Dom Pérignon P2 tasting: defining plénitude
Over my career as a wine writer, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of tasting some venerable wines, and none more exciting than old Champagne. In 1976, I visited Moët & Chandon and was given a glass of the legendary 1911 vintage by the Comtesse de Maigret. It had been disgorged that morning to impress a group of visiting English wine merchants, and I was lucky enough to have what was left in the bottle.
The wine had lost its bubbles, but it tasted like a beautifully mature Meursault. I had no idea that Champagne could last that long. It was explained to me that as long as the wine remained in contact with its lees, the aging process is very slow.
So it was with great anticipation that I went to the Trump Hotel in Toronto in November of 2014 to meet Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave, to be introduced to a Champagne simply called Dom Pérignon P2 1998. P2 is short for Plénitude 2.
Richard Geoffroy started as a Champagne-maker with Moët Chandon in 1990 and has made 16 vintages of the company’s prestige cuvée, Dom Pérignon. He and his cellar staff discovered over the years that there were certain stages in the evolution of a vintage Champagne left on its lees — where it will change character. They called these passages plénitudes (completeness), and they determined that there were three of them in the life of a Champagne. The first plénitude for the 1998 vintage was in 2004 — which is the usual amount of time that Dom Pérignon spends on its lees before it is released for sale the following year. The time on the lees for Dom is twice as long as the regulations require. The wine I was about to taste was the same 1998 vintage held on its lees for 15 years.
As 1998 was a warm year, in describing it Geoffroy couldn’t help resorting to a flight of poetry. The character of the vintage, he said, “shows in aromatics beyond the silver character of iodine and smoke, the sheer ripeness of the fruit. The richness comes from the ripeness of the fruit.”
At noon — an excellent time for Champagne, but then again, what time isn’t? — we tasted Dom Pérignon P2 together. Not out of flutes shaped like cows’ udders, which I was expecting, but served in wine glasses that looked like the Reidel Chardonnay stem. Geoffroy gave up using flutes 15 years ago, because “they don’t do justice to the wine.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that P2 is magnificent, pure and precise with a creaminess in mid-palate and a life-giving spine of lemony acidity. The wine is amazingly young both in its visual appearance and on the palate, or as Geoffroy put it, “bafflingly youthful, rather insolent in a way.”
The third Plénitude, says Geoffroy, will have been left on its lees for 35 to 40 years.
If you’re thinking you can replicate the Plénitude concept in your home cellar by leaving a bottle of Champagne for seven or 15 years, forget it. In order to work its magic, the wine has to be resting on its lees. When you buy Champagne it has already been disgorged. The dead yeast cellars have been removed, first by riddling the bottles until the sediment rests on the crown caps; then the necks are immersed in a freezing solution. When opened, the pressure of the gas ejects a plug of ice containing the yeast residue, leaving a clean wine. The bottle is then topped up with sweetened wine to create the house style. Or unsweetened for Brut Zero.
If you’re asking, “What is the cost of P2?”, you probably can’t afford it. Neither can I. It will retail for about twice the price of the current vintage of Dom Pérignon. I just hope I’ll be around to sample P3 though.