At the foot of a remote ice-capped volcano in Southern Iceland—accessible only by a specially equipped SUV or helicopter—around an arrangement of seats made entirely of mirrors, stands Dom Pérignon‘s head winemaker and Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy. An Icelandic volcano might not seem like the most obvious venue for the launch of a new champagne, but this isn’t just any champagne and or just any volcano.
In April of 2010 Eyjafjallajökull erupted, covering much of Northern Europe in ash and grounding flights around the world for up to two weeks—effectively shutting down air traffic in the northern hemisphere. This display and presence of raw energy pervades the Icelandic landscape and quite literally lies in wait beneath one’s feet at all times. This very energy is reflected in Dom Pérignon’s Second Plénitude (dubbed the P2) of its 1998 vintage. Actively maturing over the past 16 years to reach its ultimate potential and high-definition intensity, a dramatic reveal for the P2 was not only appropriate, it was essential.
The Plénitude system is unique to the house and presents vintages in an entirely new light, revealed through lasting care and passion for every bottle in the caves. As the years pass, active maturation from the existing yeast translates into a vibrancy and intensity that is simply not possible by other precesses. “It’s really going through an unprecedented expression, a radiance, an invitation to renew the experience,” says Geoffroy. The brand previously referred to rereleases as an oenothèque, however as Geoffroy notes, this refers to the place of origin which is static by nature. A Plénitude on the other hand is active, changing and always unique. “A Plénitude is so much more true to what the wine is all about,” he adds, “About that active maturation and about the singularity because this is totally exclusive.”
Part of the experience of Dom Pérignon is capturing a moment at all sensory levels. The strong mineral presence in Iceland, the visceral smell of the earth’s power and a landscape that evolves quickly—sometimes before one’s very eyes in the case of a mountain that popped up over night due to an eruption on the ocean floor—is the perfect companion for P2. The first taste of P2 reveals Geoffroy’s capacity to create a a wine that is precise, completely clear in its flavor profile with plenty of complexity but no white noise, no convoluted distractions that mask the wine’s intention.
“Dom Pérignon in essence is about precision,” Geoffroy explains. “To me, precision—I’m sure some people will speak of finesse—for me, precision is about each of the wine’s features and lines being very defined. There is nothing blurred, there is nothing broad; one can easily go into broadness, coarseness.” The P2’s character begins with its aromatics, at once complex and clear, there is a clarity to the wine’s nose that eludes to the palate yet holds its own profile. “To make complexity out, one has to be detailed,” Geoffroy adds, “If not, it’s just a blur.”
There is a very clear sense of minerality on both the nose and palate of the P2 albeit in a different expression. The aromatics suggest limestone, a fresh crispness and wildness about it like a waterfall or glacial lake. Meanwhile on the palate the wine holds a deeper richness while maintaining this minerality. The darkness on the palate will surprise many who are not familiar with more complex champagnes. Energy continues to play a key role, a vibrancy that mirrors the energy of Iceland’s landscape. Notes of iodine outline the earthy stone-line notes on the tip of the palate with a clear sense of fresh, spice to punctuate the finish. “It’s a cross of precision and intensity, penetrating and piercing,” Geoffroy explains, “Piercing to me is really the right evocation of a cross of intensity and precision together.” Consider pressure with one’s hand versus pressure with a needle and the difference in intensity and precision, he suggests. “With the needle, it’s intense and precise, it’s all about the needle.”
Achieving such complexity again and again is one Geoffroy’s and indeed the maison’s reason for success as well as one of the greatest challenges. For the maison, creativity reigns supreme over financial concerns where creating the absolute best product that is true to the brand’s values is the chief concern, and ultimately—though he relies heavily on his team for support—Geoffroy has the last word. For the P2, there was no predestined date of readiness; the decision rested upon his personal palate and vision.
“Creativity always looks so intuitive, spontaneous, artistic. OK, as long as you start off on a very solid, rigorous objective platform,” Geoffroy says. One might get lucky following instinct alone, but truly excelling in champagne is about repetition. Each year’s crop is different and thus requires a systematic foundation to make a great product, only then can one begin to experiment. “The consistency in the quest—voila, that’s what it is. It’s a lesson of life: to break the rules, you’ve got to master them.”
While the P2 is just hitting shelves and finer restaurants worldwide, this unveiling begs the question about future releases including that of a P3 of an earlier vintage. Dom Pérignon P2 prices vary by country, but expect a bottle to start around $375.
Photos by Hans Aschim