Wine of the Week

Churchill's Favorite Champagne


The Champagne region abounds with stories of remarkable, sometimes even beautiful, women, such as Nicole-Barbe Clicquot, Madame Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Pommery, and Lily Bollinger, to name a few. One of the most remarkable and most beautiful of them all was Odette Pol-Roger, whose husband ran the champagne house of the same name. Since the 1980s, though, the name Pol Roger (pronounced poll rojey) has been associated with an even larger larger-than-life icon: Winston Churchill.

Pol Roger had been Churchill's favorite champagne from the 1920s, so when he attended a lunch at the recently reopened British Embassy in Paris in November 1944, the ambassador, Duff Cooper, who knew Churchill enjoyed the company of beautiful women at least as much as he enjoyed champagne, seated Odette next to him.

The attraction was immediate, and their enthusiastic if entirely innocent friendship lasted until Churchill's death in 1965. Such a fervent admirer was Churchill of both Odette and her champagne that he named one of his race horses Pol Roger. She returned the compliment in 1984 by naming her house's new prestige champagne Cuvée Winston Churchill.

A Style from the Twenties

Earlier this year I enjoyed a preview of this week's five-star Wine of the Week, the Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill 1999 ($220) at a dinner at the Pol-Roger mansion in Epernay.

According to Patrice Noyelle, president of Pol Roger, the cuvée is designed "to reproduce today the style of vintage Pol Roger from when Churchill was drinking it in the '20s and '30s," and although the exact formula is a secret, it contains an unusually high proportion of pinot noir.

Now the 1999 has been released in the U.S. market, and retasting it confirms my initial impression of a highly serious champagne indeed. Astoundingly concentrated, it combines precision, power, and finesse. It is rich and winey, maintaining a lace-like elegance yet with enough weight to stand up to the gamy lamb I drank it with in Epernay.

This is true luxury champagne, fully mature, and worth every penny of its elevated price.

When to Drink: Now and for the next 10 years

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Very versatile; experiment

Grapes: Pinot noir and chardonnay

Appellation: Champagne

Region: Champagne

Country: France

Price: $220

Availability: Good

Web Site: www.polroger.com

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Nick_passmore
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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