Champagne Vintage Guide by Essi Avellan MW - Vintages rated 1-5 stars
- preliminary rating
The 2019 growing period posed many challenges following budbreak in early April, which brought severe spring frosts that took their toll on the vineyards. Early summer was variable, with powdery mildew becoming a serious threat. The summer season saw two heatwaves in June and July, with a record-breaking temperature of 42.9°C measured on July 25th. As a consequence, scalding destroyed some 10% of the expected harvest. The warm and sunny weather continued throughout August and September, bringing concentration and richness. Cool nights were crucial in helping the grapes retain their fresh acidity. Chardonnay was more problematic in 2019, due to its susceptibility to powdery mildew. A slightly smaller crop was picked, commencing September 2nd. On paper, the potential alcohol level was slightly up from 2019 and the acidity a little higher (average total acidity was 6.8 g/l), thus the balance looks excellent. Initial tasting confirms good tension and fine purity in the wines. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, tasting of the 2019 base wines on a larger scale has not been possible. Thus, judgement is reserved for the time being.
With record-breaking rainfall in the winter, ample sunshine hours in the spring and summer and the earliest harvest on record, the 2018 harvest in Champagne was truly unique. Its prematurity, abundant volume, ripeness and healthiness left many producers singing its praises upon harvest. Following a wet winter, budbreak occurred in April, from which moment onwards growth was accelerated. The outstanding conditions led to vigorous vegetative growth and an abundance of healthy bunches. The hot summer continued throughout July and August, and the harvest officially began on August 20th (though the first grapes were actually picked on August 17th by André Beaufort in Ambonnay - the earliest harvest on record). An average of 12,361 kg/ha was produced but the agronomic yield was actually much higher, varying largely between 16,000-19,000 kg/ha. Wineries all over the region were full to the brim, with the greatest difficulty facing most producers being locating containers for all the wines. Consequently, the 2018 harvest was also used to replace less impressive wines in the reserves, which was especially welcome due to the disastrous results from 2017. Even if the year was extraordinary for the vinegrower and winemaker, the jury is still out regarding its quality. The wines are perfectly clean and plush but notably low on acidity (average total acidity 5.9 g/l), thus there is a distinct softness to them. However, some producers (such as Louis Roederer) were able to produce wines with laudably low pHs (an average of 2.8 for Roederer) and such wines are certainly not lacking drive or vivacity.
A very weak year for most Pinot Noir. First, severe April frosts caused significant crop loss. After a hot summer, unexpected rain in July and August caused some rot in the vineyards, with Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir hit the worst. A normal-sized harvest (10,057 kg/ha) was picked from August 26th onwards. Despite attempts at intense selection in the vineyards, the quality was simply not there in the red grapes. Although 2017 wont be widely declared, some individual successes may be found. For example, several iconic prestige cuvée Blanc de Blancs were made, including Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. Fortunately, the following 2018 vintage was a success in both quantity and quality, enabling winemakers to discard unwanted reserve wines from 2017.
This year trialled the growers with many climatic hazards from excessive rainfalls to frosts, downy mildew, hail, draught and, finally, sunburn. A cool spring saw late-April frost, which cut volumes early on. Mildew caused some issues throughout the region (especially in the Côte des Bar), equally diminishing volumes. July and August were then hot and very dry months and the resultant sunburn reduced the yields further. Ripening was uneven, and Chardonnay especially needed time and was thus considered the most difficult variety for the vintage. Overall volumes were down to 9,163 kg/ha, offering balanced wines with an average potential alcohol of 9.9% and total acidity of 7.4g/l. A tough year but one which has produced fruit-forward, lush wines with vibrant acidity.
A wet winter and mild spring gave way to an exceptionally dry summer from mid-May onwards. Hot weather prevailed until mid-August, when the skies opened again. Rains gave way to fine, cool, yet sunny weather for the first two weeks of harvest, which commenced on August 29th. The 2015 vintage has a lot of common denominators with the 2003 vintage but the 2015s are showing a better balance of weight and freshness with their average potential alcohol level of 10.5% and total acidity of 6.9 g/l. The quality and ageing capacity of the vintage has been questioned because of the low acidity, but to me the structure of the wine is not the problem; the aromatics are. Initially as vins clairs, I found the wines to come with ample, attractive fruitiness. The vegetal, particularly ash-like aromatics were subdued but have since then become amplified, especially in the vintage bottlings. Drought issues are considered to be the culprit to these widely spread aromatic issues of the year. I have come notably down from my initial assessment. However, most vintage and prestige cuvées are yet to surface from the cellars and their quality will make or break the vintage.
In 2013, the growth cycle was delayed, with the vines flowering as late as July in some places due to the long winter and cool spring. Hailstorms caused some damage, but overall the summer was hot and dry. The weather turned wet towards mid-September, causing outbreaks of rot in places. The harvest was long and started late, on September 24th. However, most of the picking of the abundant yield (12,0008 kg/ha) took place in cool conditions in October thus contributing to a classic cool and linear style of Champagne. Taking into consideration the challenging season, the wines have positively surprised with their pure fruitiness, racy palates and stylish restraint. There is heterogeneity in the results, but the best belong to the Champagne elite. This vintage is greatly underrated and will likely become better appreciated over time, when the region's most iconic wines are released.
The next most exceptional vintage since 2008. A truly difficult growing season saw severe frosts in the winter. March brought warmth but early budbreak made the vines vulnerable to spring frosts. Overall, the early growing season was wet, and mildew became a serious issue. However, conditions improved dramatically in the later summer months. An August heatwave resulted in a rapid accumulation of sugar, but fortunately the nights remained cool, which helped to preserve acidity. Although yields were low (averaging at 9,210 kg/ha) due to frost, hail and disease early in the season, the 2012 harvest was exemplary in its maturity, acidity and grape health. A rare high acid, high sugar September harvest with impeccable concentration of flavour and refreshing vibrancy. Pinot Noir is the superstar of the vintage, though Pinot Meunier excelled too. A vintage that promises great longevity for the finest cuvées, it was widely declared by producers. However, Krug decided to invest in its reserve wines on this great year, and no Vintage was produced. The quality of 2012 is universally high, with the greatest releases so far including Louis Roederer Cristal and Cristal Rosé, Bollinger La Grande Année and La Grande Année Rosé, as well as Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé.
One of the earliest harvests in history, following a warm, early spring and a cool, damp summer season. Mildew and a lack of ripeness were the main problems of this challenging vintage, which can occasionally be detected in both vintage and non-vintage cuvées as mouldy and vegetal characters. Patience and fierce selection at harvest time were the winning recipes. Not many vintage Champagnes were produced but the few successful cuvées include Louis Roederer Vintage Rosé and Vintage Blanc de Blancs, Pierre Péters Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons and Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée.
A taxing year with dry conditions hindering grape development early in the season. After a hot summer, torrential rain in mid-August caused widespread disease pressure. Dreams of an abundant harvest of universally healthy grapes were discarded as it became a battle against botrytis. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier were hit worst, but overall there is great variability in the results based on location, viticultural methods and timing. Chardonnay performed much better with even excellent results possible. The ripeness of the grapes was good and the acidity remained high despite the warm season. As a combined consequence of the challenges of the growing season, the global financial crisis and the cellars bursting with fine 2008 and 2009 vintage bottles, few houses declared 2010 a vintage. The ones who did, must have done so for a reason and there are indeed fine examples, such as Dom Pérignon, Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé and Louis Roederer Vintage Rosé and Blanc de Blancs.
Initially a difficult, damp year with widespread mildew, expectations for 2008 were low. However, drier conditions in August and a fine, warm September with cool nighttime temperatures proved to be the saving grace. Harvest began on September 15th and it quickly became known as an outstanding year, due to the finesse brought about by the fine, saline freshness and purity of fruit. The 2008s are coolly fruity, classically-styled wines with notable acidity balanced by sound ripeness achieved by a long and slow ripening. The abundant vintage (yielding 14,231 kg/ha) favoured all three varieties, particularly Pinot Meunier. A dream-come true vintage in many aspects, 2008 is especially celebrated for the prospected longevity of its best Champagnes. Due to the slow ageing of the cuvées many houses, such as Louis Roederer and Dom Pérignon, decided to launch their 2009 prestige cuvées before the 2008s. Launches of the year's most iconic cuvées were received with great hype, causing shortages and rapidly rising prices. Furthermore, production volumes for some cuvées were restricted due to the difficult economic climate in the months following the 2008 financial crisis. From the so-far-released cuvees, Louis Roederer Cristal and Cristal Rosé, Dom Pérignon, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Deutz Amour de Deutz Rosé and Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame have been particularly impressive.
An unusually warm spring led to early flowering and initial optimism, which soon gave way to disappointment following one of the murkiest summers on record. Overall, 2007 was a difficult vintage saved by last-minute sunshine in late-August. The harvest began early, on August 24th, and was abundant in volume averaging 14,242 kg/ha. Pinot Meunier posed the biggest problems and Chardonnay clearly outperformed the rest. Many of the iconic prestige cuvée blanc de blancs were successfully produced, such as Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Ruinart Dom Ruinart, Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Louis and Salon Le Mesnil. Some blended prestige cuvées such as Louis Roederer Cristal and Philipponnat Clos des Goisses were also made. Champagnes from 2007 are typically high in acidity and restrainedly classic in style, but lack the spine and strength of the greatest harvest years. Even if the vintage only receives three stars, its best Chardonnays are well worth seeking and storing.
A cold winter and springtime frosts laid the foundations for this vintage of abundant yields (12,997 kg/ha). Uneventful flowering was followed by exceptionally hot and sunny weather, which lasted until August. A dank August left producers fearful but fortunately warm, bright conditions in September redressed the balance. Harvest commenced on September 9th, producing grapes high in sugar level but notably low on acidity. The general health of the grapes was sufficient, producing wines which excel over the preceding 2005 vintage, another warm and ample year. The year's greatest wines are supple and expressive and despite the richness they escape being overly heavy. Overt and welcoming upon launch, the best come with excellent capacity for ageing. Winey, and richly fruity characters, most Champagnes regrettably miss some tension and finesse. Wines of the vintage include Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Krug Vintage and Dom Pérignon Rosé.
A dry start to the year with flowering occurring in June. An overall warm year that progressed without too many complications, however hot and wet weather at the turn of July led to some mildew outbreaks. Picking of the abundant harvest (12,991 kg/ha) started on September 9th with high hopes. The result is a mixed harvest with variable conditions. Some winemakers selected very carefully and produced sound Champagnes. Due to the overall hype for the vintage in France, and the wines showing generous and friendly upon release, the vintage was well received. However, the wines have not turned out nearly as good as expected, producing rich yet singular and heavy Champagnes, often with overripe characteristics. These aromatics must have gone largely unnoticed at the time of blending, but have become amplified over time in the bottle. Although some wines are starting to show negative evolution, the very best examples from this vintage are still ageing well and are worth seeking out.
A great example of how large yields do not necessarily mean poor quality in Champagne. As a reaction to the previous year's low yields, the vines produced one of the largest crops on record. The growing season proceeded without major difficulties but the bumper crop called for bud thinning. August brought about cooler weather and some rains. The massive crop, averaging 13,990 kg/ha, was picked from September 18th onwards. The quality was a pleasant surprise; vibrant wines with appropriate intensity, refined charm and refreshing lightness. This vintage impresses me more and more, and I feel tempted to give it the full five stars. It comes with a rare balance of freshness, lightness, yet fine aromatic intensity. Post-release, this vintage has proven to be slow to age, and elegant wines are likely to keep on ageing gracefully. Dom Pérignon and Louis Roederer Cristal both excelled.
A challenging vintage for Champagne in the face of an unprecedented heatwave during the summer months. The wines are characterised by the year's unusual circumstances. Large-scale frosts destroyed most of the projected yield and they were followed by hail and an extremely hot summer. Harvest was kick-started early on August 21st and yields remained minuscule at 8,100 kg/ha. Atypically round, ripe, sun-kissed wines that miss freshness and backbone. The total acidity level was notably low, at 5.8 g/l. Only the very best performers were able to avoid heaviness and overripe aromatics. This vintage was not largely declared but some famous names, Krug and Dom Pérignon at the fore, chose to experiment with it. Both produced excellent 2003s and Dom Pérignon's chef de cave at the time named the vintage as one of the creations he is most proud of. Some special cuvées surfaced, such as 2003 by Bollinger, as the house found the year did not stylistically fit into the La Grande Année range. Palmer & Co also took a curious route and made its 2003 only in magnum, releasing it much later than usual as cuvée Grands Terroirs. The ageing capacity of 2003 is much debated. Dom Pérignon's Richard Geoffroy had great confidence in his 2003 and he actually regretted releasing it too early. The jury is still out, but personally I am inclined to drink mine sooner rather than later, as the advancement post-disgorgement has in most cases been rather rapid and the wines miss the acidic backbone necessary for retaining freshness.
A cold winter and a mild late spring cued for a perfect June allowing early and fast flowering. Outstanding weather conditions prevailed and the season went on without dramatic turns. Rains in August raised concerns regarding gray rot, but finally sunshine and dry conditions throughout September resulted in an abundant crop of largely healthy fruit (11,930 kg/ha). Dehydration due to wind further aided in achieving perfect ripeness and additional concentration. This, and the cool nights, helped in retaining fresh acidity and, despite the ripeness (10.3% potential alcohol), the wines did not suffer from heaviness or a lack of life. A near-perfect vintage, which produced balanced Champagnes consistently around the region. The best show an impeccable combination of freshness, power, structure and finesse. However, some have matured aromatically quicker than expected and are already past their peak. 2002 produced an abundance of spectacular champagnes, such as Dom Pérignon (the entire range), Krug Vintage and Clos du Mesnil, Piper-Heidsieck Rare, Louis Roederer Cristal and Cristal Rosé, Ruinart Dom Ruinart and Dom Ruinart Rosé, Salon Le Mesnil and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, to name a few.
There is not much to say of this very poor year. A shamefully gigantic and dilute harvest ruined by last minute rains. Sugar levels remained low and acidity was accentuated in the wines of this year, with botrytis presenting a significant problem. Harvest commenced as late as September 20th. Only a few vintage Champagnes were produced but amongst those that were, there are some rare gems. The wine of the vintage must be Philpponnat's Clos des Goisses, which was actually very good but has matured much quicker than most other vintages. There were also great grower successes. I was at the time impressed by Agrapart Vénus and Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée.
After a warm onset of the growing season, the disappointments began in the summer, with July rains and hail. Even though the weeks leading to harvest were sunny, rot was somewhat of a persistent issue, especially for the red grapes. The harvest of a sizeable crop commenced on September 11th. Overall, it was a warm year that produced voluptuous, ripe Champagnes that were easy to approach in youth. The colours turned deep golden quickly and evolution has been rapid. Fat, ripe and full-bodied, the best are actually very good. It is generally a Chardonnay year and Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne might very well be the wine of the vintage. I have also been impressed by Krug Vintage, Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, Charles Heidsieck Vintage, Dom Pérignon P2 and Pommery Cuvée Louise Rosé.
A difficult start to the year led to early budbreak. There were some damaging hailstorms in early May, but the frost ultimately stayed away. The summer was overall warm and thanks to the hot and dry August, the grapes looked promising for the harvest. However, a damp September challenged producers and dilution was an issue for some. The 1999 harvest that started on September 15th produced a large yield (12,989 kg/ha) of sweet grapes that resulted in soft wines, low in acidity, which produced Champagnes that, in many cases, miss linearity and structure. Voluptuous and enjoyable with ripe, fruity, even exotic characters but in most cases for the medium-term only, even if the best seem to be maturing better than initially expected. The red wines of the year were exceptional and resulted in some outstanding prestige cuvée rosés, such as Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé and Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé.
A year full of events in the vineyards with cool and warm weather alternating. April frosts were an issue, especially in the Côte des Blancs, destroying some two percent of the potential yield. Even if weather upon flowering was variable, coulure (or millerandage) were ultimately not major issues. The harvest started with rainy weather on September 12th but the wet conditions only lasted a few days, after which sunny conditions prevailed, helping to rescue the harvest. A large 12,926 kg/ha crop was picked, which was sufficient in acidity and above average in ripeness. It is tough to generalize this harvest, as the quality has proved to be variable. The best wines have elegance and freshness, whereas the worst examples are dull and have evolved quickly. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Piper-Heidsieck Rare magnum and Laurent-Perrier Alexandra Rosé are amongst the vintage's very finest.
A cold winter was followed by significant spring frosts. The early summer was warm, but cool weather and rain persisted throughout the flowering period. Summer ended with warm temperatures, lending some hot-year characteristics to the year's wines even if acidity remained high at 8.5 g/l. A small harvest (9,402 kg/ha) was picked from September 12th onwards. The 1997 vintage was rather overlooked, following the successful 1995 and 1996 vintages, and many did not produce a vintage even though the year was not particularly weak. Despite the warmth of the year the best wines have sufficient acidic backbone, but many lack intensity and harmony. Most Champagnes are quite developed already, showing no sign of further potential. Its highlights included Laurent-Perrier Alexandra Rosé, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, Louis Roederer Cristal and Salon Le Mesnil.
A difficult early season with frosts damaging a number of vineyards, reducing the potential crop. Warm weather in May was counter-balanced with a cold snap in June, which negatively impacted flowering. However, hot and sunny conditions interspersed with showers throughout the summer and produced healthy and mature grapes, which were harvested in early September. The window of reaching ripeness was vast for the different varieties and locations due to the impact of the early season frost. The 11,619 kg/ha crop picked was a record level at the time, surpassed only by 1983 and 1982. The wines that had instant charm were rich, luscious and soft. The slightly lazy acidity and plump fruitiness has meant that the 1989s have matured much earlier than the 1988s. Memorable cuvées include Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires, Krug Clos du Mesnil, Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, Louis Roederer Cristal and Veuve Clicquot Cave Privée Rosé.
A mild spring was followed by variable weather, and spring frosts did some damage. Hail and millerandange also cut potential crop levels. July was cloudy but conditions rapidly improved and led the way into harvest. Despite all the viticultural challenges along the way, the grapes fared well, and the resulting Champagnes are powerful and well-structured. In the end, this normal-size but late-picked harvest did not reach great ripeness levels (9.2% potential alcohol), but overall the 1988s have been of excellent quality. These slow-maturing, fresh, taut and linear wines are maturing very well and many are still on the rise. Its finest examples include Dom Pérignon Brut and Rosé, Krug Clos du Mesnil and Vintage, Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, Louis Roederer Cristal and Cristal Rosé, Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Ruinart Dom Ruinart Rosé, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Veuve Clicquot Vintage.
There were adverse climatic variations over the winter and as a result of an early budbreak, springtime frosts ended up destroying 20-25% of the potential harvest. Coulure, millerandange and oidium added to the misery, with only 4,353 kg/ha being picked from September 28th onwards. This tiny yield came at a time when Champagne was already suffering from the low crop levels of 1978 and 1980, hence not many vintage wines were made. Nevertheless, the grapes and the resulting wines were of excellent quality. The Chardonnays were the definite stars, although the Pinot Noirs successfully married acidity and generosity, producing intensely aromatic Champagnes with promising cellaring potential. The best wines defy time and stand out with their finesse. They include Louis Roederer Cristal, Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie, Krug Vintage and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne.