Cellar Treasures

 Bollinger 2005 is the current release from the prestigious Champagne house, but this week, they announced several older vintages (Photo: Bollinger)

Bollinger 2005 is the current release from the prestigious Champagne house, but this week, they announced several older vintages (Photo: Bollinger)

Bollinger, famous for a century and a half for its rich style of Champagne and one of the greatest of the Grande Marques (not to mention being the favored Champagne of secret agent James Bond), found something new while discovering something old. The house (Champagne companies are invariably called houses) announced yesterday that while cleaning a gallery filled with empty bottles, workers discovered that not all the bottles were empty. In fact, 600 bottles represented nearly the entire legacy of the venerable company founded in 1829. How could they only now find bottles nearly 200 years old? How do you lose a bottle that old?

It's easier than you may think. Over the years, I've spent quite a bit of time at Bollinger prowling the cellars with two past directors, Hervé Augustan and Ghislaine de Montgolfier, and I can tell you the chalk cellars are a warren of hidden nooks and alcoves. Like an archaeological dig, they tend to be filled in strata with racks of wine being laid upon older bottles and if someone loses track....well, we have discoveries like this one when it's time for cleaning.

The stash of bottles is truly a treasure - the most recent bottling they discovered was 1921, and the oldest was 1830, the year after the house was founded. Jérome Philipon, the president of Bollinger, told a group of journalists, ‘The discovery of this cellar and the opportunity to restore our other stocks of old wines inspired us to create a new oenotheque.’ The oenotheque, or wine library, was named "Gallerie 1829," and establishes a collection of the older bottles that gives researchers and winemakers a unique opportunity to sample styles of wine from eras long past.

Can any wine last 186 years? In the treasure trove, Bollinger found 54 bottles of the 1830 and, using a modern tool called an aphrometer that can measure the pressure in a bottle without opening it, they found that 13 of the bottles were still in good shape and the wine, while only a shadow (we presume) of its original self, was quite drinkable. The unveiling of Galleries 1829 prompted the opening of some legendary bottles - the 1914 created in the dark days of the First World War (a conflict that hit Champagne particularly hard), and storied vintages like 1928, 1937 and 1945.

Here is a gallery of photos from Bollinger showing some aspects of the new Gallerie 1829 - if this doesn't give you a thirst, nothing will!