People in Champagne, especially négociants, are always talking about blending for consistency—how many times have you heard that a non-vintage blend is designed to erase the effects of the millésime and provide a continuity in house style from year to year? Some brave people even go so far as to say that if you can see a difference in their non-vintage brut each year, they’re not doing their job correctly.
Here’s what I don’t get: many houses don’t have large enough stocks of reserve wines to be able to account for more than ten to 20 percent of the blend (and I’m being generous here). That means that at least 80 percent, and probably more, is from a single harvest. How is that supposed to provide a consistent product? Clearly it doesn’t, as there is a difference in a given house’s NV from year to year, no matter what anybody says. (No comment on anybody’s job performance.)
So I’ve been thinking, why don’t we see more soleras in Champagne? A solera would provide the ultimate blending solution—wine from this year is added to the first criadera, containing a blend of young wines, while a portion of that criadera is added to the next, slightly older one, and so on and so forth, until the solera that you draw from at the end is composed of a great number of vintages, providing as consistent a wine from year to year as you can possibly hope for. In addition, the longer you keep the solera the more consistent it becomes, as the fractions become increasingly smaller and the number of vintages involved more numerous.
In fact, there are a number of growers using soleras for selected cuvées, most notably Anselme Selosse, who started his solera for Substance (previously called Origine) in 1986; for Contraste, his pinot noir from La Côte Faron in Aÿ, he uses what he calls a “mini-solera” (no criaderas) that he began in 1994. Serge Billiot of H. Billiot Fils started the solera for Cuvée Laetitia in 1983; Bereche et Fils makes Le Reflet d’Antan from a solera begun in 1990.
Obviously a solera in Champagne would be terrifically expensive to initiate on a large scale. A solera is, in effect, all reserve wine, and wine held in reserve is wine that isn’t making you any money. But like these growers have done, it could be started on a small scale and slowly built up over time as a special cuvée. If you truly want to talk about “erasing” the effects of the vintage, why stop at a puny ten percent of reserves? Go all the way.