Vintage champagne has been described as “wine that is supposed to make you happy” by Moët Hennessy ambassador Lucy Warren. During times of celebration, champagne is brought out and the bubbly will elicit smiles all around with the clink of glasses heard all around. Vintage champagne is needed, in our opinion, all the time!
Here is why! Today, you will be reading all about vintage champagne. And no, this is not a rather dry (see what we did there?) topic. If you are interested in bubbly, this is where you start.
What is Vintage Champagne?
All champagne can only be considered champagne if they are produced in the northeastern region of France called Champagne (note the capital C). However, even if they come from the same region, champagne can vary significantly.
The majority of champagne is considered non vintage. Vintage champagne, also known as millésimé, is made exclusively with the produce of a single harvest. This means that the labelling on the bottles will likely show a year.
When the harvest is of outstanding quality during certain years, vintage champagne is produced. At times, vintage champagne production is infrequent due to weather conditions.
Popular brands that produce vintage champagne include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Neunier. It all has to be from a single year though, for it to be considered vintage.
What Affects the Production of Vintage Champagne?
There are a few factors that go into the production of vintage champagne that, if not done correctly, will result in the non-production of vintage bubbly.
Champagne, the region, is one of the northernmost wine regions in the world. This means that the weather constantly changes and is subject to all kinds of winds. It may be cold one day and hail may drop the next.
Overall, it is freezing over in Champagne.
This will affect the production of grapes. At times, the grapes are not ripe enough and other years, the grapes would be overripe.
Nowadays, with technology, champagne producers have started to grow grapes in a controlled environment. This is great for vintage champagnes as producers are able to produce more bottles. However, not all producers have applied this technology yet so it is not very popular.
- Scarcity and Quality
The scarcity and quality of harvested grapes in the same season are key determinants for vintage champagne production.
In theory, vintage champagnes are only made in particularly good years. The bubbly has to be made from the best grapes from superior vineyards only.
Why Is Vintage Champagne so Expensive?
Vintage champagne, by law, has to be aged a minimum of four years. This is what makes vintage cost a lot more at times.
Also, the word “vintage” brings to mind “old and expensive” or maybe “treasured”. It can be really interesting to collect vintage champagne and may bring wine collectors great pleasure.
There is a reason that makes sense why vintage champagne is more expensive – there is simply less of it. Champagne producers have less to play around with to produce a flavourful bottle and therefore, it will cost more.
How Much Should You Pay for Vintage Champagne?
It really is up to you. Ask yourself if you really want or need a bottle of vintage champagne and if the answer is yes, the sky’s the limit in terms of price.
The older the bottle, the more you can expect to pay.
An increase of 20 to 30 percent for a relatively new vintage bottle is fairly common.
Is Vintage Champagne an Investment Opportunity?
Vintage champagne offers first time investors a lower entry point as it is fairly affordable, especially when compared with other wines like Burgundy or Bordeaux.
For seasoned investors, an investment in vintage champagne can diversify portfolios.
Vintage bubbly will increase in value when the year the bottle is made becomes scarce.
Globally, the top champagne vintages, which include the years 1988, 1996 and 2002, showed consistent appreciation and steady growth over the years. Over a two year period up to August 2014, these bottles rose 10.2% in value.
Say what you will about wine collectors, vintage champagne may likely be a great investment opportunity!
What is the Difference Between Vintage vs Non-Vintage Champagne
Every year, around 80 to 90 percent of bubbly is produced that is non-vintage. People do get rather confused while browsing a liquor store about champagne, non-vintage champagne and vintage champagne.
Look out for the following differences if you want to look like an expert and know the difference between vintage versus non-vintage champagne:-
Label on Bottle
The year of harvest will always appear on a bottle of vintage champagne. Non-vintage champagne does not have a year as it is made from a mixture of harvested grapes.
Non-vintage champagnes are wines that are made from grapes harvested from a number of years. Up to 90 percent of champagne is non-vintage. The mixture can be a comfortable blend or one that represents a house’s specific style.
Vintage champagne is a blend that reflects the year instead. You never know what you will get and only superior grapes from the harvest are produced into a type of vintage champagne.
Non-vintage champagnes are aged in a producer’s cellars for a minimum of 15 months only. Of course, there are variants to it but that is the general rule.
Vintage champagnes, however, are aged for at least three to four years although most will be left for longer.
Vintage champagnes can be kept up to 10 years. Non-vintage champagne can be drunk immediately, right off the shelf.
You can likely store non-vintage champagne up to a year but it has to be stored in a place where there is no light and no heat or your bubbly will deteriorate and end up flat.
Vintage champagne is celebrated for its uniqueness.
Non vintage champagne is valued for its familiarity, which often highlights a brand or label’s flagship tastes and aromas. Each vineyard and champagne producer has its in-house style. Some iconic brands such as Pinot Noir highlights a taste that is richer and bolder.
Others, such as Taittinger, who specializes in Chardonnay grapes, have a taste that is more elegant.
Misconceptions about Vintage Champagne
There are, as always, a few misconceptions when it comes to vintage champagne. Among them are:
This is a very common misconception. People often think that vintage champagne is of higher quality than non vintage champagne.
We would like to point out that taste is a matter of preference. Although more work goes into producing a vintage champagne, the taste of vintage champagne on the palate is more complex but does not mean that it is better than non-vintage champagne.
Ideally, you should try a vintage and a non-vintage champagne side by side in order to see the real differences and how each house or producers’s style comes across in each glass.
No, you are not encouraged to keep champagne forever, even if they are vintage. The flavour, taste and aroma of champagne will change as they age and it will become deeper and lose some of its bubbly.
Vintage bubbly can be kept for five to ten years only before it starts changing but maybe for the better. It is best to keep in mind that each individual bottle can be kept for a different amount of time.
It is untrue that the majority of producers have to agree before a year is named a “vintage year”.
In fact, according to Thibaut Le Mailloux, the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the governing body of the region, explained that every champagne producer can decide to create a vintage wine depending on its harvest, strategy or desire to do so.
It is entirely dependent on each individual producer, individually.
The Best Vintage Champagne
While any year can potentially be a vintage year in producing champagne. However, in recent history, there have been two or three years in each decade that stood out and were deemed worth of vintage bottling.
The year 2002 and 2008 were such years.
In 2002, the quality of the vintage was deemed “exceptional” by many and seemed to have given remarkable pleasure to those who drank the bubbly from this year.
In 2008, the vintage wines produced offered more acidity and greater aging potential. The Doyard, Blanc de Blancs 2008, Grand Cru, Brut is one such example of a vintage chardonnay blend from this year.
There are, of course, other great years or maybe the producer decided to bottle or two of vintage. You can try the Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne 1996 or the Gosset, Celebris, 2004, Extra Brut as an entry into the vintage champagne world.
There are many differences between vintage and non-vintage champagne. Vintage champagne opens a whole different world of bubbly for you. Either way, whether you are