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Grower Champagne vintages to buy right now

Based on the results of the Grower Champagne Report 2023, there are a wealth of recent vintages worth exploring, says Essi Avellan MW - and thanks to the nature of site-specific production, there are plenty of discoveries to make from each harvest

Words by Essi Avellan MW

champagne region at sunset
The Collection

In recent times, Champagne’s growing seasons are commencing earlier, and picking under the August sun has become the new normal. As a result, we are witnessing more opulently fruity flavour profiles and softer acidity. With more grower-producers’ releasing vintage Champagne every year, getting to know Champagne vintages is elemental, as vintage variations remain broad both qualitatively and stylistically. As growers typically represent individual subregions, the story gets more complicated. Tasty surprises from Champagne’s various corners, individual terroirs and results of meticulous vineyard work can delight, even in challenging years. Here are some of my best vintage Champagne finds from the Grower Champagne Report 2023

For this Report, I sampled vintage Champagne from some 15 harvests between 1995 and 2018. The oldest bottles were late-disgorged curiosities that have been resting on their yeast lees for extended periods. For example, Dumangin J. Fils’ 2020 disgorged Trio des Ancêtre Cuvée Hippolyte Pinot Noir 2002 is still going strong: a mellow and harmonious fizz.

Due to the general low sulphites and a trend for low or no dosage among growers, it is essential to know which wines by producer and by vintage are worth keeping back, and which to enjoy at their fruit-driven youth. The grower whose wines always strike me with their age-worthiness is Vilmart & Cie. For example, the stunningly focused and fruit-packed Blanc de Blancs 2012 is still firmly on its way up despite its ten years of age. The cuvée in the Vilmart range that craves and deserves the most time is Coeur de Cuvée. The 2015 was one of the cuvées I sampled that I’d lay down and forget in the cellar for a number of years. Then again, most cuvées with very low or no-added-sulphite are best consumed as fresh as possible, unless you are a friend of funky evolution.

champagne in barrel at vilmart & cie

In addition to Vilmart & Cie, the 2012 vintage showed some fine maturing beauties like Collard-Picard Cuvée Archives, which after 30 months in oak followed by long lees ageing is a Champagne rich in age-complex character. J. Lassalle’s Cuvée Angéline also perfectly epitomises the 2012 harvest in its generosity and appealing fruity power.

Contrasting the lush 2012, J. Lassalle’s Spécial Club 2013 showed racy finesse and fruity radiance, typical to the cool harvest year, when the grapes were largely picked in October in the cooling weather. The 2013 vintage comes across as a slowly and gracefully evolving one due to notable acidity and tight linearity. This was well exemplified by Claude Cazal’s well-built and saline Clos Cazals 2013.

After the great 2012 and 2013 vintages were laid in the cellars, there was less excitement about the 2014, which is the child of a challenging growing season. However, the successful wines have proved to be delightfully fresh, coming with attractive fruitiness and a welcoming suppleness. For me, the greatest 2014s in the tasting were Marc Hebrart’s Clos le Léon and Hélène Beaugrand’s curious 100% Montgueux Meunier, La Belle Hélène.

There is a wealth of 2015s on the market right now, but regrettably most of them show the austere, ash-like vegetal character born likely as a result of drought issues. Some people do not seem sensitive or mind about the aromatic, but for me it severely lessens the finesse. However, my favourite 2015s in the tasting were Marc Hebrart Rive Gauche /Rive Droite, Pierre Gimonnet Spécial Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay and Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée.

There were several 2016s among my top-scoring wines. Curiously, it is considered a Pinot Noir vintage rather than a Chardonnay year due to the unevenness in Chardonnay’s performance and ripening. But for me, it was three Chardonnays from classic grand cru terroirs that climbed to the top: Pierre Gimonnet’s Spécial Clubs Cramant Grand Cru and Oger Grand Cru as well as Suenen’s La Mont-Aigu Chouilly Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru.

Overall, the 2017 harvest was a disaster due to rain late in the season causing a riot of botrytis and sour rot in the vineyards. If quality was to be retained, strict selection in the vineyards was the key. It was easier done for Chardonnay, with numerous successful growers producing fine examples; among them, Huré Frères complex and silky 4 Éléments Chardonnay from Rilly-la-Montagne. The brothers also did brilliantly with their fleshy and elegant 4 Éléments Pinot Noir from Ludes, which François Huré credits to super-meticulous selection.

2018’s Champagnes are open and supple, tasting delicious in their youth

Wines from the sunny and abundant 2018 harvest have started to emerge on the market. The ripeness and health of the grapes brought a smile to everyone’s face, especially as the monumental volumes enabled replacing some of the low stock for 2017 reserve wines. Champagnes are open and supple, tasting delicious in their youth – as exemplified by Chartogne-Taillet’s trio of single-vineyard Champagnes Heurtebise, Chemin de Reims and Les Barres. The instant, lush Pinot Noir charm was there in the blanc de noirs of Nicolas Maillart’s Montchenot and Les Coupés Franc de Pied, Marguet’s La Grande Ruelle Grand Cru Lieu-Dit and Christian Gosset’s Loiselu. Overall, for this vintage, blanc de blancs were left in the shadow of the blanc de noirs. For me, Nicolas Maillart’s Mont Martin marked the best of 100% Meuniers from the vintage.

It remains to be seen how the fruity and supple (and sometimes a little soft) 2018 vintages will fare over time. Regardless, I have already started to anticipate the arrival of the 2019s on the markets. Based on the notable finesse of the non-vintages of the harvest, they will really be something special to look forward to.