Vintage Champagne is a rarity, only about 10% of the total production of the region. On average the producers will declare about three out of every ten years. The producers themselves declare the vintage for the house, there is no “regional announcement” or vintage decree. This means that even on “off” vintages such as 2003 you might have a few houses that escaped the bad weather and produce a vintage product (such was the case for Moet & Chandon, which produced a 2003 Dom Perignon). This also means that in great vintages, such as 1996, you’ll have nearly every house produce vintage wine.
Larry Colbeck did some serious research on Champagne vintages, and we are happy to present the definitive guide to the vintages of Champagne, chock full of Larry’s personal spin.
2013 The initial analysis of the 2013 crop in Champagne is almost exactly the same as that of the legendary 1996 according to Henriot’s cellar master, Laurent Fresnet. He also reported that the Pinots were in the best shape after the difficult flowering; the Chardonnay has been rather badly affected by millerandage and so will see a smaller crop but of very high quality. Speculated to be ✮✮✮✮✩+ 2012
2012 was deemed one of the best vintages the Champagne region has ever experienced. “The quality and the intensity are definitely there to make an outstanding vintage,” Dom Perignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy told Decanter. The base wines show a lovely richness as well as the acidity needed to make outstanding and long-lived Champagnes. Yields are very low, in some places half of the allowed production. Speculated to be ✮✮✮✮✩+
2011 It is hard to imagine a more difficult harvest. Few vintage Champagnes are likely to be made.
2010 A very difficult vintage with prominent rot. Few vintage Champagnes are likely to be made.
2009 Terry Theise states that the 2009 vintage wines are quite adamant and sometimes even heavy recalling the young `99s, another vintage marked by yellow-fruit and which seemed rather vulgar on first glance, but those young ducklings turned into graceful swans. They slimmed down, became sensuous and silky, and started showing class and inner gracefulness. ✮✮✮✩✩ keep
2008 All three varieties were successful, satisfyingly thick skins on the Pinots suggesting good flavour profiles. The wines promise an appealing balance of concentration and acidity. An extremely flowery vintage, lovable from the first instant. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2007 François Domi, chef de cave of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, “[The 2007s] are very aromatic, focused more on delicacy and finesse than on structure. This year nice fruit, but it’s in a light and delicate package.” Probably not long lived. ✮✮✮✩✩ Keep
2006 This much heralded year looked like a big chummy galoot of a vintage as it entered the NV blends. Yet when the vintage-wines arrived, Terry Thiese remarked “I was struck by the incisiveness of the chalky mineral blade-end that so many of them showed, especially the Chardonnays. At this point I’d say I really really like this vintage, and it appears reliable. It doesn’t suggest any adolescent funk.” ✮✮✮✩✩ Keep
2005 I think there is just to many questions with this vintage to recommend comfortably. 2005 in Champagne was not as uniformly successful as in some other French regions. The NVs based on 2005 demonstrate that same forward charm and voluptuousness of fruit, and combined with the acidity of 2004, these champagnes are extremely compelling. Peter Liem speculates, “ I’m wondering if I will like 2005 as a blending year even more than as a vintage year, in fact.” Then there is the rotten potato thing. Yet one finds exceptions, wines of a certain gracefulness that absorbed their strength of fruit. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2004 was a huge crop, and much of its wine was competent and unexciting. But the best of them were the purest most vivid examples of green flavors Champagne may ever have shown. Green like balsam, wintergreen, spearmint, chartreuse, tarragon, verbena, lime-zest. It isn’t always a fetching vintage, but whew, when you land on a good one it’ll curl your toes. Terry Thiese ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2003 The heatwave summer of 2003 was too hot to produce champagne of vintage quality. Avoid.
2002 Terry Thiese advises “the great wines of this excellent vintage offer everything the Champagne lover could ask for; focused aromas with flowers leading a charge including fruits and spices; textures of restrained power and keen expressiveness; flavors showing classic parameters, nothing out-of-the-way. Certainly a marvelous vintage; potentially a classic. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
2001 A rather poor Spring was followed by an extremely poor summer and a harvest that was blighted by heavy rain. Very few vintage wines made, rather dilute wines lacking strength and vinosity. ✮✮✮✩✩ Avoid
2000 Relatively soft and approachable wines, marked by low acidity in the mould of 1999, but perhaps with a little more body and length. One wonders whether this really is a vintage year. 2000 is/was a good year that seems to be aging fast, so don’t sit on them. ✮✮✮✮✩ Drink
1999 Straightforward wines with a clear varietal character. The wines are marked by generally low levels of acidity, and are therefore not really for the long-term. Terry Thiese thinks that “1999 is a beauty, or has become one. Very tasty now, though the top Chardonnays ought to be kept.” I am bit more cautious as I find these a bit too soft, lacking champagne’s usually vital spark of bracing tartness. ✮✮✮✮✩ Drink or keep
1998 in Champagne is a vintage that has continued to grow in reputation with the passage of time. After a dumb period these wines are showing well again in a snappy acid-focused manner. Best in Chardonnay. These can wait while you drink up the 1999s. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
1997s are tasting pretty good and in character not so different from the attractive 1998s – perhaps very slightly sturdier and more solid. They are unpretentious and marked by pleasing ripe fruit flavours and moderate acidity; altogether pleasant wines. ✮✮✮✮✩ Keep
1996 Up to this point 1996 has been considered a fantastic vintage which produced classic wines; the best since 1990. A long, dry summer produced grapes of record ripeness with record acidity. Some, including myself, question how the 1996s are aging. The wines are generally characterized by a distinctive rather lemony acidity and very good attack, but some wines now seem terribly austere, while others already seem dangerously short of fruit. None of the subsequent vintages are quite as distinctive as 1996, which in the more successful cases should almost certainly be drunk after the 1999s. ✮✮✮✮✮ Keep
1995 A large crop, very fine quality, especially for Chardonnay. In fact the most successful wines are the blanc de blancs. The Champagnes are similar in character to the 1988s, with the best examples possessing marvellous ageing potential. Most 1995s are at their peak but should provide lovely, complex drinking for the next three or four years. ✮✮✮✮✩ Drink soon
1990 A superb year and one of the top half-dozen vintages of the last century. The champagnes display good body and marvellous depth of fruit as well as great finesse and very good longevity. The best will be drinking well for many years to come. ✮✮✮✮✮ Drink soon
1989 The champagnes are rich, luscious and soft, they were exceptionally appealing in their youth but also possess enough grip and acidity to reward extended cellaring. The hot summer produced rich wines slightly short on acidity therefore they will mature before the 1988s. ✮✮✮✮✮ Drink soon
1988 Classically structured, concentrated wines with sufficient acidity for long ageing The wines are powerful and well structured, but were not as immediately appealing. However, time has shown them to be rich in fruit, stylish and well balanced. Most are drinking superbly now, although the best Champagnes are only now approaching their plateau of maturity. ✮✮✮✮✮ Drink or keep