The Champagne Tasting of a Lifetime: A Century of Pol Roger

Posted December 19, 2014

Howard Kaplan

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I've been in the wine business for 35 years, and in that time I’ve have hosted more than a thousand tastings. So it’s understandable that "what is your all-time favorite wine tasting?" is a question that comes up pretty regularly. Although there are many candidates, I'd have to say that a certain vertical tasting of Pol Roger Champagne conducted in the late 1980s is at the top of the list.

The tasting was conducted by Christian Pol-Roger, who took over the helm of the family business in 1963. We had developed a good relationship with him over the years as he is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. We had asked him if he could host a vertical tasting of Pol Roger Champagne for us and he enthusiastically agreed. Little did we know that when he checked the stocks in Pol Roger's cellars in Epernay, he would be going back to 1914!

Indeed he did. Conceived at the outbreak of World War I, the 1914 wasn’t actually "finished" until the war was over. It has a special place in history with the Pol Roger firm as it was drunk to celebrate the end of the war. Looking back 100 years, the 1914 is still considered one of the greatest vintages ever for this prestigious Champagne house founded in 1849. When we tasted it, it was spectacular beyond description.

But the highlight of the tasting was still to come.

Unbelievably, the 1921 was even better; so fresh and alive it had us riveted in our seats in awe! The 1937 was very good but not quite in the same league as the previous two vintages. However, the 1947 that came next was at least as good as the 1921; a Champagne so good, it seemed restrained by the 100 point rating system. Vintage after vintage, until we got to modern times, every wine was wonderful, elevating us into a state of Champagne-induced bliss. By the end, there were no misconceptions about Champagne’s ability to age. These old vintages were proof positive of a preternatural lifespan.

As we profusely thanked Christian for giving us the unique opportunity to taste these extraordinary wines, I asked him how this tasting compared with previous vertical tastings of Pol Roger.

"This is the first time in our history that we have ever done something like this," he said.

I was shocked with his answer, but the experience must have made a strong impression on him. Over the next few years, he conducted several more vertical tastings of Pol Roger champagne for the wine press, which got more publicity than our tasting ever did. No doubt that the first vertical was a groundbreaking event. I'm very proud to have played a part.

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You can find our selection of Pol Roger Champagne here.

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Howard Kaplan is a co-founder of Executive Wine Seminars, a New York based organization focusing on tasting rare and coveted wines.  He started writing about wine in the early 1980s for Wine Spectator and Cuisine Magazine.  Today, Howard’s tasting notes can be found on both Stephen Tanzer and Robert Parker’s websites.

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