My first experience of R.D. was on a very cold day in January 1992 at Great Peter Street; the ’73; a dribble was remaining in a bottle left in the first-floor dining room. Anthony Leschallas (the M.D) and a customer were out for lunch, and I was allowed to finish off the bottle. This was my first experience of vinous heaven and made me realise how special Bollinger really was. The ’73 also happened to be the Champagne which was selected for the Royal wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The wine was bottled in 1981.
Madame Bollinger was ahead of her time when she put the date of disgorgement on the bottle – right from the first vintage in ’52; this was unheard of at the time. Tante Lily (as she was referred to by Christian Bizot) also knew that mature Champagne needed less dosage to reveal its hidden depths and complexities. She produced her first vintage in ’52 and launched it in ’67. At that time, most Champagne was drunk young and fresh- old Champagne was restricted to a small coterie of wine lovers. Madame Bollinger knew this, of course, but also knew how good mature Champagne could be.
I have been one of the fortunate few who have tasted almost every single R.D. vintage with the exception of only the ’53, ’64 and ’70. Many were enjoyed in the dining room of Madame Bollinger’s house in Ay with Christian Bizot – he was a very generous host together with his wife. In the early years it wasn’t unusual for me to visit Bollinger almost every month – by car! In those days, indoor smoking was permissible, and I can vividly remember a constant cloud of smoke surrounding Christian in his drawing room whilst he entertained guests from his sofa. He was a marvellous man who took great interest in everyone who worked for him.
Often at least two vintages of R.D. were served. R.D. was considered, rightfully, to be very much unique in Champagne, , not to compete with other “luxury” Champagnes such as D.P. or Cristal. We sold very small quantities – and several releases were made each year. We would launch a collection of vintages – say three vintages. These were snapped up by the top hotels and few serious collectors, and always caught the eye of the journos. We didn’t have social media, or celebrity sommeliers – everything was sold over lunch and by word of mouth. I can recall visiting Bollinger with Champagne influencers such as Tom Stevenson, Oz Clarke, Joanna Simon and Serena Sutcliffe. It wasn’t until the likes of Matthew Jukes & Tim Atkin and other international influencers such as Tyson Stelzer that R.D. became more talked about.
It was hardly surprising that Madame Bollinger was nicknamed the “First Lady” of France. She was largely responsible for helping to strengthen the relationship with the Royal Warrant and of course played a vital role for the people of Ay during the war, opening the doors of her cellars to shelter villagers. This gained her even more respect in the village. There is a history behind R.D., which goes well beyond a marketeers innovation. Here we have something very special to share and to celebrate!
The oldest Bollinger I have been privileged to taste was 1830- I look forward to tasting the RD’07!