Wines from 2012 look to have the wow factor

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I’ve been updating the Trade News page of this website where I have detailed harvest reports going back until 2006 and looking at the original assessments – done with the winemakers’ feedback in the autumn just after picking is completed — of the best vintages of recent years in Champagne. I had to give a marks out of ten assessment for each new addition of Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine A-Z and checking in the 2015 guide, between 2004 and 2013 we gave four vintages 8 out 10, the highest mark in this decade.  

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon chef de cave at Louis Roederer

The most recent of these was 2012, and now as more wines from that year are released, my harvest time assessment definitely looks a little on the mean side. There were some pretty effusive comments made at the time, despite the mostly disastrous growing season with frost, poor flowering, hail and disease all hitting yields. Quality was saved by very sunny weather immediately pre-harvest in mid-August, that continued into the first week of picking.

“It is a great vintage. Probably better than 1996 and close to 1990 on average. But in some special location it could well be better than that, closer to a 1947,” said Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon chef de cave at Louis Roederer.

Charles Philipponnat CEO of the eponymous house

“For us [it is], somewhere between 1959, 1990 and 2002. Yields were only 6 to 7000 kilos/hectare, but quality was very satisfactory, especially the Pinot Noir,” said Charles Philipponnat of the eponymous house.

“Everything is here, quality-wise, to craft some top vintage champagne. It looks like a cross between 2002, 1990 and 1952 all excellent years,” said Frédéric Panaïotis, chef de cave at Ruinart

Perrier-Jouët chef de cave Hervé Deschamps

“The overall quality of the grapes was very high,” says Hervé Deschamps, chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët. It was “a very good healthy harvest with no botrytis and a very good ripeness for all grapes varieties.”

While Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon was “very confident in the vintage potential of this harvest”. Slightly more cautiously, Dominique Demarville, who was at that time head winemaker at Veuve Clicquot, said: “On the paper, this year looks very good, close to 1990, 1989 and 2002 for the level of sugar, with the acidity level not too far from 1998, 1990 and 1982. It could be a very nice vintage, but we must wait to taste the wines, which we start next week.”

Benoît Gouez

Eight years on and most of these houses have released cuvées of this vintage with impressive results, but wines that are yet to reach their peak. It’s been very interesting in lockdown to sample more recently released examples from Charles Heidsieck and Krug, the latter in the shape of Grande Cuvée based on this harvest.

For Charles Heidsieck, 2012 follows 2005, 2006 and 2008, the last two vintages made in fairly small volumes, partly because the house was still run then by Remy-Cointreau who were looking to sell the brand (as they had sold Krug a few years earlier). There is therefore a suspicion that the 2012 has come to the market slightly earlier than it might have. But as current winemaker Cyril Brun says – this wine was actually made by his immediate predecessor Thierry Roset who sadly died in 2014 – it has the balance to carry this off (see full review of both wines on What I’ve Been Tasting page).

The latest release of Krug Grande Cuvée, the 168th Edition, is also based on the 2012 harvest, which accounts for over half the blend, or to be precise, 58%. Krug has over the years been at pains to says that its flagship Grande Cuvée is a uniformly consistent product, whatever the vintage base may be.

To demonstrate the apparent truth of this, Olivier Krug is fond of recounting the blind tasting a few years back where the senior members of the tasting panel — himself, previous chef de cave Eric Lebel and the newly promoted Julie Cavil — lined up a number of blends of Grande Cuvée based on six different vintages, a range running from 1998 to 2003, a pretty interesting and diverse collection of harvests.

When they voted for their favourite blend in the line-up, “We all three picked the blend based on the 2001 harvest as our favourite, despite this being the poorest harvest by some way of the six we tried,” says Olivier Krug.

However, the very fact that Krug has started more readily revealing the harvest base for each release through its ID code and has now gone one step further by giving each new blend an edition number (a practice which started only in late 2016 with the release of the 163rd Edition, based on the 2007 harvest), is a tacit admission that blends do vary. And those based on particularly fine harvests are almost bound to be more popular among the Krug fanatics, who want to buy every version of the Grande Cuvée blend to contrast and compare.   

These two wines, although they have entirely individual taste profiles, demonstrate in their different ways is there’s no hurry to drink up this vintage, which is still only at the start of a drinking window that might easily last two further decades or more. They will improve with more time in bottle and offer substantially more nuances of flavour and texture, as great champagne does. But they also show the innate drinkability of a vintage that shows a lovely balance between ripe fruit and fresh acidity, that makes it attractive now.

2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow

The last pressing of Mesnil grapes at Krug

The Champagne harvest has begun in earnest with the official dates for many of the major Côte des Blancs crus opening last Friday (1 September) and in the Montagne de Reims, crus like Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Bouzy and Verzenay starting today for black grapes. The first official day for picking was on 26 August for the cru of Montgueux, the isolated vineyard set on a hill due west of Troyes in the Côte des Bar that produces some of Champagne’s richest Chardonnay. As is fairly normal, Continue reading “2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow”

Whose champagne is Majestic enough?

Which champagne should you be opening to toast The Queen’s 91st birthday? It seems only certain, particular fizzes get past the palace gates. In order to supply HM The Queen, you have to be a Royal Warrant Holder and currently there are nine houses that have that privilege. But there may be different corks popping at Highgrove and Clarence House, as out of the nine, only one — Laurent-Perrier — is officially ‘by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales’.

What they are drinking over at Kensington Palace is Continue reading “Whose champagne is Majestic enough?”

In praise of half bottles’ faster maturing

Too few restaurants offer a decent selection of half bottles on their wine lists, though the trend towards listing a number of wines served in 25 and 50cl carafes, now seen in many more casual dining establishments, is to be applauded. Half bottles of champagne are particularly handy, especially if there’s two of you and you plan to have some wine too. Just a glass of good fizz is rarely enough.

While quite a few champagne houses now seem reluctant to produce half bottles, citing quality issues and the fact that they mature more quickly, I see that (speed of development) as an advantage in certain instances. A half bottle of Krug is a welcome Continue reading “In praise of half bottles’ faster maturing”

Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002

The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one.  Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?

I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill and Salon are two further acclaimed ‘02 releases, and I’m pretty sure Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne will feature (see my piece on the recent Finest Bubble vertical tasting of Comte 1996-2006 which included the 2002). To these eight we can probably add Continue reading “Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002”

Comte de Champagne vertical tasting 2006-1996

Comte line up 4 VerticalHistorically Champagne has not been seen as a wine appropriate for investment purposes, certainly not in the same way as say red Bordeaux. The three most commonly traded prestige cuvées have in the past been Dom Pérignon, Krug and Louis Roederer’s Cristal. Vintage Krug and Cristal, both produced in far smaller volumes than Dom Pérignon, tend to have the higher values, though which comes out on top depends on the Continue reading “Comte de Champagne vertical tasting 2006-1996”

Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)

Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef at Zuma restaurants was kind enough to take this picture of Eric Lebel with me at the 2002 launch

Yesterday I had the chance to try the newly released Krug 2002 vintage, along with a group of top sommeliers and chefs, many of whom are Krug ambassadors. One of the last, if not the last, major house to put its ’02 offering on the market, the expectations were high. The wine isn’t a disappointment. Subtle, gentle, harmonious, it has that indefinable quality, that extra dimension, lift and intensity that only the top vintages in Champagne offer with a silky texture and long finish. To put the new wine in context after a mandatory glass of Grande Cuvée, the current release based Continue reading “Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)”

2014 harvest a mixed bag though some see quality as high

Despite warm dry spring weather, which had producers predicting a late August harvest, cool wet weather in July and August slowed the ripening process down and the Champagne harvest began in the Côte des Bar region and early ripening villages like Cumières in the second week of September around the 8th and 9th. Following a successful even flowering period in ideal conditions at the start of June all three main varieties ripened at much the same time producing a concentrated picking period of around ten days for most producers.

Opinion varies about the quality, but thanks to a warm, very dry period from late August right through until picking had finished, some producers see it as good to very good and vintage cuvées are likely to be made. In terms of quantity, the appellation limit of 10,500kgs/ ha will easily be met by most producers and many report they will also have the chance to build up their reserves, particularly depleted by the short harvest in 2012. Some expect to reach the maximum permitted extra 3,100kg/ha. As a result, given that sales of champagne in the main European markets are still fairly weak, especially in France, there should be little upward demand led pressure on prices. Grape prices are not however expected to fall.

Thanks to the late summer sunshine potential alcohol levels of 10.5deg or more were widely reached and there was little need for chaptalisation. Immediately prior to the harvest starting, acidity levels were very high, leading some to start drawing comparisons with the 1996 harvest, but in the very warm weather of early September when afternoon temperatures reached highs of 28-30degC, acidity levels dropped rapidly as the grapes ripened.

While there were some fears of rot, particularly in the Marne Valley which received close to twice the usual summer rainfall, bright clear days and north easterly winds kept botrytis at bay and those producers who decided to delay picking beyond the opening day announced for each individual cru benefitted from such a decision in many parts of the appellation.

Chardonnay seems to be the best performer generally with Pinot Noir also successful in the Montagne de Reims and in the most southerly part of the appellation, the Côte des Bar region to the south-east of Troyes. Pinot Meunier was more variable with the Marne Valley hit by rainfall, which was heavier the more westerly towards to Paris you go.

The free draining chalky soils of the Côte des Blancs were less adversely effected by the extra rainfall than the predominantly clay soils of the Marne Valley. However happily it remained almost completely dry throughout the concentrated period of harvesting during mid-September.

While high rainfall caused some problems, particularly in the Marne Valley as we have said, this area was also the worst hit by the pest drosophila suzukii, commonly known as the spotted wing drosophila. This is a type of fruit fly related to the common European vinegar fly, drosophila melanogaster which feeds on damaged berries, but far more worryingly one that attacks healthy fruit and has reportedly been an issue in parts of Bordeaux during the 2014 harvest too.

Any juice from grapes effected by this pest, which pieces the grape skin to lay its eggs, is turned to acetic acid and completely unusable. This may not be discovered during picking as the damage is not necessarily that obvious as the grapes looked relatively normal but the must is vinegar like and unusuable. It not only effected parts of the Marne Valley but also caused some problems in Montagne de Reims villages like Bouzy, Aÿ and Ambonnay. There was reportedly one very high profile casualty in Ambonnay and it is understood that Krug Clos d’Ambonnay will not be made in 2014.

To get a more in-depth report on the different conditions faced across the Champagne vineyards you can turn to my Detailed 2014 harvest report in the Trade Corner of the site in the next few days. This will have comments, mostly directly from the winemakers themselves, at a range of producers large and small spread across the appellation and gives some idea of the many regional variations.

 

Disgorgement dates: who else will follow?

Is the move to put a date of disgorgement on all quality champagne gathering momentum? Moët has revealed it is going to put disgorgement dates on the 2004 Grand Vintage in white and rosé styles when they are officially launched later this year. Perhaps this is partly to highlight the longer ageing these wines are now getting, and the importance winemaker Benoît Gouez is placing on additional post-disgorgement ageing before release – the white 2004 will get 12 months, we understand, in addition to nearly seven years on its lees. Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon has also been giving longer post-disgorgement ageing to recent releases of DP.

Moët management has always claimed that it would create problems and confuse consumers if they did this with Moët Brut Imperial NV, following the line taken by many other houses, that consumers might think it was a ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ date. There is no hard evidence that they have changed their minds, but perhaps they have seen that Lanson now puts a date of disgorgement on all its range of champagnes, vintage and non-vintage, and it doesn’t appear to have caused them any such problems.

It can hardly have escaped their notice either that many other small, quality-minded producers are also giving this information now, along with the majority of higher profile growers. Krug too has just started making this detail available for wines bottled since July 2011 via its website, although Olivier Krug doesn’t see it as important. It can’t be long before Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart follow suit, surely? Clicquot already gives this information for its Cave Privée range of vintage re-releases and head winemaker Dominique Demarville is certainly open to the idea. It will be interesting to see what Frédéric Panaiotis, Chef de Cave at Ruinart, has to say on the subject at the release of Dom Ruinart 2002 later this week.

Krug to give disgorgement date on future releases

Krug Grande Cuvée will in future bear an ID code on the label which gives the quarter when each bottle is disgorged and will also enable purchasers to lookup information on the Krug website about the harvest conditions prevailing in the year on which the wine is based. Julie Cavil from the winemaking team also confirms that Krug has been setting aside some extra volumes of Grande Cuvée from each blend since that bottled in June 2009, giving the opportunity for the company to sell a second release of the wine after longer lees ageing in the future (Grande Cuvée is already aged for seven years before release).

In London with Cavil for the launch of Krug Vintage 2000 and Clos du Mesnil 2000, Olivier Krug confirmed that revealing further details about the Krug Grande Cuvée blend, a radical departure from previous practice at the house, was aimed at giving Krug lovers more information about the wines they may have in their own cellars, though both he and chef de Cave Eric Lebel attach little importance to disgorgement dates and he doesn’t think Krug drinkers do either.

“We know however, that Krug lovers are interested in how Grande Cuvée ages and this information will enable those with several different blends in their cellars in five years’ time to see which is the oldest. It’s not so much about revealing the harvest base of each wine, we won’t actually give that. It’s more about conveying the challenge we face every year in making the Grande Cuvée blend from what nature has given us,” says Olivier Krug.

To emphasise the point that he doesn’t see the particular harvest base as important Olivier Krug says that Cavil, Lebel and he recently assessed blind six past consecutive blends of Grande Cuvée that had already been released to see which they thought the best. “We all three picked the blend based on the 2001 harvest as our favourite, despite this being the poorest harvest by some way of the six we tried.” He said that the 2001 based blend was in the middle of the six so we can assume the range ran from 1998 to 2003, a pretty interesting and diverse collection of harvests (see harvest reports on Trade Matters page) The ID codes will be on all bottles leaving the house since the start of July 2011.

Read the full story in Decanter