At the Abbaye Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers in Champagne, France, lies the tomb of Dom Pierre Pérignon, the French Benedictine monk whose years as the monastery’s cellar master in the late 1600s were crucial to the region’s later reputation in making sparkling wine. Pérignon believed that hard work would bring a monk closer to God, which ignited his determination to create the best wine in the world. So absolute was his commitment that his tomb is engraved with the phrase “summa cum laude” or “with the highest distinction.”
It is after this gentleman that Möet & Chandon named its prestige cuvée. The “Dom” in the Dom Pérignon label is an abbreviated Latin phrase: Deo optimo maximo, which means “to God, the best and the greatest.” With such grand aspirations guiding its philosophies, extreme discernment naturally became a way of life at the label. Rather than release iterations every year, only vintages are produced and wines are sometimes held back to let them come into their own before being shared with the world.
This was how the Dom Pérignon 2008 came to be released two years after the 2009 vintage. Its coming was a miracle seeing as overcast skies throughout the growing season prevented the grapes from flourishing, but sunny weather just as harvest began seemed rich with divine intervention. The consequence was a glorious year for Dom Pérignon. It delayed the release to allow the wine time to round out, a decision ripe with foresight in the resulting complexity and luminosity.
The nose opens with a bouquet of white flowers, citrus and stone fruit tempered by aniseed and crushed mint before the spice, wood and roasted notes settle on the palate. The taste balances, even supersedes, this promising aroma with a pronounced fruit and minimalist but warm character as well as a notable acidity that is well integrated into the sensorial blend.
“It is a special vintage, what we call a legacy vintage,” says Ronan de La Morlais, manager of Möet Hennessy Diageo Malaysia’s champagne portfolio. “It marks the handing over of the baton from the last chef de cave (cellar master) of 28 years, Richard Geoffroy, to his apprentice, Vincent Chaperon. The 2009 variety was born in a warm year but 2008 was a cold year with a late summer, so it was rather shy. It had to be held back because it wasn’t ready but now it has rounded beautifully. I like to hold it on the tip of my tongue to feel the sparkle.”
We experienced this for ourselves at the preview of the Dom Pérignon 2008 held at DC Restaurant, Kuala Lumpur. The choice of venue is not merely dictated by the exceptional degustation menus for which chef-owner Darren Chin is renowned, but also to announce his appointment as the Malaysian ambassador of Dom Pérignon. In the hands of one who speaks the languages of both food and wine, pairings are elevated from complementary accompaniments to a real conversation, a dialogue of taste and texture with each playing off the qualities of the other.
And so it was. In the opening course of striped jack mackerel with bitter lemon cream and local torch ginger, the fish was aged for a week to allow its muscles to relax — an apt nod to the virtue of patience that was our reason for gathering here today. Fatty, with the cream, ginger and generous spoonful of Kaviari Transmontanus sturgeon caviar, it was the ideal template of paradoxical restraint and indulgence showcasing the Dom Pérignon 2009 vintage. As sunny and languid as the summer it grew in, the voluptuous wine batted fleshy ripeness and undernotes of brine with a green and white fruit nose that blossomed into stone fruit, woody vanilla and toasted brioche.
It stayed on the table for the next course, this time a suggestion of honeycomb lifting the flaky Alaskan king crab in mandarin and butter sauce and firm Landes asparagus braised in its own juices. Most surprising was the concentrated heirloom tomato gelée — for something so innocuously translucent, it was a powerhouse of flavour.
The guest of honour found worthy playmates in the seafood medley. What appeared as a coating or batter on the day’s catch was really crisp potato coins meticulously arranged as scales, recalling the creativity and scrupulous discipline of winemaking. We admired how well the 2008 pairs with seafood as we prolonged the savouring of Hokkaido scallop and Irish bouchot mussel alongside a vibrant Jerusalem artichoke purée with pearl barley risotto and braised leeks.
This was an act we would repeat with the surprise course: Hokkaido sea urchin steamed with custard. Incredibly light for something so rich, the sea urchin and custard coupling lulled us into its creamy comfort, until the salmon roe lanced through in briny bursts.
Mulberry and blackberry granité with four mint yogurt brings us back to earth before the main course — DC’s signature rack of lamb grilled over binchotan coals — is served. While escorted by fermented diced beet and apple to assuage the gaminess of the rare-cooked lamb, it is the green peppercorns that I found to be a genius touch, providing spikes of sharp spice and contrast.
Instead of the traditional heavyweight reds, the Rosé Vintage 2006 is chosen here. The 2006 was the first time Dom Pérignon saw a sequence of vintages released in five consecutive years, and the vintage is worthy of this record. Its rose gold, almost coppery hue is the outcome of a 56% Pinot Noir and 44% Chardonnay blend, which mingle to create a nose of dark spices and cocoa before developing into fruit, with roasted fig, apricot and candied orange. Succulent and crisp on the palate, it stands up to the lamb assertively.
Dessert was a double chocolate tart with 60% cacao ganache and 100% Sicilian pistachio ice cream, drizzled with AOP extra virgin olive oil from Liguria. Although Hennessy Paradis Impérial was brought out to end the evening, it was to the 2008 I returned for a last swirl and swallow.
“Shyer vintages have a huge ageing potential, so keep one in your cellar for a couple of decades. It is really to last you a lifetime,” de La Morlais says. If the dinner has been any indication, great things are indeed worth the wait.
This article first appeared on June 3, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.