Champagne Dom Perignon 2008 Review – A Legend is Born

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“Wow,” is the most predominant first expressions I’ve heard to date about 2008 Dom Perignon – the new top vintage from Moët & Chandon – and with good reason. Everything about Dom Perignon, right down to its green, characteristically chubby bottle to the subtly underplayed, non-descript but universally recognizable label screams class and hedonistic luxury.

A bottle of 2008 Dom Perignon Champagne

In many ways, there is nothing flashy in itself about a bottle of Dom Perignon. In a few words, it looks classy yet non-descript. It is the fortune and the fame that surrounds the name, the brand and the bottle that creates an aura of mystique, awe and anticipation around the experience that is about to take place when a perfectly chilled bottle hits the table.

In the case of this particular bottle, the 2008 Dom Perignon, curious Champagne experts might notice the equally non-flashy “Vintage 2008” insignia on the characteristic non-descript label and turn particularly ecstatic, knowing they are about to taste a so-called vintage of the ages. 2008 Dom Perignon, you see, is hailed by many as the new Holy Grail of Epernay, the best Dom Perignon release of the decade and the crown prince set to topple 1996 as the perhaps best vintage in recent time.

To non-Champagne experts, of course, the numbers on the label will carry very little significance. And that’s perfectly alright, too. You don’t need to be a Champagne expert to appreciate Dom Perignon, Au contraire, mes amis. Champagne experts seem to carry somewhat of a bias against Dom Perignon and its maker Moët & Chandon in particular, labeling their Champagnes as everything from overpriced and non-interesting to overly hyped. In fact, I would venture the guess that non-experts and casual Champagne drinkers without preformed bias against the giant that is Moët & Chandon might offer a more unspoiled view on this supposed Champagne of ages.

Which is why, over the course of two weeks, I decided to run two bottles of 2008 Dom Perignon by a tasting panel containing myself and my beautiful fellow expert Champagne drinker, two Champagne novices and one self-processed Champagne loather. Hoping that this peculiar constellation would shed full light over the supposed wonder that is 2008 Dom Perignon.

And when I say decided, I mean of course that it happened by complete accident as so many other wonderful coincidences in this spoiled time on earth that I happen to call my life. Well, okay, I had initially planned to serve a bottle for my beautiful Champagne-obsessed friend for her birthday – and then somehow I found myself on a cruise ship with friends a week before, when suddenly a message ticked in on my phone that Gastromand.dk, a side project that I share with a few awesome Danish foodies, had reached a whopping 40.000 followers. I went to the bar, ordered Champagne and somehow this is what showed up… And then, what can you do? Sometimes my life just turns out for the better.

Two glasses of Dom Perignon 2008 on a summer day

What you are about to read is something as rare as an aggregated review based upon two bottles consumed over two occasions as seen through the eyes of a food blogger and Champagne reviewer, a Champagne lover, two casual bubbly fans and a Champagne hater:

What does Dom Perignon 2008 taste like?

To experts and laymen alike, the 2008 vintage of Dom Perignon offers very little initially on the nose. Jasmin flowers, baked fruit and a heavy whiff of something that almost resembles gun powder is all the nose reveals straight out of the glass.

Once tasted, however, the immediate and quite overwhelming sensation is that of an explosion of chalk, gunpowder and almost overly ripe apples seasoned with white pepper and a whiff of smoke. “Wow,” quoth the beautiful Champagne lover, “Fuck me,” quoth her equally beautiful casual counterpart. “Wait, what, why do I like this,” wondered the Champagne hater.

The knee-buckling opening fruit salute is caught quickly by an equally powerful, ragingly refreshing but beautifully intertwined acidity coupled with deeper, sweeter, more profound and refreshing notes of apple and pear, ripe orange, peach and a sprinkle of lime zest – all perched on top of an as of yet subtle bed of vanilla and freshly baked brioche.

Given a few minutes, a bit of air and a few moments of deep thought following the initial overload of impressions, the 11-year old Dom Perignon finally finds her foothold on a rather harmonic bedrock of perfumed and perfectly ripe tropical fruit and saline, mineral undertones. The acidity, as could be expected from a vintage champagne, is vibrant and strong but by no means as untamed and domineering as could be expected from such a relatively young vintage. The aromas from the glass, too, slowly overcome the initial blast of gunpowder and apple and instead begin to fade from ripe fruit and white flowers into subtle beginning notes of toast, cream, vanilla and oak.

It is, to say the least, anexperience that is, at once, both incredibly complex and extraordinary while remaining incredibly smooth, approachable and balanced for a vintage champagne. It is, as is so often the case with Dom Perignon, the sort of wine that is genuinely approachable by novices while, at the same time, remaining complex and interesting for more seasoned tasters. The sort of wine that is remarkably drinakble in its youth while showing clear signs of endless potential in the years to come for those who prefer their Champagnes on the more elegant and mature side.

Oh and for those wondering, it is quite obviously, the sort of wine that wins people over. “Wow,” said one of the casual fans, staring deeply into his second glass of the evening. “This is, for lack of a better word, well and truly spectacular.”

“I have to say, I agree,” said the Champagne hater, buried in thought and wonder, “I don’t know of it’s the wine, the company or the occasion – or merely the fact that you’ve bribed me with chocolate – but I really do enjoy this.” Well, sweety, as much as I would like to take credit, Dom is Dom and Dom has a way of winning people over. Even the haters… It is liquid magic. Especially in this, the grandest of vintages.

How does 2008 Dom Perignon compare to other vintages?

Compared to other great Doms we’ve been through on these pages, Dom Perignon 2008 is substantially more powerful and in your face than the 2005 vintage, it’s bolder still and perhaps even more structured than the reigning “vintage of the decade” 2002, but not yet as layered, as complex and as ethereally wonderful as the 1996 vintage that sits for many in our generation as the ultimate Dom Perignon experience to date… It may, however, very well become so with time!

A bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon

Dom Perignon 2008 *is* still in its infancy with all the adorable difficulties and immaturities that being a toddler entail. It is drinking more than well right now, do not get me wrong, but it’s still the kind of wine that would greatly benefit from being put down in a nice, cool, dark and undisturbed part of the cellar for at least a couple of years – if not for a decade or two under the right conditions.

Why? While my expert co-reviewer described the experience as the smoothest vintage experience she had ever enjoyed, Dom Perignon in its current state is for better and for worse a very straight forward, very fruity and very tight drinking experience.

A few years on its side in the darkness of a cool cellar will soften the initial kick, round off the fruit, have the layers slide perfectly into place while adding more of those nutty, toasty, buttery notes that we have come to know and love in vintage Champagnes. If the potential now seems great, it will – in a few years – seem perhaps endless.

How can we be sure? We have our reasons and they are two-fold: vintage and history.

2008: A special vintage in Champagne

What’s in a year? Well… The thing about vintage Champagne is, as the name may suggest, that it is made from grapes from a single vintage. This means that unlike standard Champagne which is blended from several vintages to basically taste the same year after year, the taste and quality of vintage Champagne relies entirely on the quality of the grapes from a single vintage. Herein lies the charm – and the challenges – of vintage Champagnes.

2008 certainly bore no signs of ever becoming a great vintage, or even a quality one for that matter. A cold – even freezing – spring was replaced by a particularly cool and gloomy summer. And then, in late summer, just as everyone had about given up all hope and the world started to topple into financial ruin, a small miracle took place in Champagne: the sun broke out! The peculiar combination of absolute stress followed by perfect conditions made for grapes with a perfect balance between acidity and maturity, of ripeness and backbone. The exact material that legendary vintages are made of.

And just like that, in a flash, 2008 went from being a vintage that no-one wanted to declare to being one that about every cellar master throughout the region went on to describe as the most potential they had seen in years, perhaps decades.

But what the hell does that mean for the average Champagne lover? Well, it means that asides from generally tasting more fabulous, rich, powerful and intense upon release, 2008 vintage Champagnes show a structure and composition that lends well to cellaring and growth over time. Pop that precious bottle in the cellar, forget about it and you’re bound to see positive development over the coming years or even decades: 2008 is a vintage of the ages and, in the case of the best, most prestigious bottlings, it may well live forever.

This room for improvement with age, however, is not reserved for Dom Perignon or other prestigious bottlings. It seems to be a general trait of the vintage. In fact, every bottle of 2008 I have tried thus far has performed well above average in terms of intensity and structure. So, let this be a subtle tip from me to you: Get your hands on some 2008 vintage before it is too late. Even if you can’t get Dom Perignon, get your favorite Champagne in the iconic 2008 vintage. It is bound to be worth your buck. Heck, get pretty much any 2008 vintage Champagne if you can. They perform well now and they will perform even better with age but they will never be as relatively cheap as they are right now.

If, however, you have the funds and are looking to finally (or once again) get your greedy little hands on a bottle of Dom Perignon, there are very good reasons why you should make the jump on the 2008 vintage before it is too late.

Legacy of Kings: Farewell to a cellar master

2008 Dom Perignon is a special release for Moët & Chandon for more reasons than one. Not only because of the grandness of the vintage in general, but also because it marks the final release from the hand of their legendary Chef du Cave (Cellar Master) Richard Geoffrey.

2008 is the final release from the hands of Richard Geoffrey who has declared his retirement from the luxury brand after decades of service, and consequently marks the passing of the torch to Vincent Chaperon who has helped oversee the release of past vintages but will now assume full responsibility himself.

This monumental event is – in true over the top Dom Perignon style – marked with the release of a special 2008 Legacy Edition which, aside from being released slightly before the regular edition, carrying a flashier label with the names and signatures of Geoffrey and Chaperon, and boasting a higher price, is absolutely no different from the regular edition. It is rare, limited and very gorgeous, indeed, but the content is exactly the same at a premium price – for better and for worse, such are the ways and tomfoolery of the Dom Perignon marketing monster.

Flashy bottles aside, the event is perhaps more appropriately marked by the release of what is arguably the strongest “standard” release of Dom Perignon we have encountered over the course of this millennium – a vintage that may well outlive its maker. And if that is not indeed the true meaning of a legacy edition, I don’t know what is.

Dom Perignon is something as rare as a subtle powerhouse of a Champagne. Full, rich, rounded and incredibly smooth yet with an aura of intensity and a powerful initial blast of fireworks about it, coupled with underlying, as of yet not quite focused notes of chalk, minerality and oak. It is, as always, drinking incredibly well at release but shows every sign of getting better with age. Now, if only the panel and I can find some way of keeping our hands off the remaining two bottles in my cellar.

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