Vintages in Champagne are more important than in most other regions. At these northern limits of grape growing it is important to mind the varied conditions of each and every vintage. It was this that first inspired the blending that today is inextricable to winemaking across Champagne.
To balance the lean years with the perfectly ripe, most champagne is a blend of multiple vintages often marked NV for “non vintage” which fewer and fewer champenois are wont to use. Instead we increasingly hear this art described as “multi vintage”. Vintage champagne on the other hand remains a rarity.
Only 10% of the total production of the region becomes vintage champagne from a given year. On average the producers declare about three vintages in every decade. Instead of “regional announcements” or vintage decree, each producer declares the vintage for their house meaning that even “off” vintages such as 2003 might feature as a vintage wine for the few houses that escaped the bad weather to produce a vintage product. Such was the case for Moet & Chandon, which chose to produce a 2003 Dom Perignon. This also means that in great vintages, such as 1996, you’ll have nearly every house produce vintage wine.
Larry Colbeck did some serious research on Champagne vintages, and we are happy to present the definitive guide to the vintages of Champagne, chock full of Larry’s personal spin. This is an update of a 2013 article not only adding the recent vintages but reflecting on changes in how older vintages are drinking.
As one reads comments on the current vintage in Champagne it is Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, cellar master at Roederer, that I find most revealing. M. Lécaillon has great familiarity with the vineyards and fruit with which he must work as, among the big houses, Roederer harvests an unparalleled proportion of the its own grapes. Close to my own enthusiasm for biodynamics, M. Lécaillon is moving to this type of farming in a growing number of his finest sites. He is adamant about the qualities this provides and credits the technique especially in difficult vintages.
2016 This may be the smallest harvest in France since 1945. Champagne was down 25 to 33 percent depending on the area. A very difficult vintage unlikely to produce much vintage wine.
2015 Yes, this is a warm vintage but, critically, the degree days accumulated over a longer period of time rather than in hot spurts. The vintage shows great promise and among wines predominately Pinot Noir there will be splendid bottlings. Peter Liem, on his marvelous ChampagneGuide.net, quoted Anselme Selosse about his impressions of 2015. He said, “If it hadn’t rained, it would be a mythical vintage, like ’28 or ’47. As it is, it’s merely an outstanding one.” Whoa!
2014 Seems to be a Jekel & Hyde vintage with vintners differing widely in their enthusiasm. In general, the pinot fruit fared well with the Chardonnay a bit weaker. The vin clair are reported to display a nice richness though being a bit hollow in some areas. Clearly we have to wait and see.
2013 The original post was based only the condition of the crop and early tasting of vin clair, the still base wine from which the Champagne will be made. There is a yin yang in Champagne in 2013, the south was reported by some vignerons as even better than 2012 while the northern wineries settled for good wines but not of grande année quality. Speculated to be ✮✮✮✮✩
2012 was deemed one of the best vintages the Champagne region has ever experienced. “The quality and the intensity are definitely there to make an outstanding vintage,” Dom Perignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy told Decanter. The base wines show a lovely richness as well as the acidity needed to make outstanding and long-lived Champagnes. Yields are very low, in some places half of the allowed production. Speculated to be ✮✮✮✮✩+
2011 It is hard to imagine a more difficult harvest. Few vintage Champagnes are likely to be made.
2010 A very difficult vintage with prominent rot. Few vintage Champagnes are likely to be made.
2009 Terry Theise states that the 2009 vintage wines are quite adamant and sometimes even heavy recalling the young `99s, another vintage marked by yellow-fruit and which seemed rather vulgar on first glance, but those young ducklings turned into graceful swans. They slimmed down, became sensuous and silky, and started showing class and inner gracefulness. The Pinots, particularly noir, did quite well while Chardonnay struggled. ✮✮✮✩✩ keep
2008 All three varieties were successful, satisfyingly thick skins on the Pinots suggesting good flavour profiles. The wines promise an appealing balance of concentration and acidity. An extremely flowery vintage, lovable from the first instant. Expect to see these released after the 2009’s. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2007 François Domi, chef de cave of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, “[The 2007s] are very aromatic, focused more on delicacy and finesse than on structure. This year nice fruit, but it’s in a light and delicate package.” Probably not long lived. ✮✮✮✩✩ Keep
2006 This much heralded year looked like a big chummy galoot of a vintage as it entered the NV blends. Yet when the vintage-wines arrived, Terry Thiese remarked “I was struck by the incisiveness of the chalky mineral blade-end that so many of them showed, especially the Chardonnays. At this point I’d say I really really like this vintage, and it appears reliable. It doesn’t suggest any adolescent funk.” ✮✮✮✩✩ Keep
2005 I think there is just too many questions with this vintage to recommend comfortably. 2005 in Champagne was not as uniformly successful as in some other French regions. The NVs based on 2005 demonstrate that same forward charm and voluptuousness of fruit, and combined with the acidity of 2004, these champagnes are extremely compelling. Peter Liem speculates, “ I’m wondering if I will like 2005 as a blending year even more than as a vintage year, in fact.” Yet one finds exceptions, wines of a certain gracefulness that absorbed their strength of fruit. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2004 “2004 was a huge crop, and much of its wine was competent and unexciting. But the best of them were the purest most vivid examples of green flavors Champagne may ever have shown. Green like balsam, wintergreen, spearmint, chartreuse, tarragon, verbena, lime-zest. It isn’t always a fetching vintage, but whew, when you land on a good one it’ll curl your toes.” Terry Thiese ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2003 The heatwave summer of 2003 was too hot to produce champagne of vintage quality. Avoid.
2002 Terry Thiese advises “the great wines of this excellent vintage offer everything the Champagne lover could ask for; focused aromas with flowers leading a charge including fruits and spices; textures of restrained power and keen expressiveness; flavors showing classic parameters, nothing out-of-the-way. Certainly a marvelous vintage; potentially a classic. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2001 A rather poor Spring was followed by an extremely poor summer and a harvest that was blighted by heavy rain. Very few vintage wines made, rather dilute wines lacking strength and vinosity. ✮✮✮✩✩ Avoid
2000 Relatively soft and approachable wines, marked by low acidity in the mould of 1999, but perhaps with a little more body and length. One wonders whether this really is a vintage year. 2000 is/was a good year that seems to be aging fast, so don’t sit on them. ✮✮✮✮✩ Drink
1999 Straightforward wines with a clear varietal character. The wines are marked by generally low levels of acidity, and are therefore not really for the long-term. Terry Thiese thinks that “1999 is a beauty, or has become one. Very tasty now, though the top Chardonnays ought to be kept.” I am bit more cautious as I find these a bit too soft, lacking champagne’s usually vital spark of bracing tartness. ✮✮✮✮✩ Drink or keep
1998 1998 in Champagne is a vintage that has continued to grow in reputation with the passage of time. After a dumb period these wines are showing well again in a snappy acid-focused manner. Best in Chardonnay. These can wait while you drink up the 1999s. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
1997 1997s are tasting pretty good and in character not so different from the attractive 1998s – perhaps very slightly sturdier and more solid. They are unpretentious and marked by pleasing ripe fruit flavours and moderate acidity; altogether pleasant wines. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
1996 Up to this point 1996 has been considered a fantastic vintage which produced classic wines; the best since 1990. A long, dry summer produced grapes of record ripeness with record acidity. Some, including myself, question how the 1996s are aging. The wines are generally characterized by a distinctive rather lemony acidity and very good attack, but some wines now seem terribly austere, while others already seem dangerously short of fruit. ✮✮✮✮✮ Keep
1995 A large crop, very fine quality, especially for Chardonnay. In fact the most successful wines are the blanc de blancs. The Champagnes are similar in character to the 1988s, with the best examples possessing marvellous ageing potential. Most 1995s are at their peak but should provide lovely, complex drinking for the next three or four years. ✮✮✮✮✩ Drink soon
1990 A superb year and one of the top half-dozen vintages of the last century. The champagnes display good body and marvelous depth of fruit as well as great finesse and very good longevity. The best will be drinking well for many years to come. (10/17)—I am experiencing more 90’s that have reached full maturity. I suggest you seek out recent tasting notes on the particular wines in your cellar. ✮✮✮✮✮ Drink soon
1989 The champagnes are rich, luscious and soft, they were exceptionally appealing in their youth but also possess enough grip and acidity to reward extended cellaring. The hot summer produced rich wines slightly short on acidity therefore they will mature before the 1988s. ✮✮✮✮✮ Drink soon
1988 Classically structured, concentrated wines with sufficient acidity for long ageing The wines are powerful and well structured, but were not as immediately appealing. However, time has shown them to be rich in fruit, stylish and well balanced. Most are drinking superbly now, although the best Champagnes are only now approaching their plateau of maturity. ✮✮✮✮✮ Drink or keep