The Magic of Vintage Champagnes
17th March 2022
Vintages will mostly be agreed upon by all Champagne producers in that the harvest for the year was of exceptional standard and it goes down in history as a classic vintage. There have been quite a few of these over the years and each will be of high importance to Champagne drinkers and collectors, the rarity increasing of the bottles as we go back in years. Terroir will change in the Champagne region from north to south so not all regions might see the same high standard of harvest each confirmed vintage.
Other times we have a very good vintage of which many Champagne producers will adopt, then from there, as the quality of the harvest decreases, then the less likely the take up to declare a vintage. The subject of vintages is one of the most important topics in Champagne and great attention is put towards producing the finest branding / labels – For instance, the world famous Dom Pérignon is only available as a vintage.
A vintage signifies that the grapes used to make the Champagne comes from one year only (this being the year stated on the bottle). A vintage does not necessarily mean (which many people assume) that the wine is old. A vintage can be anything from three years old to 100+ years.
To classify as a Vintage, the Champagne needs to be made from the grapes of one year only and must be aged for a minimum of three years in the bottle (15 months for standard Champagne).
I wanted to share you with some of my finest Champagne tasting experiences from a selection of the greatest vintages from 2008 down history lane to 1966:
2008: Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal: “Delicate peach, apricot, nutty, floral, citrus nose. Minerals, citrus, soft yellow stone fruits / vanilla flavours. Crisp and refreshingly moreish.”
2004: Champagne Roger Brun Réserve Familiale: “This Champagne was chosen as the best in the world for 2019. The winemaker is Philippe Brun and this family producer is in Ay (the greatest of Champagne villages?). It’s always a pleasure to taste and especially with Philippe himself at his winery. Toasty, honeycomb, dried apricot on the nose. Toasty, soft citrus, honey, apricot and so much more in flavours.”
1998: Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 1998: “Always being spoilt when tasting their wines! Great aromas, toasty, slight honeycomb, biscuits and a touch of lemon zest. Taste hits you with perfect vintage taste I love, toasty, brioche, light stone fruits with great length. Mid golden colour in the glass and depending which glass you choose, a collection of very fine bubbles circulating in the middle… A great meditation wine, take a sip, sit back, close your eyes and let your imagination run away with you… ”
1996: Champagne de Venoge Louis XV: “Be amazed by the aromas from golden ripe fruits to rich honey. Delicate yet bold, wonderfully mastered gastronomic Champagne giving so many vintage iconic flavours. A bucket list Champagne.”
1990: Champagne Henriot Brut Millesime: “Firstly, this tasting was from a Jeroboam so the taste would have most likely been superior to standard size. Typical vintage notes of brioche, toast, bruised apples, brioche with slight oak notes. Medium gold colour and fine and persistent bubbles. Certainly deserves a five star ratting for both taste and experience of the winemaker pouring from a Jeroboam!”
1985: Champagne Bollinger Grande Annee: “Toasty, oak flavours, brioche and buttery. A truly great year for vintage Champagne and especially this one from Bollinger. I still remember the wonderful afternoon of tasting this vintage in London… Yes, I kept the bottle as a memento to treasure!”
1976: Champagne Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame: “My memories are of an amazing vertical tasting experience with fellow Champagne reviewers at the head office of LVMH in London. The wine was a deep golden colour with only a trace of a tiny stream or two of perlage. Honey, mushroom, yellow floral, dried yellow stone fruits, touch of roasted walnut on the nose. The flavours offers a complicated array of delights including honey, soft citrus, bruised, dried peach slices.”
1966: Champagne H.Goutorbe: “Golden colour, tiny evidence of perlage. Mushroom, dry caramel, dried apricot on the nose. A musty / mushroom flavour with golden syrup, saline butter, apricot, yellow rose petals, touch of oak / brioche. Shorter length, yet packs a variety of flavours nonetheless.”
Vintages are a delight to explore and experience, there have been some outstanding years and some are still ageing away yet to reach their peak performance. Many vintage Champagne will be slightly past their best, yet it is so intriguing to taste a wine that is countless decades old and very likely that the winemaker is no longer with us.
There has twice been a series of three years together forming vintage Champagne years and these were back in 1988/89/90 and then further back just after the second world war with 1947/48/49. Referred to by some as the holy trinities being that these are both rare and highly worshipped occasions.
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.