Champagne: The 2024 Spring Preview


Our annual Champagne Spring Preview takes a look at the year’s first releases ahead of my more comprehensive coverage later in the year. Readers will find a bevy of gorgeous wines in this report that span the full stylistic breadth of what Champagne has to offer.

Juliette Alips and Raphaël Bérêche presented a stellar set of wines at their two family domaines.

First Thoughts on 2023

As is my custom, I traveled to Champagne in March to get a first glimpse of the new vintage. Tasting vins clairs is a fascinating and educational exercise, although trying to draw a connection between a few samples the spring after harvest and finished Champagnes that will be released a number of years later is a tenuous proposition at best. Even so, tasting the young vins clairs does provide some insight into the general style of a year. Obviously, the vins clairs I see represent a proverbial drop in the bucket relative to the production of any maison or grower. Although I expect producers will show only their best vins clairs, many are quite open to also showing examples of wines that have been discarded or that will be used for entry-level bottlings rather than their top labels.

“Two thousand twenty-three comes down to two things: a very good set in 2022 (which established the potential crop for the following year) and a combination of no hydric stress and a lot of nitrogen in the soil, which caused production to explode,” Chef de Caves Denis Bunner explained at Bollinger. “There was a little botrytis pressure in August, but a period of intense heat followed. That led to a risk of grapes withering on the vine and the juice fermenting inside the berries, a sort of ‘oven effect’ that caused us to accelerate our picking schedule in order to avoid oxidation in the berries. We harvested everything in 14 days as opposed to 24 the year prior.”

Tasting the vins clairs at Roederer across multiple sites is a great opportunity to examine a vintage through the lenses of terroir, variety and viticultural practices.

“Most of today’s vineyards were planted in the 1970s and 1980s when the goal was maximizing yields through the use of productive rootstocks and clones,” Chef de Caves Vincent Chaperon opined during my visit at Dom Pérignon. “In 2023, we had an unusual combination of high potential yields set by the favorable spring in 2022, then mostly favorable weather in 2023, without many of the issues that are often limiting factors in Champagne, such as rot, and then significant rain in the summer that bloated the berries.”

“It’s a year with low alcohols and low malic acids.” Roederer Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon told me. “The Chardonnays ripened along pretty classic lines, meaning from south to north. Finding the optimal time to pick the Pinots was much harder. We basically waited as late as we could, just before rot started to become a concern.”

“We came back from vacation in late August and found the vineyards in a difficult state,” Fred Savart explained as we tasted his 2023s from barrel and the Wineglobes that are all the rage these days. “The average weight of a bunch of Pinot Noir in Champagne is 150-160 grams. In 2023, it was more like 250 grams, with all sorts of heterogenous conditions within the bunches. Parts that were ripe, parts that weren’t, parts that had vinegar inside the grapes, parts that were fine, parts with some rot, parts with none. That required very hard sorting. And yields were very high.”

Pinot Meunier on sand at La Closerie, Gueux, on a cold, rainy March day.

Of course, wine is ultimately made in the cellar. The choices winemakers made may very well prove to be critical. “We did not do any malolactic fermentations in 2023,” Lécaillon elaborated, “the goal was to preserve freshness. Ordinarily, we rack everything before Christmas, but in 2023, we kept the wines on the lees twice as long as normal. We also used a bit more yeast for the prise de mousse to build texture.” “It’s a year that required a bit more méthode Champenoise if you will,” he added. “I think Chardonnay adapted better than Pinot Noir to the conditions of the year, especially with regards to excess water,” Guillaume Selosse told me as we tasted through the 2023s from barrel. “Ordinarily, we don’t sulfur the musts, but in 2023 we felt the wines were a bit fragile, so we chose to protect them to be on the safe side.”

Conventional wisdom today is that 2023 favors Chardonnay over Pinot Noir. However, one thing I have learned over the years is to not make too many early judgments at this stage. Many houses will not bottle their tête de cuvées. These include Taittinger, Bollinger and Salon. Roederer will release Cristal, but not Cristal Rosé. “I am leaning towards bottling Dom Pérignon every year now,” Chaperon told me. “In the difficult vintages, it’s mostly about learning and having a memory of the year. There may be a small bottling of 2023, but it will mostly serve for archival purposes,” he added. Philipponnat will release their flagship Clos des Goisses. “Our philosophy is to produce Clos des Goisses in every vintage, even if that means doing a very small bottling,” Charles Philipponnat explained. Most producers are hoping for a higher quality harvest in 2024, which would allow them to replace reserve wines with wines from a stronger year.

Tasting the vins clairs at Selosse from barrel is not unlike tasting wines from barrel in Chablis or Burgundy.

Recent Vintages

Vintages in Champagne are always moving targets because of the many wines from different vintages that are released each calendar year. These are my latest thoughts:

2022 – This is a bit of a blind spot at the moment, as the 2022-base NV Champagnes and the first vintage Champagnes have yet to be released. To be continued…

2021 – A highly uneven vintage. Based on what I have tasted so far, the Côtes des Blancs did best, so much so that grapes from these appellations quietly made their way north to supplement production in some of the hardest-hit areas.

2020 – This remains a variable vintage marked by a distinct vegetal character in some wines. The 2020s require careful selection, as it is an inconsistent vintage.

2019 – Recent tastings confirm that 2019 is the most complete and serious vintage in Champagne since 2013. The wines have texture, resonance and complexity. The NV wines that I have tasted so far are impressive.

2018 – High yields resulted in Champagnes with lighter structure and depth than the best years. It’s a charming vintage full of early to medium-term appeal. While the 2018s don’t have the depth of wines from the best years, they also don’t have any obvious flaws, such as the vegetal character that afflicts some recent vintages like 2020 and 2015.

2017 – Rain just before harvest and rot were challenges in 2017. Chardonnay fared better than Pinot. Overall, the wines have a modest structure and less overall complexity than top vintages.

2016 – One of the great surprises in recent years. The vintage was not at all highly regarded at the outset, and yet many 2016 Champagnes are absolutely gorgeous right now. Two thousand sixteen may be destined to be a dark horse. We will see as more vintage wines are released.

Mathieu Roland-Billecart in the iconic Clos Saint-Hilaire.

The State of the Market

It’s no secret that Champagne sales are soft. Whether Champagne sales are down more than other categories is difficult to say, but there is no question that things are quiet at the moment. The reasons for this are hard to pinpoint with certitude. Geopolitical concerns, overbuying post-COVID-19, overheating of prices, especially for young, unproven domaines, excessive restaurant markups and changing taste preferences among younger consumers are among the culprits most producers point to. At some estates, allocations are quietly not being picked up. In other cases, producers are forced to offer incentives to encourage sales, to dynamiser le business, as the Champenois say. Larger houses have the volume to offer these sorts of incentives, but small growers can’t. “For now, price increases in recent years make our top line look pretty good and hide the reality that volumes have dipped. We are pretty concerned about the outlook,” a highly respected Chef de Caves told me rather glumly, echoing comments I heard elsewhere.

As for the wines, they have never been better. There is a major revolution taking place at many of the quality-focused maisons. When I started covering Champagne in 2008, most Chefs de Caves at the large houses rarely mentioned vineyards. Viticulture was not a focus, to say nothing of sustainable approaches to farming. These concepts were simply not part of the lexicon. Today, spurred by the overwhelming success of top grower domaines and the challenges posed by climate change, all the top Chefs de Caves are highly focused on viticulture. Some maisons have already released single-vineyard, or parcellaire, Champagnes. More will soon follow.

At the other end of the spectrum, I see far greater consistency at many grower estates than at any time in the past. Some of these wines used to be decidedly rustic. That is rarely the case these days, especially for growers who had had the time to learn from the early experiences that shape any new endeavor. For many growers, the benchmarks of quality are increasingly the wines of other top domaines around the world rather than just in Champagne. Growers travel more than ever before and taste more widely, all of which, in turn, informs their own wines. This is a very interesting time in Champagne, to say the least. 

Alexandre Chartogne’s new releases are impressive across the board.

I tasted all the wines in this report during a visit to Champagne in March 2024, with a few follow-up tastings in my office in the weeks that followed.

© 2024, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

You Might Also Enjoy

Champagne: 2023 New Releases, Antonio Galloni, November 2023

The 2022 Champagne New Releases, Antonio Galloni, May 2022

Champagne: 2021 New Releases, Antonio Galloni, November 2021

2016 Champagne: Harvest Report, Antonio Galloni, April 2017