• Morgan Edwards

Dom Pérignon - A Quick Guide

Dom Pérignon


The Story of the Monk that made Champagne.


In the 20th century the name Dom Pérignon became synonymous with luxury. It is

the brand of champagne that everyone has heard of, a celebratory champagne, a far cry

from the humble origins of the monk after whom the classic cuveé is named.







Who was Dom Pérignon?


Pierre Pérignon was born in 1639 in the village of Saint-Menehould in the

Champagne region of France. He was one of a large family of eight and his father was a

clerk who worked for the local judge. It is said the family tended vineyards. He entered the

Benedictine Order aged 19 and took on the black robe of the Order. Abbeys and

monasteries were a haven for the vine during the Dark Ages. The soil was worked with

tireless, silent dedication for decade-after-decade and century-after-century by monks for

whom wine represented more than a simple beverage, but a sacrament. As a result these

centres of worship accumulated vast knowledge of both vineyard management and of

winemaking. Pierre Pérignon obviously displayed some skill in tending vines as, in 1668, he

was appointed to the important position of cellar-master at the Benedictine Abbey at

Hautvillers. He was very successful in the role, the Abbey flourished and the vineyard

holdings doubled in size under his stewardship.


Such is his status in the History of Wine that many myths have evolved about

Pierre's life, and it is often difficult to deduce fact from fiction, and man from myth. What we

do know is that Pierre did not invent sparkling wine as some wine legends would have it.

English playwright Sir George Etherege wrote of “sparkling Champaign” in 1676 and another

Englishman, Christopher Merret, presented a paper to the Royal Society on winemaking in

which he stated “Our Wine-coopers of latter times use vast quantities of Sugar and Melosses

[molasses] to all sorts of Wines, to make them drink brisk [frothy] and sparkling”.

Whilst Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine per sé he does appear to have

been an extraordinarily capable blender of wines (in some accounts the reason for this is

that he was blind, however this appears to be another of the myths surrounding Dom

Pérignon). He taught winemakers how to get the most out of their wines by blending them.

This was a key development in the understanding of how to create a truly balanced wine and

has had lasting impact on the methods used to sustain traditional ‘House’ styles in

Champagne today. Indeed, without the art of blending Champagne would not exist as we

know it.

Another invention often ascribed to Dom Pérignon is that of the champagne cork. He

is said to have been inspired upon seeing Spanish travellers using cork bark to stopper their

water carriers. However, the evidence does not support this either. George Taber, author of

“To Cork or Not to Cork,” and other historians dispute the story, citing evidence of

Champagne corks on the Duke of Bedford’s household inventory list from 1665 — several

years before Dom Pérignon took charge of the vineyards at the abbey of Hautvillers. It

seems more likely, therefore, that Pierre may have been influential in the introduction of the

cork to Champagne, earning his reputation of “putting the bubbles into champagne”. After

all, without the cork there would be no consistent secondary fermentation in the bottle and,

therefore, no methode traditional and no Champagne.


What is Dom Pérignon?


Dom Pérignon is an exclusive, luxury cuveé produced by the Champagne house

Moét et Chandon. The first vintage of Dom Pérignon was the 1921 and subject to a

prolonged period of ageing before disgorgement. Finally, the wine was released to the public

in minuscule quantities in 1936 with 150 fortunate customers of Simon Bros & Co. who

ordered the first 300 bottles. Shortly after 100 cases were shipped to the US and the

popularity of Dom Pérignon soared throughout the 20th century. Production numbers are not

released by Moét by Chandon but are now thought to be around 1 million bottles per vintage.

The Dom Pérignon cuveé is a blend of approximately 50% Pinot Noir and 50%

Chardonnay and has a distinctive flavour profile. In youth, Dom Pérignon displays incredibly

smooth, creamy fruit with perfect balance and weight. As it ages, it takes on wonderfully

toasty aromas and develops a finesse equalled by very few of the other Grandes Marques.

The Dom Pérignon range now encompasses several releases, differentiated by the

length of time the wine spends ageing on its lees. What was once known as the Oenothèque

release was replaced by the three-tiered “Plenitude” label in 1998. P1 is the ‘ordinary’

Vintage release, aged for 7 years on lees. The P2 is aged for 12 years, and the P3 is aged

for no fewer than 20 years on leés and typically between 30 and 40 years.


The Dom Pérignon Bottle


The Dom Pérignon bottle is iconic, instantly identifiable due to its unique shape,

large, round base tapering to a thin, elegant neck. The design was based on an old-

fashioned type of bottle, the accepted form of Champagne having been standardised under

Napoleon III. Corks were secured in the old style using string, and sealed from dust and dirt

using green sealing wax. The label was adorned with vine shoot motifs by the engraver

Deletain. The distinctive shield-shaped label also featured on the 1936 release, although no

brand was mentioned on the bottle – the label inscription simply read “Champagne

especially shipped for Simon Bros. and Co.’s Centenary 1835-1935″. The first ‘official’

release with the branding as we recognise it today came with the 1926 Vintage.







Does Dom Pérignon age well?


Champagne has a phenomenal ability to age thanks to its natural high levels of

acidity and the presence of carbon dioxide both of which act as preservatives allowing the

highest quality champagnes to age for decades. Well-aged Champagne will lose some of its

carbonation, turn a deeper colour, and the flavours will evolve into dried fruit, nutty, honey

and toasty flavours.


How to store Dom Pérignon?


Like most still wines Champagne is sensitive to changes in light, temperature and

humidity. Bottles should therefore be stored in a dark area with a cool, consistent

temperature and with sufficient humidity to prevent the cork from drying out, so losing its

tight seal. Store the wine on its side, if possible, with the label facing up. Care must also be

taken not to disturb the wine, try to let it rest as still as possible for as long as possible.


There is also some evidence that Wi-Fi signals can speed up the ageing of wines. Other

areas to avoid include lofts and kitchens where the wine will be subject to wide variations in

temperature.


Which Dom Pérignon Vintage is the best?


The best vintages of Dom Pérignon include:

1966, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975,1982

1983, 1990, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008

2009.

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