Vintage Champagne


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We review wines from 2000 - 2009

To paraphrase Napoleon: in victory you deserve Champagne, and you should lay down the appropriate vintages for future anniversaries, according to your preference and marque of choice. In defeat, make sure you have a mature bottle in the cellar which may remind you of better times consistent with the house, style and vintage you prefer: you need it. The shorter version is rather more pithy, but lacks definition.

The Champenois' have done such a good job promoting themselves that the variety of styles and range of Champagnes is rather submerged in people's minds under the blanket name of the appellation - 'Champagne'.

What is 'vintage' Champagne?
To understand 'vintage' Champagne, it is best to start by comprehending the constituents of its 'non-vintage' (NV) counterpart. There is a perception amongst some that NV Champagne might be the same as a vintage bottle but that, for whatever reason, the 'vintage' was not 'declared' . But this is not the case - both wines are fundamentally different in their approach, content, style and objective. NV Champagne is a blend of wines harvested from different years, in different proportions and with the different grape varieties that identify the house style: it is often referred to as the 'soul' of the Champagne house - for it is the wine which everyone will associate with the brand. Vintage Champagne, on the other hand, is aged for longer, contains the harvest of one year only and will vary in style, texture, taste, depth and complexity depending on the characteristics of the particular vintage from which it is made. Under the rules which govern Champagne production a vintage wine must have at least 3 years of aging following the first bottling (NV is only 15 months) but many top Champagne houses age their wines for much longer releasing them on the market after many years of repose in their cellars. Whilst vintage wines are the natural expression of the weather during the year, the terroir which produced the grapes is to a greater or lesser degree capable of toning down its excesses.

Most people discover which Champagnes they prefer after drinking various marques, even if they don't know why they enjoy them the most. It is then that they may try the vintage and prestige cuvées which whilst preserving the profile of the Champagne house would, in the case of vintage Champagne, be tempered by the conditions of the particular season. The character of the wine will likely be stronger, which may not be to everyone's tastes, particularly to the neophyte Champagne drinker.

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1. A complicating issue is the overall quantity of wine available to make vintage and non-vintage wine. This is a subject which could occupy a whole article - the context of the yield, reserve wines and so-called 'blocage'. If, for example, one takes 2012 which is potentially a good year despite its problems, where the quantity is low, a company like Lanson can make all of the vintage and special cuvées it may want but for the NV brut (which they will start to bottle in 2012) they will depend on the stocks of reserve wines. The importance of 'reserve' wines can't be stressed enough: for example, they must support the winemaker when the quality of the harvest is good but also when it is not so good. Different reserve wines will need to possess all of the character profiles which may be lacking from a particular year but are nonetheless required to make up the assemblage.

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