What is an old Champagne?

12th August 2014

What is an old Champagne

Tasting an old Champagne is always a moment of discovery; a voyage into the unknown with the ever-present risk of encountering a bottle that hasn’t withstood the test of time. But, what is the definition of old Champagne exactly? How old does it have to be?
In fact there’s no absolute rule but by general consensus a Champagne can be considered of sufficient age to enter the Oenotheque category after fifteen years. Several Champagne houses such as Dom Pérignon, Krug, Delamotte or Drappier adhere to this, and Bollinger, although not actually proposing an oenotheque as such, do present their RD (recently disgorged) Champagne around fifteen years after its production. So it’s fairly safe to say that Champagne reaches its majority at the age of fifteen.

Tasting old Champagnes: an unexpected experience

Somewhat unfairly Champagne is not generally thought of in terms of gastronomy, but is consumed essentially as an aperitif. However, many Champagnes are in fact excellent with food, particularly vintage Champagnes whose complexity, depth and power largely merit a place at table. The renowned chef Pierre Gagnaire, accompanied by his Sommelier Patrick Borras, has created stunning pairings of Bresse chicken and Dom Ruinart, and at the Château des Crayères at Reims, the sommelier Philippe Jamesse daily rises to the challenge of inventing new Champagne-food pairings from starters right through to dessert.

Champagnes which are powerful and delicate at the same time

If pairing Champagne with food is already an art, then finding matches for old Champagnes is a constant balancing act to find the perfect combination without one element overpowering the other. Aged Champagnes are real prima donnas, and demand nothing less than the very finest cuisine. Thus a Dom Pérignon Œnothèque 1995 will marvellously complement sea scallops in a cream sauce or a roasted veal sweetbread and morel risotto. Refined white meat dishes are also the perfect foil for old Champagnes, especially those blended from a majority of Pinot Noir.

Cuvée Louis XV 1996 De Venoge

The maturity of an old vintage

Old Champagnes possess the extraordinary faculty of being able to accompany dishes which do not habitually pair well with “the king of wines and the wine of kings”, such as truffles which are sublime with very old Champagnes that have been aged for a minimum of twenty five years. All their structure, depth and complexity of aromas with their lovely nutty and spicy notes are highlighted. Any number of audacious pairings are possible, with certain celebrated chefs presenting wild duck or pheasant with the most remarkable vintages, or even the iconoclastic pairing of Champagne marinated venison with a cuvee from one of the greatest Oenotheques in Champagne, that of Piper-Heidsieck.

Shared by Nathalie Collet


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