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Champagne; In search of rare vintages.

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Champagne aficionados explore nuances, uncovering diverse champagne prices of esteemed brands like Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Bollinger across different Champagne regions.

One of the great pleasures of being a Champagne journalist is the research that is required of you. Not only will tasting some of the finest examples be part of the course along with reviewing and scoring, there is also a great deal of exploring the Champagne houses themselves and what for me is the finest pleasure, exploring those damp, musty, dusty, old cellars.

Champagne regions in Reims at Lanson champagne  champagne cellar image

Champagne Brands:

Quenching the thirst of many, the UK imports some 28 million bottles of Champagne annually (in 2022) making it one of our most popular fizzy wines. A greater proportion of Champagne being produced is relatively young with a minimum of 15 months production process and is recommended to be drunk upon purchase. Brands such as Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger can be found at most supermarkets and wine merchants, nearly all restaurants and bars will have at least one option to enjoy a glass of brut or rosé.

Champagne Edouard brun 14 Rue Marcel Mailly France Champagne bottles in cellar at champagne edouard brun

Vintage / Prestige Champagne:

Hidden amongst the popular and readily available labels are finer examples to explore with vintages released upon the best harvest years and prestige referring to the best label of the Champagne house. Most likely to be of less production levels thus higher priced, these are what the wine connoisseurs and collectors will be searching for. More specialised wine merchants are likely to sell these Champagne and not every year will they be produced and available adding to their rarity.

Vintage champagne cellar at Reims Northeast of Paris Lanson Champagne

Vintage Champagne does not mean that the bottle is old, instead it means that grapes from only the year stated on the bottle were used in the production of the wine. All other Champagnes will use blends of several years and be generally referred to as non-vintage. You can expect vintage Champagnes to taste better, cost more and age well.

What intrigues me even more, along with many other serious Champagne enthusiasts, are older vintage Champagnes. These would be bottles which are now no longer on the shelves of the wine merchants having sold out years ago and instead require much more effort to be found. Whereas vintage Champagne such as 2008 and 2012 can still be purchased, when we go back to the 1990’s, 1980’s, 1970’s and before, then we require time and research to unearth untouched bottles.

Many older vintage Champagne will be traded between collectors / investors and they are now several specialised companies stocking only hard to find Champagnes. The demand for superior quality Champagne is increasing globally with the USA, Singapore, Japan being other countries holding equal admiration.

Champagne House Cellars: I’ve walked the cellars of classic houses such as Krug, Lanson and Veuve Clicquot, these are quite magnificent experiences which are designed and laid out for frequent visitors within the wine industry. I have also visited countless smaller and lesser known Champagne house cellars which are tiny in comparison and dare I say hold far more charm and mystery. 

Champagne Lanson cellar in Reims
northeast of Paris champagne house cellar

Many cellars were dug out by hand and contain long and narrow corridors taking off in different directions leading you to larger storage rooms full of ageing Champagne. These dimly lit complex paths will be aligned with resting bottles of Champagne on riddling racks most of which are some way through their 15 months of ageing set as minimum.

Champagne house cellars come in many different designs and layouts to include overground steel structured with mechanically chilled storage solutions to chalk cellars countless steps down beneath the streets above. Some allow for storage of a few thousand bottles, others due to their size of brand and sales will host millions of bottles.

As you wander deeper down in the cellars the humidity rises and temperature slightly falls, the mould forming on the walls and bottles increase as the chalk written signs on slate boards state older and older vintage years. Sometimes the priceless treasures of the Champagne house, the oldest thus rarest bottles, will be under lock and key, peering through the iron gate railings is the closest you can get to bottles dating back sometimes to the 1800’s.

Whereas the bigger Champagne houses will have a very organised cellar, so many of the smaller family producers will have a less strict storage systems and this is where treasures of yesteryear in the world of Champagne can be discovered. The alluring find can happen, that collection of dusty bottles laying in the corner of the darkest cellars are waiting to be found, decades of ageing waiting to be popped and enjoyed.

Champagne Flavours:

We will usually expect Champagne to carry a fruity, floral, citrus and acidic flavour with bursts ideally of pastry / bread. When it comes to older Champagnes we peer into the umami flavour styles so expect more dried fruits (including prunes), caramel, toastiness, cocoa and more palate pleasing delights.

As the world’s demand for Champagne increases, the popularity of older vintages will increase too, putting pressure not only on the producers, but also the wine connoisseurs and collectors who will have to put in added work and costs to acquire the best labels.

Do you have an old bottle of Champagne lurking in your cellar, drinks cabinet or cupboard which has remained free from light / heat damage? Do not be afraid to chill the bottle and pop that cork, maybe you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of vintage Champagne.

Author:

Christopher Walkey

www.ChampagneCollectors.com

Images copyright: Christopher Walkey

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