Wine: Taking time to savor a few fantastic Dom Perignons 

In a world where grower Champagnes are all the rage and people are no longer embarrassed to admit that they like Journey, I feel almost square writing about one of the most easily identified brands of wine in the world. But, much as I love the Chartogne-Taillet and other small Champagne producers (no comment on Journey), I think it is worth dedicating some words to Dom Perignon.

The name Dom Perignon is synonymous with luxury Champagne. Named after the 18th-century Benedictine monk who is credited with refining methode Champenois, its first commercial release came in 1936, when the 1921 was sold. Other similarly priced wines were launched in Champagne at this time but Dom Perignon was internationally recognized for being something completely new in the world of Champagne. In the way that Robert Mondavi helped make Napa what it is today, the same can be said of DP.

Created by Moet et Chandon (now Moet Hennessey and owned by LVMH), its production has grown, though the exact number of bottles produced is not for public consumption. Most of the fruit comes from nine villages. Dom is the largest holder of vines in Le Mesnil, a grand cru that is composed entirely of Chardonnay, but Pinot Noir is also integral to the blend.

Richard Geoffrey is the chef de cave, a fancy name for head winemaker. A Champagne native, he worked at Domaine Chandon before going back home where he eventually took on this most celebrated position. I recently asked Geoffrey why he thinks Dom Perignon has been so popular throughout the decades.

Our meeting began with a brief conversation about France’s gros catastrophe in the World Cup, maybe not the best way to break the ice, but when discussed while sipping the ’02 DP, life can be worse — even for a Frenchman. Several times Geoffrey stressed that what makes Dom a Dom is its consistency not only in quality but also style. Since vintage Champagne is usually only made in top years, it is easier to accomplish consistency without sacrificing terroir than it is for other wines. While Dom Perignon is as concerned that the Champagne taste like it comes from Champagne, the wine is blended to ensure that it retains its known character. What is that?

Dom Perignon is not particularly rich or yeasty. In a way, it is safe. There is nothing not to like about Dom Perignon. Where it excels is in its finesse. Some might prefer a bolder style of Champagne, but DP is about as elegant as it gets without being light. The ’02 has ripeness, but by no means does it overpower the wine. With honey, minerals, white flowers and a hint of almonds, it is aromatically beautiful. Like many other vintage Champagnes, Dom Perignon can age and the 1996, which I also tasted, is a knockout. It has an ever so slight peat-like quality with roasted nuts and vanilla.

Dom Perignon also makes a rosé and a late disgorged vintage Champagne, Oenoteque. Both are very good, though I think what will perpetuate the Dom Perignon name will be its original wine. It is this wine that has made Dom Perignon an icon and, after 75 years, is tried and true.

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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