France, Champagne, Vintage Champagne

Jun 1, 2011
2011 / June 2011

photo: Pol Roger

Oscar Wilde never had a problem with quality. “I find I am easily satisfied with the very best,” he said. Put a bottle of vintage Champagne in front of sparkling wine lovers and they’re likely to say the same. There is, of course, a vintage every year, but in the cool climate of Champagne, the most northern grape-growing region of France, not every vintage ripens to be a great one. On average, about three or four of every 10 years is exceptional. Only then is a vintage Champagne produced, made entirely from grapes harvested in the year on the bottle’s label. And other years? There is non-vintage Champagne, a blend of wines from a number of harvests, and thus, the label bears no date.

Since vintage Champagne represents an especially good year, it follows that it usually has the ability to age long and well. Consider the following examples, tasted only a few months ago and still lively, inviting and seductive.

Take Taittinger Brut Millésime 2004. A lighter-bodied Champagne of finesse and delicacy, it shows a hint of vanilla; a pleasant, mild lemony taste; and minuscule bubbles.

Also gossamer in body, Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne Brut 2002 is silky with fruit tastes reminiscent of pear and shows fine balance and, again, a touch of vanilla.

Toasty and fuller-textured, Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Brut 2000 is rich and creamy and displays an impressive structure.

The elegant Ayala Brut Millésime 1999 is bright, harmonious and vibrant with citrus overtones and a persistent finish: a delicious Champagne.

Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Palmes d’Or 1999 has an assertive nose that reminds one of apples and, beyond that, of toast. It also has a mineral quality and great length in its finish.

Still older is G.H. Mumm Cuvée Lalou Brut 1998, a complex Champagne with excellent structure — 13 years after it was made, still intense and vital.

Consider that vintage Champagne is not produced every year; consider that it is limited in quantity; consider, too, that it is aged for years before being released — and it’s clear why it costs two or three times more than non-vintage Champagne.

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