the white flowers that move me. At this moment of his life, this champagne presents himself as a very large Dom Perignon, in the historical line of the great Dom Perignon. He is promised a bright future. He is fresh, energetic while being romantic, vinous and lively but also charming. He has all the qualities.
We go up the harmonious slopes of the vineyard paths to follow a gastronomic route in three different stages, to verify the gastronomic qualities of 2008. The imagination of the chef of the place is infinite and the complex flavors are excellent. Hams, foie gras, mushrooms, fish, vegetables, all flavors worked in a thousand ways are proposed to us and the 2008 is pleasant to drink on these delicacies, but the time is also in discussions because the world of the friends of Richard is a small group of people who count in the world of wine which we know inevitably certain that one is happy to find here and others that one discovers.
At 13:00 serious things begin because we will taste under the cloister outdoor three champagnes that correspond to significant dates: 1990 is the year of the arrival of Richard alongside Dominique Foulon, 1996 is the first vintage made by Richard alone and 2005 is the year when Vincent Chaperon arrived alongside Richard. During the tasting, the three cellar chefs will make comments or quote anecdotes.
Dom Pérignon Champagne P3 1990 has an extremely powerful nose. It is salty and has beautiful fruits and hazelnuts. The finish has a nice freshness. Dominique evokes ripe fruit and faded flowers, while pointing out that it is not pejorative.
It turns out that for my palate, the champagnes that were originally disgorged when they were commercialised have more emotion than the disgorged wines when they reach their second fullness, plénitude (P2) or their third fullness (P3). I do not like champagne too rejuvenated but I sometimes love delicately awakened champagnes like the 1966 or 1962 Oenotheque.
This 1990 P3 has beautiful elements of power but which are not sufficiently integrated. The lack of coherence embarrasses me a little, while around me people enjoy. My taste is probably very personal. I feel a final a little roasted and a dosage may be a little too marked.
Dom Pérignon P2 Champagne 1996 has an absolutely superb first nose. The taste is also superb. This champagne is franker, fresher, nature, simple and readable. It is direct and I would very much like it as much as in its original version.
Vincent had made a nice speech to announce that it would be the rosé of 2005 that we drink but what is served is the white Champagne Dom Pérignon 2005. His first nose is milky. What strikes me in this champagne is its purity. It has a nice minerality, it lacks perhaps a little width, but it has such a charm that I am conquered because it is the charm of Dom Pérignon.
It is planned to program inside the church the ceremony of handover between Richard Geoffroy and Vincent Chaperon. Having come by car and having to leave by the same means, I leave the ceremony to rest before going to the Plaza Athénée where will be held the gala dinner of the function transmission.
To share the bread, to discover a new vintage by tasting it in the vineyards, to nibble infinite flavors with a great champagne and to drink three vintages which show the continuity of the human action of the cellar leaders, there is in all this something of deeply human and friendly. That’s all Richard Geoffroy.
Back in Paris, having lost myself in the vineyards following the indications of a GPS that had desires of rural escapes, I hardly have time to rest and prepare myself to go to the celebration dinner the transmission of Richard Geoffroy’s know-how to his successor Vincent Chaperon.
The welcome is at the bar of the Plaza Athénée hotel which has been decorated so that Dom Pérignon 2008 is the star of the place. We chat with friends of Richard Geoffroy of all nationalities. Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, United States of the west and east coasts, Germany, Belgium, Australia and I forget some probably. The aperitif is made with Champagne Dom Pérignon 2008 with small appetizers varied extremely subtle flavors like carrots and chips of fennel dipped in magic elixirs.
Dom Pérignon has booked all the gourmet restaurant Alain Ducasse plus the famous indoor terrace for a dinner of 140 people. Dinner is placed and I find myself away from collectors my brothers. I am at the journalists’ table with whom I shared memories and had a great evening.
The statement of the menu prepared by the teams of Alain Ducasse is long as a novel : green lentils of Puy and caviar, delicate eel jelly / ceviche clams and maigre (fish), tiger leche coriande-aji charapita (Gaston Acurio) / bread with toasted cereals, vegetables from the Château de Versailles, spicy condiment / lobster from the Cotentin, green melon, elderberry flowers and berries / marinated Atlantic bass, betel leaves, golden caviar (David Thomson) / white asparagus from Anjou, sea anemone, vegetable cornet / turbot from the Bay of Gascogne, radishes and poppies with Champagne / hemp from Brittany, smoked sardines, young leeks, black fruit olives / roast langoustines, red and green algae, vanilla (Tetsuya Wahuda) / cherries Natural cherry, laurel ice cream / Miss Gla’Gla sorbet Ispahan (Pierre Hermé) / snow Château d’Yquem 2015 / chocolates and strawberries from Jouy-le-Châtel.
The names in parenthesis must be those of the creators of the dishes. There is in this menu an obvious desire to make big. Richard wanted to make great for us. But the accumulation of multiple flavors sometimes goes against the desired effect. Thus, the abnormally spicy clam dish burns the mouth beyond the next dish. Another example, the idea of putting vanilla with langoustines deliciously cooked that is to say almost raw, is good. But the excess vanilla kills langoustine while vanilla creates a superb bridge with the Dom Perignon P3 1990. Another curious idea is to present the Miss Gla’Gla in a cardboard box without it being on a plate. We remove the sorbet from the box and when it warms the pastry frays and jumps fingers. I had to drop it in the cup for the cherries. Except these small details the cuisine is inventive, the dishes are good and this dinner planned for so many people is impressive for its quality.
Champagne Dom Pérignon 2008 accompanies the appetizers, the lobster and the bar. The delicate eel jelly finds in him a remarkable resonance. The lobster recipe really sticks to champagne, which has the assurance and elegance of a crooner. It is very successful. This champagne will conquer all the lovers and faithful of Dom Pérignon.
The Château Cheval Blanc 2008 chosen to be the same year as the new champagne is of an extreme quality. His attack is frank, his grain is heavy and noble. He is full in the mouth as if he were more than twenty years old. He is ten years old in a state of grace and great refinement. I love it and the agreement with the bar is perfect. Its typicity Saint-Emilion will assert itself with time. He will be very great.
Champagne Dom Pérignon P3 1990 is much more pleasant than this morning because it is associated with dishes. I still find that there is a slight lack of coherence and balance in this wine, but it is very pleasant on dishes yet less friendly, the hemp dish is not greedy and rough and vanilla taking too much on the langoustines so beautiful.
The taste of Ispahan is magical, recognizable immediately as Pierre Hermé has succeeded for a long time creating it and fits well with the Château d’Yquem 2015 who is clear as a toddler. The snow of Yquem is not very catchy because one has the impression to suck an ice cube, but that does not prevent the Yquem to shine. He starts shy in the mouth, young virgin and it is in the finale he exposes diabolically beautiful complexities. He is too young, we know, but the festival of exotic flavors that he is able to offer in the finale delight me.
I have such a penchant for pure tastes that the association of wild strawberries with Champagne 2008 delighted me to the highest point, so the champagne becomes smiling.
If here or there I criticize details, I am totally delighted with this great meal. Dom Pérignon has obviously tried to create original agreements and to honor ourselves with a very high-level menu. The very numerous service did a great job. At the end of the meal nobody wanted to leave his friends or new friends. We kissed each other, so much was the friendship transpiring on all sides.
It was planned an « after-dinner » at the Plaza Bar but I preferred to go home, the heart happy to have shared this day with Richard Geoffroy, become over the years a friend, who made, once more, proof of his generosity. Interesting and promising meetings enriched this day. Long life and success to Richard and welcome Vincent to concoct Dom Perignon anthology.
(see pictures in the article in French)