Dom Pérignon’s cellarmaster, Richard Geoffrey, introduced the P2 Plenitude range in London today with the first-ever tasting of all available vintages. Plenitude takes the concept of late disgorgement to a logical extreme.
Late disgorgement has been used by many vintage super-cuvées as a means of bringing out Champagne’s maximum aging potential. Vintage Champagne ages in the bottle, of course, but its evolution is oxidative, replacing the initial freshness with notes of nuts, toast, and brioche. The same Champagne kept on the lees ages quite differently.
“The beauty of lees aging is that it is not passive, there is an active aging. The lees feed the wine – or I could say that the wine eats the lees, they are swallowed up to give more viscosity, more intensity. It’s all possible because yeast lees fight off oxidation, there is no better anti-oxidative agent than the lees. We believe that this element of active maturation is part of winemaking as much as terroir,” says Richard Geoffroy.
Four P2 Plenitudes in the typical bottles
Lees aging is a few years for most vintage Champagne, but is extended for top cuvées, where the dissolution of the lees into the wine becomes an important part of their character. Dom Pérignon is first released a minimum 8 years after the vintage. The same wine, released after some years additional lees’ aging, was originally called the Oenothèque, but has now been renamed Plenitude, to reflect the belief that aging is not a linear process, that there are certain discontinuous points in time where the wine reaches a stage of additional complexity that merits disgorgement.
For the P2 Plenitude, this happens around 12 years after the vintage, and we tasted the 1998, 1996, 1995, and 1993 vintages, all disgorged around that point. A second Plenitude occurs at least 18 years after the vintage, and there are P3 Plentitudes from vintages of the seventies and eighties. This takes the wine to its ultimate complexity, says Richard Geoffroy: “The energy of time in a P3 brings all the elements into place to make the wine as elongated as it can be.”
Vintage character comes out as clearly in the Plenitudes as it did in the original releases. 1998 is full, ripe, and generous; 1996 is taut and mineral, with more pronounced salinity than the first release; 1995 is refined and precise; 1993 offers the faintest suggestion of blowsiness. “I keep explaining that we are on a mission to recognize the Champagne years for what they are,” Richard Geoffroy explains. “Many people making vintage Champagne are too shy, they make it like a sort of super nonvintage.” If the aim is to reflect vintage character, even perhaps to intensify it given the nature of late disgorgement, it’s certainly been achieved.
There’s some concern in the trade that wines that have been disgorged late won’t age as long in the bottle as those disgorged previously, but the P2 Plenitudes seem to me both to have similar aging potential to the original releases (I would say the original 1996 release is just about reaching a limit now, and I think the P2 1996 will last about the same twenty years) and to reflect vintage character (1996 will have the greatest longevity, 1993 or perhaps 1998 will have the shortest).
Do all vintages justify re-release as P2 or P3 Plenitudes? “All vintages are meant to give P2 and P3, it’s built into the criteria… And success with P2 feeds back to P1. It puts the whole thing into perspective. Dom Pérignon has sometimes been criticized for being too tight at first release. I’m very happy now that P1 can be appreciated for what it is, knowing that P2 is to come,” is Richard’s final word.
1998: Disgorged 2009/2010. Full ripe impression to nose. Ripe and powerful on palate, good flavor variety and intensity, yet still showing fresh notes of citrus and apple at the end. Some more mature notes of chocolate and coffee come out faintly in the glass. 93 Drink now-2028.
1996: Disgorged 2008. Taut impression of vintage comes straight off nose, following to palate. The most mineral of all the Plenitudes, citric with overtones of salinity. Wide flavor variety but very fresh. The most structured of all, yet also the smoothest texture. Wonderful contradictions. 95 Drink now-2028.
1995: Disgorged 2007. Very pale color. Some sense of development just beginning with touch of toast and brioche. Very finely textured on palate, with great sense of precision to the acidity. Palate less developed than nose suggests, with general impression of citric minerality, and just a hint of toast and brioche at very end. 94 Drink now-2028.
1993: Relatively developed impression increases in glass; disgorged in 2006, this is the oldest of the Plenitudes in the flight, but it feels disproportionately older than the 1995 disgorged a year earlier. Granular impression to palate with greater sense of viscosity than other vintages. Impression of maturity enhanced by hints of coffee and roast on finish. 92 Drink now-2025