Tuesday, January 8, 2008

1985 and 1989 Champagne

I spent the weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, where my friend Michael hosted an intriguing champagne tasting comparing the 1989 and 1985 vintages. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the rich, voluptuous ’89s would be peaking now and the ’85s, from a more structured and higher-acid vintage, would appear fresher and more precise, but in truth all the wines from both vintages were surprisingly similar.

The creamy, toffee-like 1989 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne was at a lovely point of drinking, as was the toasty, biscuity 1989 Veuve Clicquot Brut Réserve, but I felt that the bottle of 1989 Krug was a little mature, and significantly less good than it’s been in the past. For me, this raised the dual questions of a.) when was this disgorged? and b.) where has this been since it was released? I'm beginning to think that these questions are even more important than the actual vintage. To prove this point, the favorite wine among the 1989s for everyone present was the Jacquesson Dégorgement Tardive, disgorged in July of 2006 and purchased by Michael in 2007 when it was shipped. Okay, it's a terrific wine to begin with, and fully deserves all of its high praise, but I believe that another reason it showed so well in this tasting was that we could account for both of the factors mentioned above.

Among the 1985s it was no different. A bottle of the usually excellent Diebolt-Vallois was flawed, unfortunately, but a Renaudin Réserve Spéciale was broad and rich, clearly demonstrating its origins in the Marne Valley, and a Veuve Clicquot Brut Réserve Rosé was lively and fresh, still possessing some deliciously primary red fruit flavors. The 1985 Krug was regal and complex as usual, although curiously this bottle was more mature than I expected (see item b. above). The winner of the flight, however, was Charles Heidsieck's 1985 Champagne Charlie, disgorged for the millenium and recently released from the house. I don't believe that this was an accident.

I always say, if I were the benevolent dictator of Champagne, it would be mandatory to print disgorgement dates on champagne bottles. Not only would it allow us to know precisely when the bottles were disgorged, but it would tell us how long the bottles have been in the marketplace. It will never happen because of marketing concerns, but I really wish it would. To me, the omission of this information is fundamentally deceptive, and ultimately a disservice to the consumer.