Vintage Champagne

Champagne enthusiasts have plenty to be enthused about these days, aside from the nagging issues of diminished supply and escalating prices.  The 2006 and 2004 vintages are generally excellent, at least from the top producers, and there are still some wines from the consistently outstanding 2002 vintage floating around the market, some of them actually current releases. 

I'd be jumping on as many 2006s as I could afford right now, especially if I were the type of Champagne lover who likes these wines fresh and invigorating.  This was an abundant vintage so there's plenty of wine to go around.  Generally speaking, the wines combine suppleness and energy, so they are accessible now but also possess the vivacity for at least mid-term aging.

Two thousand five continues to show itself as a mixed bag, however, with many of the wines betraying the deleterious effects of the hot, rot-plagued growing season and harvest.  The best '05s display impressive depth and power but many wines lack the vibrancy that I look for in Champagne.  In addition, there can be earthy and herbal qualities to the wines that distract from the fruit, giving them a somewhat muddled character.  In anticipation of such qualities most of the best Champagne producers cut back on their vintage-dated production from '05, devoting only the best juice to those wines and blending the rest into non-vintage bottlings or selling it off.  As a result, I saw a number of excellent '05s this year, but they are in short supply and some are already sold out at the importer or even retailer level.

Two thousand four was also a vintage of healthy yields and the wines show distinct energy and cut.  Fans of racy, taut Champagnes will find a lot to like in '04 and some of the wines are truly exceptional.

As for 2003, spring frosts resulted in a tiny crop, and the heat of the vintage left its mark on many wines, which can be too rich and weighty.  The best bottlings show serious depth and, in some cases, unexpected minerality, which should ensure long, positive evolution in bottle.  I have heard comparisons to the 1976 vintage in Champagne, which also produced powerful wines that in a number of cases have aged extremely well.

By all reports, sales of small-production Champagnes, which mostly means those made by owner-growers, are brisk and accelerating.  A number of importers are already bringing in vintage bottlngs from the 2007 and even 2008 vintages to keep pace with demand.  The 2008s are looking great, by the way, and all indicators suggest that will turn out to be yet another superb vintage for Champagne.  It also means an increased store of high-quality juice for the all-important non-vintage bottlings, which I will report on in depth in the next month or so.