Although vintage prestige cuvée champagnes are generally released ready to drink, they will often benefit from some time in the cellar. Stored correctly, prestige champagnes can age fantastically well, for years – even decades – after release. Indeed, president of Champagne Salon, Didier Depond, believes their famous Blanc de Blancs should only be drank after 15 years and that the best vintages can age well for five decades or more.
We therefore decided to explore this ageing potential for our standout champagne tasting of the year, hosted at 67 Pall Mall earlier this week. The concept – ‘Something Old, Something New’ – was to highlight just how gracefully prestige champagnes evolve and develop by comparing an old and current vintage of the top wine from ten major Champagne houses.
The ten pairs we assembled spanned 25 years and covered 13 different vintages. Sourcing many of the champagnes tasted was an exceedingly difficult task – some are now impossible to purchase with proven provenance and most of the older vintages were obtained directly from the cellars of the respective Maison. It was a real privilege to be able to taste them at this event.
Further enhancing the rarity of the evening, many of the older vintages were served from magnum, including showstoppers such as Bollinger R.D. 1988, Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1998 and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 – the last of which was one of just ten remaining magnums in the world.
The champagnes were tasted blind in pairs by brand. Live-scoring on our smartphone app allowed us to analyse which were the highest scored champagnes and which were most often identified correctly. The world’s leading wine critic, Jancis Robinson MW, guided guests through the experience, sharing her expert insights into these stunning vintages and champagnes.
The champagnes are listed below in the order tasted on the evening. Tasting notes are Nick’s, founder of The Finest Bubble.
|Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2008 | TFB Score: 17.5/20 | Avg. Score: 17.2/20 | Rank: 20
70-80% PN, 20-30% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: Summer 2017 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Light in colour with fine bubbles, assume this is the younger one. Slight artichoke, grassy character on the nose with hints of smoke. Hints of chalk, great acidity and a lemon rich and mineral finish.
|Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1998 Magnum | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 17.9/20 | Rank: 19
70-80% PN, 20-30% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: July 2008 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 11 Years
Darker in colour and less bubbles so must be the older one. Distinct bottle age character, mid 90’s? Butter and caramel with a nuttiness and dried orange. Seems sweeter on the palate, lots of dried fruits and hazelnut and cream characteristics. Good length.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1983 | TFB Score: 18.5/20 | Avg. Score: 18.3/20 | Rank: =9
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: 1994 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 25 Years
Golden colour with fewer bubbles, this has 20+ years age. Toasty nose with jasmine and walnuts and fruits that suggest sweetness like honey, dried lime, hazelnuts, cream and peaches. Great length.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004 | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 18.1/20 | Rank: =13
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: November 2016 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Light straw with bundles of bubbles. Light floral nose with delicate chalky notes. Great balance, lemon and apple and rich texture from long lees ageing. Fresh on the end with hint of salinity… a BdB?
|Piper-Heidsieck Rare 1998 Magnum | TFB Score: 19/20 | Avg. Score: 18.2/20 | Rank: =12
70% CH, 30% PN | Lees Ageing: 15 Years | Disgorged: September 2014 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Years
Darker gold in the glass, hint of reductive smoky character, suggests a magnum. Some development on the nose, must be 90’s, bundles of dried fruits lemon rich, hint of bacon and orange peel, almost marmalade. Full rich palate suggests long lees ageing. I like this.
|Rare 2006 | TFB Score: 18.5/20 | Avg. Score: 18.1/20 | Rank: =13
70% CH, 30% PN | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
A more youthful colour and bright fruit nose, hints of asparagus and lemon richness. On the palate it has lovely acidity, lees roundness with a creamy brioche finish. Long length and very clean and pure.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 17.5/20 | Rank: =15
92% PN, 8% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: January 2018 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Pale lemon in colour with fine bubbles. On the nose lots of citrus and pear and a hint of white stone fruit. Bright acidity, lees roundness and hints of coffee, this is bright and fresh and likely a 2008.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1989 | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 18.4 | Rank: =6
60% PN, 40% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: May 1998 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 21 Years
Rich darker colour with fewer bubbles. On the nose a hint of candied fruit and toffee with distinct lime and dried orange notes. More generous on the palate with a nice creamy cappuccino finish, great length and still mighty fine and refreshing.
|Bollinger R.D. 1988 Magnum | TFB Score: 19/20 | Avg. Score: 18/20 | Rank: =15
72% PN, 28% CH | Lees Ageing: 21 Years | Disgorged: May 2010 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Years
Darker hue, seems much older. Really nutty on the nose and a hint of smoky reduction, suggests a magnum and underneath all hazelnut and creme brulée. A complex palate of dried fruit and nuts. Lovely length and a gun metal finish. Lovely.
|Bollinger R.D. 2004 | TFB Score: 18.5/20 | Avg. Score: 18/20 | Rank: =15
66% PN, 34% CH | Lees Ageing: 12 Years | Disgorged: June 2017 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Lighter, brighter and showing more youth. Some nuttiness with tangerine and apricot. On the palate, it has a real liquorice and spice edge, must be Bollinger as its not Krug.
|Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Iteration 17 MV Magnum | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 18.2/20 | Rank: =11
Vintages: 1995 (60%), 1993 (20%), 1990 (20%) | 55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 22 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
This pair are both a very similar shade of pale yellow. A toasty brioche nose with a touch of melon. A little sweetness on the palate with a rich lemon and lime sherbet punch on the end. Enjoyed this ones light and bright character and with some age.
|Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Iteration 22 MV Magnum | TFB Score: 17/20 | Avg. Score: 18/20 | Rank: =15
Vintages: 2004 (55%), 2002 (30%), 1999 (15%) | 55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 13 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
On the palate this has more acidity so one would assume it is more youthful. A green grassiness with a rich apple finish, and quite a lot of lemon and lime with texture from long lees ageing. Probably LP?
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007 | TFB Score: 17/20 | Avg. Score: 18.3/20 | Rank: =9
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Very similar in colour but a slightly lighter rim. A very delicate nose with white stone fruits, powerful lemon and apple richness and a hint of sweetness on the palate. Probably BdB.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 Magnum | TFB Score: 18.5/20 | Avg. Score: 18.6/20 | Rank: =2
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 2008 | Dosage: 11.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 11 Years
A little darker. On the nose there is a hint of smoke, assume a magnum, showing more developed notes of cream and toast with brioche and pastry. The palate is broad and round and very pleasing, some great dried fruits apricots and pears and ripe pineapple. Light and still refreshing with great length. Guessing this has to be Comtes 98, regardless its v good.
|Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 18.4/20 | Rank: =6
60% PN, 40% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 2018 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Lighter in colour with hints of chalk, some ripe tropical fruits the same as palate, peach and tropical fruit with a nice mineral finish and very fruity on the end. Refreshing and linear, is this another 08?
|Louis Roederer Cristal Late Release 2002 | TFB Score: 19/20 | Avg. Score: 18.5/20 | Rank: 5
55% PN, 45% CH | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: 2009 | Dosage: 10 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 10 Years
A little darker and much richer on the palate with a lovely depth. So much depth to it, it has creamy custard character and some beautiful pastry notes, with floral, lemon and jasmine finish. Good indeed.
|Dom Pérignon 2008 | TFB Score: 18/20 | Avg. Score: 18.6/20 | Rank: =2
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: January 2018 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
A youthful colour with a flinty, gun smoke nose and flinty palate. Good length, finish goes on and on, is very precise. Must be DP
|Dom Pérignon P2 1993 | TFB Score: 19.5/20 | Avg. Score: 18.4/20 | Rank: 6
55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 21 Years | Disgorged: 2015 | Dosage: 5.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Golden colour, very fine bubbles. A very creamy, custard nose. On the palate creme patisserie with tropical fruits and great depth.
|Krug 1995 Magnum | TFB Score: 20/20 | Avg. Score: 18.8/20 | Rank: 1
Krug ID: 105095 | 48% CH, 33% PN, 17% PM | Lees Ageing: 18 Years | Disgorged: Winter 2014 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Years
Dark golden glow with pronounced nose and that smokey flint, must be a magnum, then you see many layers brioche toast, honey, cream and caramel and bundles of dried pineapple and hints of vanilla. Sour and savoury notes with lemon and double cream. great acidity and life and finishes so elegant. Wow I need to drink this every day!
|Krug 2004 | TFB Score: 19/20 | Avg. Score: 18.6/20 | Rank: =2
Krug ID: 216022 | 39% CH, 37% PN, 24% PM | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: Spring 2016 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Golden colour and with hints of bacon and smoke on the nose with hints of honeycomb. On the palate it has texture and real creaminess.
Introducing proceedings, Jancis told guests of our research trip to Champagne earlier this summer – during which we were fortunate to taste nearly all of the champagnes presented on the evening – and highlighted one of the key factors for guests to consider. “We’ve got so many variables tonight. For instance, when we’re tasting the older wine from a magnum and the younger wine from a bottle, then we’re evening them up a bit.”
TFB founder Nick Baker’s advice when trying to identify the magnums was that the larger formats “often have a slightly smoky, gun-flint character,” however, as Jancis was quick to point out, “that’s not really gonna help you all that much!”
As stated, all champagnes were served completely blind. The only clue given was that the first champagne was not Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. The reason for this was that the light and easy-going Blanc de Blancs are typically served first in tasting events and (as the first one up is always judged the harshest) are given a lower score.
Jancis’s advice: “try and score the wines in pure quality terms before playing the ‘what is it’ game because, especially with champagne and particularly with prestige cuvées, we do tend to be influenced by the identity and the image… it would be really nice if we could get a proper, unbiased assessment of how good we think the wines are.”
As we tasted, it became apparent that the task of guessing the champagne’s identities would prove to be all but impossible anyway. However, as the age difference between each prestige cuvée of the same brand was significant – sometimes 15+ years – establishing which was the younger and which the older was manageable by most.
All in all, the entire range showed exceptionally well, with scores ranging from 17.2 to 18.8 out of 20. (As is typical, the champagnes shown first were the lowest scored, so it’s important to keep this in mind when reviewing the league table). There were many star champagnes, but the maturity, complexity and sheer power of both Krug 1995 Magnum and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 Magnum seemed to please the most palates in the room. Interestingly, Dom Pérignon was the only brand for which guests preferred the younger vintage to the older vintage (18.6/20 for Dom Pérignon 2008 vs 18.4/20 for Dom Pérignon P2 1993).
As we proved with this tasting champagnes from what are often considered lesser vintages like 1983, 1989, 1993 and 2007 can indeed age and look great many years past their release. The Charles Heidsieck 1983 has softer acidity but in 2019 it is a great champagne with life ahead and the Dom Perignon 1993 P2 a generally regarded weak vintage shows that when a Maison selects carefully they can still make a great champagne in a not so great year.
This exceedingly rare opportunity to taste current releases alongside much older vintages certainly highlighted champagne’s ageing potential. It is worth reiterating the perfect provenance of these older vintages however, stored as they were in the chalk cellars of Champagne. If you are considering storing an older vintage, do so carefully and under the right conditions; if you are considering purchasing an older vintage, ensure the provenance is guaranteed (sourced directly from an importer or stored in a bonded warehouse is ideal).
Jancis’s opening statement is an equally pertinent closing one: “If we decide that the wines have aged really very nicely, perhaps a takeaway will be for us all to go away and keep prestige cuvées a little bit longer than perhaps we have done in the past.”