Iceland's glaciers and lava-spewing volcanoes aren't what I picture when sipping a super luxury champagne. But Richard Geoffroy, the ebullient chef de cave at Dom Perignon, has almost convinced me there's a connection between the character of that landscape and his new special bottling of the 1998 vintage, labeled P2.
The wine, just now entering the market, is the first in a planned separate line of champagnes that have been aged longer. Impressed by a glass of it at a fall New York wine auction, I phone Geoffroy in France for details.
'The wine is all about magnetic energy,' he says. 'Iceland looks quiet, minimalist, but under the surface everything is bubbling and surging.' (The brand often likes to make dramatic comparisons - but they took this one to the next level when, earlier this year, they did a debut tasting of the P2 at an ice cave at the Gigjokull glacier on the slopes of a volcano in Iceland.)
In person, Geoffroy, with his short, spiky hair and severe black glasses, has a minimalist look, and regularly erupts - with bold proclamations.
He says the 'P' stands for plenitude, a word he uses to describe the distinctive phases of taste evolution as the champagne ages in the cellar.
Basically the wine gets its bubbles from a second fermentation in the bottle that leaves yeast cells behind. Though they're removed before the wine is sold, the longer the liquid stays in contact with the yeast, the more it changes, gaining flavors of toast and minerals and a silkier texture.
After 8 years, Dom Perignon is 'all about harmony,' he says. That becomes the regular DP release. The second phase, at 12 to 15 years, is P2, 'the wine's peak of energy and intensity,' while the third (P3) at around 30 to 40 years, is 'more subtle, complex, and polished.' DP can last a century, Geoffroy adds. (I'll have to take his word for that.)
Essentially, DP is triple-dipping, releasing a vintage at three points in its life, with extra time on the yeast at each stage. The P2 and P3 names, which sound like software upgrades, are a bit of rebranding; DP's previous late releases were labeled Oenotheque.
The 1998 P2 has pinpoint focus, dark, salty, mineral notes and the creamy texture that's a DP hallmark, and is definitely a step up from the regular 1998.
Frankly, its subtleties are not likely to be noticed by all drinkers. And that's fine - Dom Perignon is, after all, Dom Perignon. But bottlings like the P2 and P3 help deeply-obsessed fans examine just how superb the bubbly can be as a wine.
Today, when grower champagnes from tiny estates are the hip choice, P2 is a reminder of the treasures a big producer nurtures in its caves. Maybe that's why the somber packaging trumpets investment potential. The bottle rests like a mummy in a black metallic box with the look of a small safe. Total weight: 8 pounds; price tag $350 to $375.
There's more to come. In February, DP will unveil the 1995 P2 Rose, and come spring, the first P3, from a not-yet-revealed older vintage. Prices for both will be even higher. You needn't rush. The champagne house has always been coy about revealing production figures, a tipoff that scarcity isn't an issue.
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