Blind Champagne tasting 2002 vs 2004 with Jancis Robinson MW & Richard Bampfield MW


Overall many experts believe that 2002 and 2004 are two of the greatest vintages of the last couple of decades. The 2004 vintage in Champagne is widely considered to be one of the greatest of this century and the next-best since the legendary 2002.

The 2002 and 2004 growing seasons were vastly different. In 2002, a cold winter and mild spring precipitated early and healthy flowering in June. Idyllic sunny and dry conditions throughout the September harvest produced grapes of exceptional acidity that went on to make outstanding and ageworthy champagnes. In 2004, the winter was mild with intermittent storms and hail, while the spring and summer months were hot and sunny. High sugar levels assisted the yielding of high quality fruits, particularly Pinot Noir, and the abundant harvest was one of the largest ever for the region.

Upon release of the first vintage dated champagnes, 2002 swiftly became known as the ‘near-perfect’ year, while 2004 was celebrated for the unprecedented size of its crop – leading the nearly-as-good-wines of that year to be somewhat overlooked. As the champagnes matured, the 2002s performed exactly as expected. Stunningly rich with vibrant and generous fruit, they fulfilled the sky-high expectations placed upon them. At the same time the 2004s – which were generally accepted as great-but-not-outstanding – continuously outperformed what were perhaps pessimistic expectations, impressing both connoisseurs and consumers alike.

Indeed, this difference in assumptions regarding the quality of the two vintages is evident in their descriptions on JancisRobinson.com. Vintage 2002 is described as “a magnificent vintage with near-perfect growing conditions”, while 2004 is described as producing “structured, well-balanced wines which have exceeded expectation.”

We therefore decided to pit them against each other in a blind tasting (which eliminates any existing bias), to determine once and for all whether vintage 2004 was overshadowed by the reputation of 2002. Live-scoring on our smartphone app allowed us to analyse which were the highest scored champagnes and which brand’s vintages were most often identified correctly. This blind tasting was in the presence of wine critics, Jancis Robinson MW and Richard Bampfield MW

 

 

 

 

 

 

The champagne pairs are listed below in the brand order tasted on the evening. The champagnes were served blind in pairs by brand (the tasting panel knew neither the vintages nor the brands) and are listed below in the order tasted on the day

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2004 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2002
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2002 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004
Bollinger R.D. 2002 Bollinger R.D. 2004
Salon 2004 Salon 2002
Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2002 Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2004
Krug 2002 Krug 2004
Dom Perignon P2 2004 Dom Perignon P2 2002
Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Chetillons Oenotheque 2002 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Chetillons Oenotheque 2004
Dom Ruinart Rose 2004 Dom Ruinart Rose 2002
Lanson Noble Blanc de Blancs 2002 Lanson Noble Blanc de Blancs 2004
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2002 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2004
Moet Grand Vintage Collection 2004 & 2002 Moet Grand Vintage 2004
Louis Roederer Cristal 2004 Louis Roederer Cristal 2002
Philipponnat Grand Cru 1522 2002 Philipponnat Grand Cru 1522 2004
Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2004 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2002
Dom Perignon 2002 Dom Perignon 2004
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2002 Magnum Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2004 Magnum
Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2004 Magnum Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2002 Magnum
Pommery Clos Pompadour NV All 2002 Magnum Pommery Clos Pompadour NV All 2004 Magnum
Pommery Cuvée Louise 2004 Magnum Pommery Cuvée Louise 2002 Magnum
Pol Roger 2002 Magnum Pol Roger 2004 Magnum
Bollinger La Grande Annee 2002 Magnum Bollinger La Grande Annee 2004 Magnum

As the brand identities were not revealed to the judges and the 2002 and 2004 vintages were sporadic the results are solely based on how they tasted on the day.

However, the underlying purpose of this event was a vintage comparison. The group average scores showed slight preference overall for 2002 over 2004 (17.9/20 vs 17.7/20), suggesting that the difference in media attention that the vintages are currently receiving may not accurately reflect the difference in quality.

Although there was slight difference in overall marks between the two vintages, few scores were in favour of 2004’s.

The majority of wines in the tasting were the super-expensive prestige cuvées, the most famous names in Champagne. But many of the regular vintage-dated champagnes in this blind tasting performed extremely well, for instance Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2002. Most unfortunately our bottle of Louis Roederer, Cristal 2004 was out of condition (TCA)

75cl Bottle

Group Average Scores | 2002 Average: 17.9/20 | 2004 Average: 17.7/20  
Rank Champagne Group Avg. Score / 20 Jancis Robinson MW Tasting Notes In Bond 6*75cl
1 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2002 19.5 Tasted blind. Deep straw with a yellowish tinge. Lots of evolution on the nose. Lots of grip and great creamy balance. Masses of pleasure. Hedonistic. Rich yet with tension. Not low dosage though! £1,500.00
2 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2004 19.3 Tasted blind. Deep straw with a yellowish tinge that’s a bit greener than the 2002. But it smells more evolved! Brisk and energetic. More youthful than the earlier vintage but with great promise and persistence. £850.00
3 Dom Perignon 2004 19 Tasted blind. Quite a youthful greenish straw. But with some reductive evolution on the nose. Very lively palate. Just a bit short and bitter. Racy and filigree. Lots of finesse. £850.00
4 Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2002 18.5 Tasted blind. Hint of green in the deep straw. Very pungent nose! Almost cordite – possibly an aroma that not everyone will love? Really good texture – not too frothy and with real grip. Made with confidence! Very good balance. Quite complex and very satisfying. Lemon-cream flavours. Extremely distinctive … £1,800.00
=4 Dom Perignon 2002 18.5 Tasted blind. Orangey straw with a pinkish tinge. Well behaved and not showy. Edgy, green nose. Racy and intense and energetic. £975.00
5 Salon 2004 18.3 Tasted blind. Mid straw. Fresh and appetising nose. At peak, with lacy, filigree texture and really bright fruit. Hint of ginger. Clean, dry finish. £5,200.00
=5 Salon 2002 18.3 Tasted blind. Deep straw. Real evolution on the nose. Rich and much softer than the 2004. Some botrytis? Heavier and less refreshing than the 2004, as well. But flattering to taste now. Quite long. One of the first wines to show real persistence. £5,200.00
=5 Krug 2002 18.3 Tasted blind. Deep orangey straw. Very mature, mushroomy nose. Really interesting wine that throbs with vitality and is not too sweet (which some of these are). Racy and dry. £1,980.00
=5 Dom Perignon P2 2002 18.3 Tasted blind. Toasty, interesting nose. Much broader and more expansive on the palate than the 2004, though again it’s quite sweet. Creamy texture. It’s all a bit like a cream tea! Quite long. £1,800.00
6 Krug 2004 18.2 Tasted blind. Deep straw. Lots of energy here. This is obviously a very fine champagne. Tight bead and more youthful than the 2002 vintage. Slightly unevolved. Lots of energy. Some oak ageing? £1,400.00
=6 Dom Perignon P2 2004 18.2 Tasted blind. Mid-pale, youthful straw with a hint of green. Tingly nose and very citrus and zesty but a bit hard on the end. Is this youth or is the wine lacking a bit of fruit? I’m aware of the dosage here. Just a little simple but certainly fresh. £1,600.00
=6 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Chetillons Oenotheque 2002 18.2 Tasted blind. Deep yellowish straw. Lots of mushroom notes on the nose (2002 botrytis?). Rich and rather beautifully balanced. For the first time, I am tempted to swallow this. Complex and very evolved but with a real beginning, middle and (dry) end. Very lively! £3,000.00
=6 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Chetillons Oenotheque 2004 18.2 Tasted blind. Mid-golden straw. Oak notes on the nose. More youthful than the 2002 vintage. Lots of interesting elements but they are not knit together yet. Although this is closer to its pair than most wines so far. Clean and fresh and palate cleansing, though a tad richer on the end than the 2002.
=6 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2002 18.2 Tasted blind. Orangey straw. Rich and round on the nose. Rather sweet start and with much less energy than the 2004 vintage. A tiny bit heavy. £1,150.00
7 Moet Grand Vintage Collection 2002 18 Tasted blind. Deep straw. Sort of mahogany nose. Lots of pleasure but not quite as intense and tight-knit as the 2004 vintage, though very long. £1,140.00
8 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2002 17.8 Tasted blind. Pale copper colour. Very savoury and refreshing on the nose. Racy acidity and maturity. Complex food wine. Positively nourishing! £1,050.00
=8 Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2004 17.8 Tasted blind. Deep straw. Creamy patisserie notes: eclairs! Quite tight at the moment with lemon-posset notes underneath. A little sweet on the end. Not the most refreshing, but hedonistic. A hint of something floral.
=8 Dom Ruinart Rose 2002 17.8 Tasted blind. Evolved, pale tawny pink with very, very slightly more blue than the 2004. Heady and cleaner/smoother on the nose than its pair. Lightly creamy and savoury – more integrated, fresh and successful than the vintage two years later. £1,800.00
=8 Philipponnat Grand Cru 1522 2004 17.8 Tasted blind. Very deep orangey straw. Rather magnificently savoury nose. Full and broad and complete on the palate. Waving goodbye but in the most delightful way.
=8 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2002 17.8 Tasted blind. Very deep, pinkish, almost copper. Distinctly oxidised nose. A very distinctive style! Drier-tasting than the 2004 vintage, although that’s more to do with a slightly fungal quality than a low dosage. Not especially long. But lovers of old champagne may love this …
=8 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2004 17.8 Tasted blind. Very deep orangey straw. Lots of tension and autolysis on the nose and then it’s so introvert that it almost disappears on the palate. But there is so much that’s exclusive to champagne to enjoy here. Tingling! Slightly bitter. Interesting bitter-orange notes. Quite distinctive. £850.00
=8 Moet Grand Vintage 2004 17.8 Tasted blind. Palest of the three Moët’s, with a little greenish tinge. Very youthful and promising. But it’s still tucked in.
9 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2004 17.3 Tasted blind. Deep straw. Saline, mature nose. Very fine bead and at peak. Not immensely deep flavoured, nor especially long. Good for those who like mature champagne. Not bone dry. £950.00
=9 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004 17.3 Tasted blind. Light, youthful nose. Much less evolved than the 2002 vintage. Still in the bloom of youth and with more to give. £900.00
=9 Bollinger R.D. 2002 17.3 Tasted blind. The first pair with identical colours: toasty deep straw. Zesty, citrus-peel aromas. Lots of acidity and zip. Already a pleasure to drink but by no means at peak. Very clean and brisk. Just a hint of prunes! £950.00
=9 Lanson Noble Blanc de Blancs 2002 17.3 Tasted blind. Mid straw with a pinkish tinge. Well integrated and complex on the nose. Then lots of acidity and a punchy mousse. Was there malo on this? Very clean and brisk but extremely youthful. £600.00
=9 Moet Grand Vintage Collection 2004 17.3 Tasted blind. Mid-gold straw. Lots of autolysis on the nose. Pure hedonism. Real wine rather than champagne. A really exciting, beautifully balanced wine. Very long. With lovely freshness (which not all these wines have). Finishes very suddenly.
10 Bollinger R.D. 2004 17.2 Tasted blind. Toasty deep straw. Lots of evolution on the nose. A bit more evolved on the palate than the 2002 vintage. Less lively. Lower acidity. But lots to savour now. £870.00
=10 Louis Roederer Cristal 2002 17.2 Tasted blind. Very deep straw. Sweet and a little simple on the nose. But there is lots here. Some oak influence? Tension and excitement. £1,580.00
=10 Philipponnat Grand Cru 1522 2002 17.2 Tasted blind. Mid straw. Bone dry and lively and not too heavy. Transparent and rather thrilling. Complete for current drinking, if you don’t mind a bit of sweetness.
11 Dom Ruinart Rose 2004 17 Tasted blind. Evolved, pale tawny pink. Some floral, rose-petal notes on the nose. A little lacking zest though very flattering. A little astringent on the end after some pretty sweet notes. £1,400.00
12 Lanson Noble Blanc de Blancs 2004 16.3 Tasted blind. Mid straw with a pinkish tinge. Some complexity on the nose and, again, very brisk mousse and acidity. Almost green! A bit abrasive. Not my style. So young! Fossilised? £560.00
Louis Roederer Cristal 2004 N/A £1275.00

 

1.5L Magnum

1 Pommery Clos Pompadour 2004 Magnum 19 Tasted blind. Pale greenish gold. So youthful! Pungent, promising and not simple. Tension. Savoury. Exciting. Cool! Broad and a bit solid.
2 Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2004 Magnum 18.8 Magnum. Tasted blind. Very reduced nose and then hugely complete and gorgeous on the palate. Saline. Long. Satin textured.
3 Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2004 Magnum 18.5 Magnum. Tasted blind. Greenish straw. Smells of green hard candy. Not that subtle.
=3 Pol Roger 2004 Magnum 18.5 Tasted blind. Savoury, edgy nose with real energy. Youthful.
4 Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2002 Magnum 18.2 Magnum. Tasted blind. Yellow straw. Sweet and rewarding on the nose. Lots of fizz. Almost aggressive! Very much more youthful than any 75-cl example! Extremely long. But sweet.
=4 Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2002 Magnum 18.2 Magnum. Tasted blind. Lots of acidic, green flavours. Quite painful for the moment. Lots of promise though.
5  Pommery Cuvée Louise 2002 Magnum 18 Magnum. Tasted blind. Really sweet. Rich and filigree – lively and charming.
6 Pol Roger 2002 Magnum 17.5 Tasted blind. Deep straw. Bit of Elastoplast/Band-Aid on the nose. Heavy.
7 Pommery Clos Pompadour NV All 2002 Magnum 17.2 Tasted blind. Deep greenish gold. Mellow nose but still quite tight on the palate. Molten gold. Heady nose.
8 Pommery Cuvée Louise 2004 Magnum 17 Magnum. Tasted blind. Interesting, leafy dry nose. But a bit dry – where is the fruit? Dry end.
9 Bollinger La Grande Annee 2004 Magnum 16.8 Tasted blind. Racy, lively and exciting.
10 Bollinger La Grande Annee 2002 Magnum 15.5 Tasted blind. Pale orange. A bit like a liqueur with some gherkin notes. A tad sour rather than complete.

 

As you can see, Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs did remarkably well. It is quite an achievement for two vintages of the same wine to perform so consistently. We three tasters were clearly in a Chardonnay mood as the Pinot-dominated Bollinger and Clos des Goisses did not do as well as we would have predicted. BdB from 2002 (five champagnes) performed best with 18.22 average score with blends from 2002 scoring 17.83.

Clos Pompadour 2004 came top of magnums and has only been produced since 2002. Made only in magnum and a newcomer from Champagne’s biggest Clos, 25 hectares sitting above the Pommery crayeres and cellars in Reims.

So, on the grounds of this tasting alone, we can conclude that 2002 does not significantly outshine 2004 – as its initial reputation might have suggested. The 2004s more than held their own, essentially matching 2002 for average scores and even being preferred in certain champagnes. In terms of pricing ten brands show 2004 is 19% cheaper as a vintage, Krug 02 (18.3) is 41% price premium over 04 (18.2) and most astonishingly Comtes 02 (1st place 19.5) is 76% price premium over 04 (2nd place 19.3) surely the best value champagne in the tasting is Comtes 2004 at £850 per 6*75cl in bond.