I just arrived in Portland, Oregon, last night to be greeted by a bottle of 1974 Deutz poured for me by my friend Pete. As you know, 1974 was less than spectacular in Champagne, yet this wine was wonderful: fresh, lively and vibrant, it provided remarkably delicious drinking even at 33 years of age, from a crappy vintage. Was it a tremendously complex or complete wine? No, it wasn't. But was it satisfying? Very.
This made me think about how we as consumers view the idea of vintage. Too often consumers will choose only the “best” vintages – the ripest, biggest, grandest years – and ignore the rest. I would prefer to view vintages as each possessing its own character, and each having usefulness in its own way. Even beyond that, I think of memorable and great champagnes that I’ve had from unheralded vintages: 1980 Clos des Goisses, 1974 Philipponnat Grand Blanc, 1978 Cristal, 1991 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée, to name a few.
Many Champenois that I speak with will privately admit that some of the so-called lesser vintages have held up better than the really big ones. I was once served a delightfully lively and delicious 1956 made of pure meunier by José Michel. Remarking on its freshness, I asked him how this might compare to the 1959. “The ’56 has aged much better,” he said. “The ’59 is long past its best.”