Champagne Review: 2002 Dom Perignon Tasting Notes

Well, here it is my friends – a humble food blogger’s review of the 2002 Cuvée Dom Pérignon from Moët & Chandon – or quite simply 2002 Dom Pérignon, if you will – one of the more hyped, famous and expensive Champagne bottles of the new millennium.

Dom Perignon 2002 label

Loyal readers may wonder why I decided to pop a bottle of 2002 Dom Pérignon after giving a slightly less than favorable review for the 2005 Dom Pérignon about a year ago. Well, the thing is this, my friends: Good things, they say, come to those who wait. Dom Perignon, they say, reward those who wait at least a few years before popping. And wait, I say, I have.

You see, I was fortunate to purchase a most reasonably priced bottle of 2002 Dom Pérignon at the time of its original release in 2010. And now, 14 years after harvest, I thought it a pretty good time to give it a taste and review as the highlight of a small 2002 Vintage Champagne tasting I held a few weeks back in honor of Global Champagne Day.

I hope you’ll join me for the ride. As always, you may skip directly to the review below or read on to learn what makes this particular bottle of Champagne so special.

 

2002 – An Iconic year in Champagne

2002 was an iconic and magical year in the Champagne region. This became clear to wine makers and Champagne experts alike not long after the harvest had finished and the complicated process of turning grapes into wine and then Champagne began. When the first pure vintage champagnes of 2002 were released some five years later, rumors were confirmed: 2002 was an immediate and smashing success for most producers in the Champagne region!

2002 vintage Champagne selection

A small selection of Champagnes from the iconic 2002 vintage

As a result, when the big houses finally started releasing their prestigious 2002 vintages some 8-10 years post harvest, it caused equal amounts of hype, celebration, excitement and grossly inflated prices. Considered then and now as easily the best vintage since 1996 (also known as the vintage of the century), prices for the 2002 vintage were steep at release and have certainly continued to rise in subsequent years.

Vintage vs Non-vintage Champagne: Normally, Champagne wines are a mixture of different vintages meant to express a uniform house style year after year. Vintage Champagnes, on the other hand, are made from grapes from a single vintage and are meant to give an expression of said year. Vintage Champagnes are more limited in release, more carefully crafted, more unique in their expressions and unlike their non-vintage counterparts, they age exceedingly well.

 

A bottle of Dom Pérignon 2002, for example, which could be acquired for around $100 at its 2010 release is now easily selling at around $250. A steep price for certain, and a major increase in value for sure. But what makes “The Dom” so special?

 

The Legend of Dom Perignon: The original Cuvée Prestige

Dom Pérignon was a 16th century French monk credited through legend with accidentally discovering the bottle fermentation process, which (simplified speaking) creates Champagne, and with coining the phrase “Come quickly, I’m tasting stars!” in response to his discovery.

The legend of Dom Pérignon is just that, legend, but it lives on – along with his name – in Cuvée Dom Pérignon; the premiere offering of Champagne giant Moët & Chandon. Dom Perignon, thanks in no little part to an unfathomable scale of production, exhaustively expensive marketing campaigns and product placement, has long been considered the world’s most well-known and widely available luxury brand of Champagne.

Dom Perignon Statue at Moët & Chandon

The legendary Dom Pérignon – in statue form at the Moët & Chandon estate in Épernay. Picture credit: Victor Grigas, via Wikimedia.

But unlike other luxury brands who find themselves catering mainly to the fashionable and wealthy nightclub clientele with little regard for taste and quality, Dom Pérignon is more than just a fancy label. It is actually a well-renowned and well-respected player in the Champagne world, even amongst some of the world’s greatest wine experts.

At its initial release in 1936, Dom Pérignon was hailed as the world’s first so-called Cuvée Prestige, a concept which has since been adapted by most other Champagne producers – even if Dom Pérignon, at the time, was nothing more than a spectacularly aged specialty bottling of Moët & Chandon’s 1921 vintage.

Since 1947, however, it has been a separate production made from separate plots using its own unique grape material. Then, as now, Dom Pérignon is made from an exclusive blend of the two superior Champagne grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Furthermore, Dom Pérignon is released only in better years (41 vintages thus far since the initial 1921 vintage), and is usually described as fruity, subdued and seductive in its youth evolving into a complex mesh of characteristic butter, fungal and coffee aromas with age.

A Champagne for special occasions: Dom Pérignon has always been a Champagne for special occasions. Take July 29, 1981 – the date of my birth – for exmaple. On this date, the 1961 vintage of Dom Pérignon was served at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The magnums served on the date created a special insignia created specifically for the ceremony. Coincidentally, no special insignia was created to commemorate the date of my birth.

 

But how, then, is the Dom Pérignon 2002 now? Some 14 years since its birth? On Global Champagne Day, October 21 2016, I popped a bottle during an extensive Champagne tasting dinner in an effort to find out.

 

Tasting the 2002 Dom Pérignon Champagne

Opening a $250 bottle of vintage Champagne always comes with an air of excitement and a light sprinkle of fear. How will it have weathered its many years in the bottle? Has the cork kept a tight seal? Is it alive and well or is it fading, sick or even dead?

The opening of the 2002 Dom Pérignon was no exception and easily the most fright-provoking in the set that evening: Careful removal of the cork showed very heavy shrinkage as it came off with absolutely no pop or fanfare – not even the slightest of hisses were heard.

A quick sniff of the cork, however, revealed no off aromas but rather an extremely subdued mix of citrus, butter and yeast. Reassuringly, the content of the bottle poured into the glass bright and vibrant, full of bubbles and life.

Once in the glass, the 2002 Dom Pérignon stood a beautiful straw yellow with an incredibly beautiful mousse of millions of tiny, little bubbles rising lively and steadily to the top of the glass, creating not only a magical display in the glass but a uniquely beautiful mouthfeel when sampled.

2002 Dom Perignon in glass

So young, so bright, so full of life – even 14 years after harvest!

When initially nosed, Dom Pérignon presented itself with a very subdued note, leaving a little (okay, a lot!) to be desired. First impressions were a subdued but very clean nose; at first floral with an overweight of white flower, sea shells, lemon and honey. When left in a large glass to aerate for about half an hour, it opened up with an oddly understated complexity and promises of great things to come: vanilla notes from oak maturation started to power through, as did familiar brioche and mushroom notes that would be expected from a 14 year old bottle of Champagne. Fudge and almonds joined the party, too, as well as a more pronounced red berry note and an even more pronounced white flower note.

Upon first taste, the 2002 Dom Pérignon seemed still a little closed with light floral accents, more lemon, honey and a hint of red berries. It was full of finesse and beauty but still very young in its expression with a stringent acidity not yet fully integrated  – but not unpleasantly off in any kind of way. Given some air and time, the acidity subdued and gave way to an explosion of fruit, nicely honed oak notes and first sights of creamy, buttery secondary notes and an unmistakable cellar funk.

Overall, impressions were of a diamond in the rough. A wine which is starting to live up to its reputation and price but still needs time to shine. This is a wine that is no longer quite in its infancy but neither is it particularly evolved. I suspect very, very good things in store for those who manage to keep this in their cellar for another 5 – 10 years.

2002 Cuvée Dom Pérignon, Moët & Chandon, Épernay, France: 93+ Points

 

Pairing Dom Pérignon and food: What to eat with Dom Pérignon 2002?

Pairing a prestige cuvée of Champagne such as Dom Pérignon with food can indeed be a difficult venture. You’ll want the accompanying dish to compliment both the prominent and more delicate and subtle notes of the wine in question and neither overpower nor disappear in the notes of the wine. Oh, and let’s face it, most of us have about one shot to get it right. It’s not like we’ll just open a second bottle the next week and start over.

Luckily, vintage Champagnes make elegant and diverse food wines that pair perfectly with dishes where you would otherwise use a powerful and well-aged white wine or even a light red: complex fish dishes, flavorful pork or chicken dishes featuring either a fatty, creamy or starchy element and a fair amount of seasoning are perfect choices in my book. Simplistically speaking, the aged notes of fine Champagne pair well with creamy or starchy elements while the predominant acidity need a bit of robustness, flavor and spice as counterweight. An exact pairing, of course, depends on the composition, age and stage of development of your bottle of Champagne.

In my case, I was dealing with a fairly young wine (as far as Cuvée Prestige Champagnes are concerned) and suspected that my 2002 Dom Pérignon wine would still be quite acidic, floral, zesty and show a pronounced mineral note. As a result, my mind conjured up an Asian-fusion inspired dish made with French free-range chicken marinated in a combination of Cola, smoked chili, Japanese mirin and roasted sesame oil served on fried quinoa, shallots, Vietnamese coriander and Anaheim peppers.

Asian fusion chicken with cola and hot peppers – a perfect match for Dom Pérignon 2002?

Sweet, slightly spicy, sour and floral Asian notes, I figured, would make a good match for the Dom… And boy was I right! The succulent sweet and sour, subtly spicy and smokey Asian-style chicken proved a perfect match for the acidity of the still developing 2002 Dom Pérignon while the the peppers, shallots and herbs matched nicely with the lemony and floral nose of the wine.

In a few years, when the secondary notes are even more evolved, I suspect perfectly cooked Dover Sole would pair nicely either cooked simply with a creamy, acidic beurre blanc or in its ultimate expression: Sole Walewska!

Not convinced or still worried? Might I recommend simply doing what many others suggest and serve the bottle entirely on its own without food pairings or snacks? Not because I share the view of some foodies that Dom Pérignon clashes with most classic food pairings. No, mainly for the reason that for many of us mere mortals it is quite an overwhelming combination of flavors and impressions that will require a certain amount of effort to tackle and understand even without a host of complimentary or contrasting flavors provided by an equally complex food pairing.

 

Dom Pérignon 2002: Worth the price tag?

Is the 2002 Dom Pérignon worth its $250 price tag? That is very much a matter of personal opinion. By the time wines soar into the price range of $100 or more, it’s hard to offer a perfectly objective opinion based on factors such as quality vs. price, nuances and drinkability. A $200 bottle of wine can’t be expected to be twice as enjoyable as a $100 wine. The wine world simply doesn’t work that way. At this stage, entirely different factors such as personal preference, uniqueness of the experience and perceived value start to weigh in. I can tell you that in my personal experience, wines tagged at $250 or more per bottle are seldom worth it for the sheer increase in taste and quality alone, but they may be worth it for less tangible factors such as rarity, decadence or aura of luxury.

In the end, it’s hard to put a price tag on the feeling of popping an incredibly special bottle of wine with the people you love and care about. No matter what anyone may or may not tell you. In the end, I am – after all – just another dude on the internet and you probably shouldn’t blindly trust dudes on the internet to tell you what to do with your hard-earned money. You can look at them for advice, but in the end the decision to purchase a bottle of 2002 Dom Pérignon or similar should come down to a matter of personal judgement and the size of your wallet.

King of auctions: Dom Pérignon is well-known for fetching some of the highest wine auction prices in the world. In 2004, for example, 3 bottles of the initial 1921 release of Dom Pérignon sold for $24,675. In 2008, on the other hand, two bottles of the legendary 1959 Rosé sold for a whopping $84,700. Come to think of it, maybe I should hold on to my bottle of 1996 scheduled for consumption next year. Want some even more impressive auction figures? Looky here!

 

So, is the 2002 Dom Pérignon really worth it’s $250 price tag? Hard to say, but it’s certainly more worthy of it’s $250 price tag than the 2005 Dom Pérignon (reviewed here) is of it’s $150 price tag. Do I regret spending $100 on it at the time of release? Most certainly not! Has it kept it’s value well since release? Most certainly so! Would I buy another bottle at the current price? Well, after a lot of thought and processing, I can only answer that with a resounding quite possibly! Should you? Well…

All I can say is if ever you dreamt about owning an iconic vintage of Dom Pérignon, you should probably look to vintage 2002 and you should probably start looking soon. With the sublime 1996 vintage already selling at twice the price of 2002 and no ideas as to what the next big year will be, 2002 is a good, albeit expensive bet. Oh, and if you do, stick it somewhere nice, cool and dark for a few years. Your patience, I’m certain, will be rewarded!

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