Discover Sparkling: Vintage Sparkling

Written by
Vintage Cellars
October 1, 2018
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It’s a travesty that the smallest-selling champagne category remains the best value. Excluding prestige and rosé, vintage champagne represents less than one in 70 champagne bottles sold – but it represents some of the best-drinking bottles in the market. We think it’s high-time that this under-embraced segment of the market gets some local love.

The price is high…

The investment of effort and time make sparkling wine the most costly of all wine styles to produce. Great sparkling wine is intimately dependent upon a cool climate, and cool-climate viticulture notoriously entails vagaries in yields and inconsistency in quality from one season to the next. This is why Champagne has for centuries built its wine style around the insurance of blending vintages to create consistency and harmony. The result of the challenges of growing and making sparkling wine is that truly great examples are never inexpensive. And yet the finest cuvées of Champagne and of Australia sell for but a fraction of the price of top Burgundies, Bordeauxs and Barossas. Prestige sparkling remains the bargain of the luxury world.

But the value is higher

Vintage Champagne is the best value of all, and Australia is beginning to catch on. In 2017, Australia ascended from fifth to equal first place alongside Japan and Switzerland in the world’s top markets in proportion of vintage imports, though this is hardly a champagne-popping achievement – the numbers are small everywhere.

Vintage represents less than one in 70 Champagnes globally, and a slightly better performance of less than one in 50 in Australia! And yet vintage is widely and rightly heralded as champagne’s most underrated category of all. Production is minuscule and typically a strong step up from entry non-vintage blends, yet largely underappreciated by the mass market.

Vintage variation is most dramatic in the coolest regions, and of course the finest sparkling wines always hail from the coolest places, so discernment in choosing the right years and the right region is more pertinent with sparkling than any other wine style.

Louis Roederer Cristal

Louis Roederer is unlike any other Champagne house of its magnitude. The largest independent, family-owned and managed Champagne maker of all is privileged to 240 hectares of superbly located vineyards, supplying 70% of its needs for an annual production of three million bottles. With 410 blocks and 450 tanks and casks at his disposal, Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon describes his role as "à la carte winemaking". He hates the word blend. "We don’t blend, we combine," he says. "I love art, and like a great painter we add colour rather than blending." There are few in Champagne today with an intellect as sharp, an attention to detail as acute and a nerve as strong as Lécaillon. For 18 years, he has championed extraordinary initiatives in Roederer’s vineyards unparalleled in the region, and a regimen in the winery to match. Never have his wines looked more characterful or more precise than now.

Louis Roederer’s vintage wines are assembled exclusively from estate properties, and even its entry Brut Premier NV boasts 55% estate fruit. The vast majority of these vineyards are on prime chalk soils, and 100 hectares are farmed biodynamically. Implementing biodynamics on such a scale is unheard of in Champagne, and Roederer’s operation is the biggest in the region, and one of the biggest in France.

Cristal 2008 is the ultimate embodiment of Lécaillon’s fanatical work in the winery and, most of all, in the vineyards, a magnificent, towering monument to the lofty chalk aspiration that defines Cristal. Lécaillon has defined this to be the greatest Cristal he has ever made. It is gloriously understated, impeccably poised and unreservedly refined. The only question that remains is whether this could be the greatest Cristal of all time. It will take years to unravel to reveal its answer. Don’t miss one moment of this mesmerising spectacle.

Pol Roger

Stepping into Pol Roger’s facility in Épernay is like entering a different world. Immaculately polished
stainless steel tanks reflect shiny white tiles and snow-white surfaces. The Champagnes that emerge from this building are as precise, intricately delicate and flawlessly pristine as its polished interior. Pol crafts Champagne of the utmost purity and delicacy, with the propensity to age with confidence. It begins with pristine juice, thanks to cold settling not once but twice, to remove any cloudiness. Every bottle of Pol Roger undergoes its second fermentation and long maturation at a particularly cool temperature, thanks to 7.5km of underground cellars, which are among the coolest (9-11°C) and deepest (up to 33m) under the surface of Épernay. This slow fermentation produces wines of great finesse, effervescence and enduring longevity. Pol Roger produces a higher proportion of vintage wines than any other and has been renewing its grower contracts to strengthen its sourcing in grand crus, to enhance its capacity to make more of its Blanc de Blancs, Vintage and Sir Winston Churchill cuvées.

How to store and cellar your champagne

Besides fortified wine, Champagne is the only wine matured to its prime before release. There are
currently 1.43 billion bottles of Champagne stockpiled!

Champagne spends the first years of its life in a dark, humid chalk cellar at a constant temperature of 8–10°C, so it will get a rude shock if it’s thrust suddenly into a warmer Australian environment.
Unless you live somewhere particularly cold, if you don’t have a climate-controlled cellar, err on the
side of caution and drink it within a few years.

Champagne in clear glass bottles are remarkably light-sensitive, so keep it in the dark at all times. Drink vintage Champagnes between eight and 15 years of age, and non-vintage wines within five years of purchase.

Discover the range of vintage Champagne and sparkling wine at Vintage Cellars today.