TOP PHOTO: The label of nonvintage Pol Roger Champagne. BOTTOM PHOTO: The
label of vintage Champagne, in this case the
2000 vintage, which, due to the need for
longer aging, should be drinking very well in
An Important Note About Aging
Vintage Champagnes typically need to be laid down for at least 10 years, and ideally for 15 or 20 years, to develop their great nuances. The vintner constructs the wine to last for the long run.
While the vintage wines can be drunk when they’re released for retail sales, knowledgeable buyers don’t plan to drink a current vintage anytime soon.
For all the celebrities and others who spend big at restaurants and clubs on newly-released vintages of Roderer Cristal or Dom Pérignon, for example: This is wine infanticide. The wine is drinkable to be sure, but much more simplistic than it will be when fully developed. It’s better to enjoy a nonvintage wine than a too-young vintage,
Nonvintage wine, on the other hand, is ready to drink as soon as it is released. Yes, it will develop more with a few years of bottle aging, but don’t hesitate to pop the cork right now.
Don’t Be Afraid To Buy Champagnes You’ve Never Heard Of
Smaller Champagne houses don’t spend money on marketing and cost less than the “name brands.” However, a Champagne you’ve never heard of can be even more delicious to you than the brands you know.
A number of years ago, on a recommendation from wine expert Robert Parker, we purchased and went crazy for a $35 bottle of Egly-Ouriet, a smaller producer we’d never heard of. Most buyers have still never heard of it, and it remains very well priced.
You may find that “unknown” Champagne houses—Betrand Devavry, Jacques Selosse, Paul Dethune and Vilmart, for example—are sparkling treasures.
If you have style preferences—for example, if you prefer a fuller bodied Pinot Noir-based Champagne rather than a lighter “blanc de blancs” made only with Chardonnay grapes—let the wine clerk make a recommendation.
Only True Connoisseurs Can Tell The Difference Between Vintage And Nonvintage
Only Champagne connoisseurs—those who drink a lot of it and have the expertise to analyze what they’re drinking—can tell you if a glass of Champagne served blind holds a vintage or a nonvintage.
We still remember when we were taken to dinner years ago, by a Wall Streeter who ate and drank “the best” almost nightly. He ordered a bottle of vintage Veuve Cliquot, but the waiter returned with a bottle of the nonvintage and apologized that they were sold out of the vintage.
My friend scoffed and snorted at the thought of nonvintage Champagne, and chose another brand with a year on the label. Net net, a little learning is a dangerous thing. If you like Veuve Cliquot, you like vintage and nonvintage alike.
So the final word is:
If you know what you like and want to save money, buy the nonvintage version.
If you don’t know what you like, ask the wine clerk to point out the great values.