Dom Pérignon - A Quick Guide
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
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
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