Champagne Campaign: Dom Pérignon

Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1998, 2003, 2005

A selection of vintage offerings from Dom Pérignon.

​“For a long time I wondered if Champagne is really a wine. But Champagne is Champagne. It’s wine with magic,” believes Richard Geoffroy, chef du cave at Dom Pérignon.

Richard Geoffroy — a man with leanings towards a poetic phrase — is the chef du cave of Dom Pérignon, which is to say he designs the Champagne house’s new offerings. And he’s on a mission to make the drink more accessible. “The Champagne world really hasn’t done much for educating people about Champagne,” he says. “And that’s something it should have done 30 or 40 years ago.”

His latest product, Plenitude Deuxieme 2000, is a step along that road. It’s a kind of Champagne-plus, “very ying-yang; harmonious but intense”, as he describes it, stopping the sommelier from pouring too much into his glass. (“Oh no, it’s nothing to do with needing to allow the wine to breath,” he laughs, “but with the weight of the glass; how a certain volume of liquid feels in the hand.”)

It needs to be something different too. And not because it’s a 17-year-old wine; but because the market is demanding more distinction and finesse. It needs, in short, more stand-out, readily identifiable Champagnes, which is one reason why sales of rosé Champagnes and prestige vintages are on the up. Plenitude Deuxieme 2000 follows Dom Pérignon’s signature two-stage maturation process, by which, at different times and after different periods of development, separate bottlings are taken from the same grapes of an exceptional year’s harvest

“It’s quite an intimidating industry,” Geoffroy suggests. “You have to be around Champagne for a long time to really get it. But we need to extrapolate Champagne into a broader subject to make it easier, more approachable.” Indeed, that’s because Champagne might be said to be at a kind of crossroads. Sales over 2016 dipped in many key markets (something of a trend in recent years), including in the UK, Japan, Scandinavia, the UAE and, perhaps most surprising of all, in France, where sales were down 2.5 percent.

More affordable and, arguably, more readily understood, sales of equally geographically limited alternative fizzes such as Cava and Prosecco are rocketing: sales of Prosecco are predicted to outgrow all other types of sparking wine, with 36 percent growth expected by the end of the decade, such that there is talk of demand outstripping supply. “Sparkling wines are certainly keeping us on our toes,” Geoffroy concedes. And, arguably, Champagne’s reputation as a special-occasion drink, while great for business, is also limiting its potential. Perhaps the bubble has burst.

“That stiff, conventional, unemotional way in which Champagne is often presented is not good for business. Champagne is drunk as a social convention, even when it can seem like the forced consumption of Champagne. I hate it,” Geoffroy says. “We have to get Champagne away from being drunk only to mark a formal celebration. It should be drunk to celebrate smaller, everyday things — just to celebrate that we’re alive.”

This is one reason why Dom Pérignon is working with a number of restaurants internationally to encourage the pairing of Champagne with food (the focus latterly being on Thai and North African cuisines) and to encourage the assessment of Champagne using the language of food. “I like to take inspiration from Far Eastern foods, in particular, since a seeking of a harmony between sweet and sour is, in a way, what Champagne is about too,” says Geoffroy. He’s also working with sommeliers to encourage the direct comparing of two or more Champagnes side by side. “We only do vintage Champagne, but there are many other different styles,” he adds.

There’s plenty to choose from, because the market for boutique Champagnes is booming too. Every year sees less-well-known, more artisanal, brands launch and reach connoisseur circles without the mega-bucks marketing budgets of the internationally known names. But there are also the so-called grower Champagnes, produced by small estates: of the 19,000 or so independent growers across the region, some 5,000 of them now produce a Champagne.

“The Champagne industry is getting much more competitive and that’s good,” says Geoffroy, “as long as it’s sporting competition. Those small players have to take more risks to get recognised. But we have to take more risks too now. The market is still so brand focused and Dom Pérignon is so big it could sit back and sell what it makes, but it has to step out of its comfort zones. You can become so rarefied that people get a bottle of Dom Pérignon and are scared to drink it.”

That, at least, does not seem to be Geoffroy’s problem with his bottle of Plenitude Deuxieme 2000: the second life of the 2000 vintage, first released in 2008. Check the tasting notes and they speak of the “warm aromas of hay and brioche that mingle with bergamot orange and stone fruit”, and, also, more perplexingly, of “exuding smoky-grey accents”. But Geoffroy says that the only way to really get it is, of course, to try it. But he hopes that it offers a distinct sensorial experience.

“That’s what great Champagne needs to be to stand out now. It has to have an emotional content, which is true I think of lots of sensory products, such as fragrance, for example,” he says. “I’ve been saying this new Champagne is about the ‘insolence of coherence’, which is getting philosophical. But the point is that the Champagne industry needs to be less didactic. We need people to sample more Champagnes without being directed as to what they should be able to taste. The appeal should be obvious.”

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