Non-Vintage champagne, which makes up the highest proportion of Champagne produced and sold, is made from a blend of the year’s harvest as well as a number of reserve wines. The most prestigious houses take great care in their non-vintage blend and use the finest reserves from a variety of vintages to produce a unique style. Krug being the greatest example of this whose non-vintage Grand Cuvée is blended with up to 50% reserve wine from ten different vintages.
Vintage Champagne on the other hand, although blended from different grape varieties (unless a Blanc de Blanc or Blanc de Noir) must be made solely from that year’s harvest. Traditionally these Champagnes have only been made in exceptional years when the growing season produces high quality, distinct wines creating a desire to retain and exaggerate that unique character.
The slight difficulty is that, for many producers, vintage Champagne appears to be made most years thus tarnishing the ‘unique’ nature of the vintage. The great producers tend to follow tradition and avoid producing a vintage in poor years. The less quality conscious do not.
The other key factor to vintage Champagne is age. Where the non-vintage blends are softened and mellowed with the addition of reserve wines the vintage offerings will be young and lively without any real show of complexity when first produced.
A high-quality vintage Champagne from an exceptional year will need at least eight years to relax as well as some time in bottle before the soft, toasted, biscuity aromas they are famed for start to emerge.
We have put together a list of vintage Champagnes from exceptional years and top producers that have reached that ideal drinking point. All are available by the bottle.
Dom Perignon is made only in good years and is always a vintage Champagne making age an essential component of this wine. It is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with rigorous selection from prized vineyards. Balance is key and each vintage strives to provide equality between the grape varieties rather than allowing either one to dominate.
Although Dom Perignon is only made in good years each vintage will differ with some surpassing others and certain characteristics being more prevalent in some years.
2008 Dom Perignon Champagne £190 per bottle
One of the best vintages of the last twenty years but a perfect example of a vintage Champagne that demands age. The acidity is strong but the complexity is very present making the thirteen years behind it very necessary. It has a wealth of layers that are slowly emerging and will only improve with age.
2002 Dom Perignon Champagne £245 per bottle
2002 was another great vintage for Dom Perignon but very different to the 2008. It was a year that produced riper than average Chardonnay making this richer with a more tropical character whilst still savoury and lively on the palate. It has good length as well and will keep going for many years to come.
Cristal was originally created as a sweet Champagne for Tsar Alexander II in 1876, it nearly disappeared when the Russian Revolution put paid to any such frivolity, only to re-emerge in a drier style and become one of the most prized Champagnes in the world. In the words of Tom Stevenson “Cristal has become nothing less than a licence to print money”.
Its use as a status symbol should not detract from its quality or complexity. Cristal is an elegant, expertly balanced Champagne that has great purity of fruit and good ageing capabilities.
2007 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Millesime Champagne £220 per bottle
A striking vintage for Cristal with great density and longevity. The many layers have been slowly emerging over the years and a softness has settled encouraging the more aromatic notes to mellow allowing for a more rounded finish.
2009 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Millesime Champagne £200 per bottle
A cleaner, more saline vintage than some but not lacking in elegance. 2009 was a warm year and Roederer seem to have compensated by reducing the amount of oak used. Luckily this hasn’t hindered the depth and complexity of the wine.
Given their exceptional skill in blending vintages for the Grand Cuvée it seems a little off to drink vintage specific Krug but the 2003 may be the exception. 2003 was a difficult year in Champagne yet Krug produced one of their finest vintages. Elegant and concentrated with incredible balance and an array of flavours that offer both sweet and savoury notes.
2003 Krug Vintage Brut Champagne £255 per bottle
Non-vintage Bollinger Special Cuvee is known for its complexity but also its ability to be austere and rather acidic when first bottled. A few years of bottle age allow it to mellow and soften and present itself in a more appealing light. The vintage Grand Annee Champagne differs in style in that, although it too appreciates age, it is a more classic, rounded and balanced wine from the start. It is designed to age yet be appreciated along the way; the varying layers of complexity emerge slowly over the years gradually maturing and increasing in depth.
2002 Bollinger La Grande Annee Champagne £160 per bottle
At nineteen years old this is showing the true nature of what an excellent vintage Bollinger can do. All the rich, toasted notes are present yet it is still lively and fresh with a long finish.