This series of articles will focus on the top wines from a number of Champagne Houses. In Champagne these top wines are referred to as that house’s “Tête de Cuvée”. The Tête de Cuvée will be made from a strict selection of the best barrels from the best vineyard parcels. The Tête de Cuvée is very limited in production, but it is very important to the Champagne house as it represents the best of the best, the crowning achievement that defines what the house is capable of.
Champagne house Pol Roger probably needs no introduction as it enjoys a status among Champagne-lovers that is right up at the very peak. The House was formed in 1849 by the then 18-year-old Pol Roger, son of a notary based in Ay, in the Montagne de Reims region of Champagne. He began his business as a distributor of wines and in 1855 he began making his own wines. From the beginning the focus was always on quality. Though Pol Roger today is nowhere near the size of most of the other Grande Marques such as Moët Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer or Perrier-Jouët, it is its quality, not its size that has created and maintained its reputation.
Before the introduction of the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Pol Roger’s Tete du Cuvée was their Private Reserve. The Private Reserve was a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, made up of the house’s best barrels. And it was the Private Reserve that created Churchill’s lasting love of the wines of Pol Roger.
Churchill was invited to the French Embassy in London to a dinner where the 1928 Pol Roger Private Reserve was served. Also at the dinner was Mademoiselle Odette Pol-Roger. The evening created for Churchill a lasting bond with both the wine and the winery’s proprietress. Churchill’s love of Champagne was the stuff of legends. He ordered wines by the case from Pol Roger. He, in fact, ultimately drained Pol Roger of their entire supply of the 1928 Private Reserve, his all-time favourite Champagne. Following the depletion of the 1928 he moved to the 1935, then the 1945 and finally the 1947. Pol Roger has calculated they shipped to Churchill a total of 42,000 bottles, from his first order at age 34 until his death. The House has calculated that to mean that Churchill consumed 2 bottles of Champagne per day! (An extraordinary amount by any measure, but all-the-more when you consider Churchill also enjoyed both red and white still wine as well as a great fondness for Brandy).
However, the House’s calculations may be simplistic. Churchill’s wife Clementine may also have participated in the consumption as well as the various guests who joined them at Chartwell. The calculation also does not consider that in addition to Pol Roger, Churchill also regularly purchased cases of Champagne from Pommery, Roederer and Ponsardin. Nor does it also take into account the period of 1926 to 1929 while Churchill was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his personal finances were in utter disarray. To help remedy the situation he wrote to his wife Clementine, who was terribly concerned about this situation “No more Champagne is to be bought. Unless special directions are given, only white and red wine, or whiskey and soda will be offered at luncheon or dinner. The Wine Book to be shown to me every week. No more port is to be opened without special instructions.”
It was not until a decade after Churchill’s death that the Cuvée Winston Churchill was created, as an homage to the great man, friend of France and friend of the House. The first release was in 1984 made from the 1975 vintage. The wine was only released in magnums. As a further homage to Churchill, the 50/50 blend of the Private Reserve was modified to 60% to 80% Pinot Noir, reflecting Churchill’s fondness for big, robust Champagnes.
Since that first 1975 vintage of Cuvée Winston Churchill was released, subsequent vintages have been released from the 1979, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009 harvests.
Today the Private Reserve is no longer made and the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is the House’s only Tete du Cuvée. The Cuvée Winston Churchill is a wine made to be enjoyed with food, which is how its namesake would enjoy it. The dominance of Pinot Noir always ensures a richness and fullness to the cuvee and the inclusion of Chardonnay keeps it precise and well-defined. It is truly one of the world’s great Champagnes and well worth seeking out for a very special occasion.
2002 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill
Medium gold in colour with a fine bead. As soon as the cork was popped we could smell the aromas of toasty brioche. This wine has incredible texture, rich and full. There is enough acidity to keep the wine crisp and sharp and it finds just the right balance point for the texture of the wine. The flavours are incredibly intense; apple, pear, biscuits and a slight saline quality. Complex, rich and expansive, it is an incredible Champagne, that even at age 18 is showing youthfulness and plenty of promise for future development.