Into the Woods: The Launch of Bollinger La Grande Année 2015

Words by
Rob Bellinger

4th April 2024

Join Rob Bellinger, also known by his Instagram alias @fizzncars, as he focuses on the 'fizz' - leading us through the woodland launch of Champagne Bollinger's La Grande Année 2015. Featuring an atmospheric dinner from Green Michelin-starred Chef, Chantelle Nicholson and commentary from Denis Bunner, Bollinger's Chef de Cave. 

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2015 Launch

A private woodland on the outskirts of Gerrards Cross in Bucks on a Wednesday night in the last week of March, is not where you would expect to find the master of one of the most important Cellars in Champagne. Denis Bunner, Chef de Cave of Champagne Bollinger, is here to reveal the global launch of La Grande Année 2015. It’s not at all ‘backwoods’ though, as Green Michelin-starred chef, Chantelle Nicholson has been enlisted to provide a semi-alfresco dinner to complement the new wines.

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - Denis Bunner
Denis Bunner, Chef de Cave of Champagne Bollinger

It is Bollinger’s vintage offering that was re-named in 1997 as ‘La Grande Année’, or ‘The Great Year.’ It is only crafted in the best harvest years, using every facet of 195 years of wine-making knowledge. The overriding principle Bunner affirms is that the vintage should only be released if it is “a beautiful wine with its own identity”. This distinctiveness is achieved by utilising grapes from only the best Grand and Premier Cru sites, within the 178 hectares owned by Champagne Bollinger. 60 per cent of these vineyards are Pinot Noir, in keeping with Bollinger's signature black grape dominant style.

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - Bottles
Bottles of Le Grande Année 2015

Even now the Aÿ based Maison continues the strategic and perfectionist approach of the original Champenoise power woman, Madame Lily Bollinger. Having taken the helm at Bollinger in 1941, she declared “It is the traditional methods that count, even if they appear outdated: the quality of my wines is proof of this.” She then formed the mantra still in use by the wine-making team today, allowing flexibility and inventiveness alongside tradition- “If it’s good for the wine, we do it”.

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - Bollinger logo
Bollinger's iconic crest suspended amongst the blooming florals

So why the unusual choice of the esoteric venue to launch this vintage, Nomadic Dinners? Bunner explains the synergies of wood being so important within the Bollinger approach and relating to the nuances of the 2015 vintage itself.

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - woodland tent
The Bollinger's launch's woodland atmospheric tented setting at Nomadic Dinners

Bollinger remains the only Champagne House, it is claimed, to employ its own cooper to make new and repair the aged barrels it requires. They also hold the largest number of barrels in the region, at around four thousand. The wood for future vintages now also hails from the family forest in Cuis, and the finished result enables the ageing of the initially still wines, which go on of course to become Champagne. This barrel-led approach is one of Bollinger’s most distinctive characteristics. It softens tannins and controls acidity by the ingress of minute amounts of oxygen through the porous wood. This ‘old oak exposure’ also allows for a sophisticated roundness and subtle honeyed and pure vanilla notes to develop. It's an approach beloved of Bolly aficionados.

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - florals table
A blossoming table awaited guests for an alfresco dining experience from Chantelle Nicholson

Furthermore, bottles go on to be traditionally hand-turned (riddled) and are aged with natural cork. Even the vintage bottle itself has been designed to optimise longer maturation and produce a higher-quality wine by slowing down the oxygen exchange. The shape of the La Grande Année bottle is based on one found in the Bollinger cellar from 1846, which has a wide base and a narrow neck. This bottle has been christened the “small magnum” for the effect it has on flavour. After nine years in bottle in chalk cellars, the ‘new’ vintage was deemed ready for release.

The 2015 iteration is particularly poignant as it was made at the hands of both Bunner and the great Gilles Descôtes; who sadly passed away last year. With Gilles' 20 years at the helm in the cellars and Denis’ 11 years at his side; the result combines a legacy of sustainability and an uncompromising pursuit of quality continue uninterrupted.

Sphere Lisa Barnard goes into the woods for Bollinger Grande Annee launch
SPHERE's Lisa Barnard goes into the woods for Bollinger's La Grande Annee 2015 launch

As SPHERE's online Editor and ILN CEO Lisa Barnard, also in attendance for the launch, commented: "Champagne Bollinger certainly knows how to do things in style. Only they would be brave enough to cart 100 or so top customers and 'Amis de la Maison' off to the wilds of Chalfont St Peter and have a waiting list! It was a magical and original evening, finished off by the mellifluous tunes by the superb  violinist Lettice Rowbotham." 

Violinist Lettice Rowbotham at Bollinger Grande Annee launch
Violinist Lettice Rownbotham adds sonority to the evening

The 2015 vintage saw remarkable weather. Blazing hot sunshine was tempered by rain and the wine-making team's expertise was able to draw out the best of the vintage's characteristics. To achieve the best result for Grande Année Rosé meant using cooler Pinot Noir plots from Verzenay and Verzy to add freshness. Frost risk was reduced by an early Spring, and winter itself had been both wet and mild. Sunshine levels were the highest recorded since 2007 with rain just before harvest, swelling the grapes and tempering sugar levels and acidity. Overall it led to excellent grape quality and compact bunches of extremely healthy berries with concentration. This sunshine has led to a very mature, hot vintage and wines best described in nature as extrovert.

Bunner was confident about the 2015 wines from the very start: “The appearance of the grapes and the weather in 2015 clearly point to a very promising vintage. And so we harvest, we make the wine, and then we wait seven long years. Then it is out of our hands. We relinquish our control and, today, give in to discovery. What a thrill! The taste is well-rooted, earthy, powerful, and concentrated. You can taste the sunshine, which is enhanced by the wood.”

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - venison dish
Venison haunch with London oyster mushrooms, roasted pear and Kentish cherry jus by Chantelle Nicholson

Both La Grande Année 2015 and La Grande Année Rosé 2015 are gastronomic wines and are able to carry bold flavours. For the launch, revered Chef Chantelle Nicholson took inspiration from the central woodland theme. She matched the two wines respectively with ingredients as diverse as Kentish cobnuts and rhubarb paired with cured brill, and venison with mushrooms, pear and cherry. Both wines are luscious and rich; with exquisite finesse coming from a balancing bitterness and a slow and fine textured mousse. Both share very subtle fresh forest floor accents and a hint of finely powdered cep.



Chef Chantelle Nicholson created a magical woodland dinner
Chef Chantelle Nicholson created a magical woodland dinner
Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - frangipane tart
Baked apple and almond frangipane tart, with Maison Bollinger honey and creme fraiche

Rather aptly, woodland fruits prevail first on the luscious fruit-forward rosé. It is a delicate pink to the eye with a stunning brightness to its overall appearance. Inhale and you are drawn into a bowl of juicy fresh red wild fruits, loganberries, rhubarb and running alongside the juice of gariguette strawberry. Drawing the wine into the mouth, plummy stone fruits and wild raspberry swirl alongside a hint of mandarin in a mouth-packing, lip-smacking glass. There is a silky, voluptuousness and a very elegant style to this wine, brought by the lower pressure of its fine bubbles. It however is so moreish, accessible and easy to drink, that leads me to suspect this rosé will not last long in many cellars.

Bollinger La Grande Annee 2015 - tasting
La Grande Annee 2015 is laced with vanilla and mango scents, enhanced with a fine citrus acidity

The Grande Annee blanc is a highly complex Champagne and deserves close attention. After a swirl and a sip the potential timeline in front of it is evident. A satisfying golden yellow now references its time in oak and age. In the future, the current freshness exhibited will become more measured and subtle, enhanced with even more creamy autolytic flavours. This is classic of the house style. The nose is exemplary with hints of cherry, Mirabelle plums, blackberry, and almond. On the second inhale there are scents of mango, vanilla and almost sandalwood. In the mouth, the wine is full, plump and very generous. There is a richness and a capacious mouth feel that is pleasing and rewarding. This is further enhanced by a hit of citrus fruits and fine acidity that worked so well with the Brill dish it was presented with. Ultimately La Grande Année 2015 leaves you in no doubt as to how much work has gone into the fine-tuning of this vintage. Importantly though it still maintains a feeling of being at one with nature rather than over contrived.

Bollinger’s 2015 vintage, in both guises, is an ideal Champagne for the enthusiast to study and the wine lover to enjoy. The simple route to fully appreciate this vintage is to watch it develop by buying, drinking and most importantly also cellaring some for future appraisal. Denis Bunner has been your custodian of the wine for nearly ten years; via the heart-lying forest materials at his disposal. There is very little else left for you to do, other than enjoy what is undoubtedly a ‘Great Year’.

The La Grande Année 2015 is now available to purchase from fine wine moerchants and the La Grande Année Rosé 2015 will be released later this year

RSP for the Bollinger La Grande Année 2015 is £175  

RSP for La Grande Année Rosé 2015 is £225.  

Both editions will be available via: Berry Bros and Rudd, Wapping Wines, The Finest Bubble, Nickolls & Perks and Davis Bell & McCraith

woodlands atmosphere Grande Annee 2015
A fiery evening to launch Champagne Bollinger Grande Annee 2015