With its powerful body and roasted fruit character, 2003 isn’t my favorite year, but I found De Sousa’s 2003 Cuvée des Caudalies to be quite interesting when I tasted it earlier this week. In the context of the vintage I find it to be well-balanced, expressing richness and depth without feeling overblown. I liked it better than 2003 by Bollinger, for example, but not as much as, say, 2003 Jacques Lassaigne. People often compare 2003 to other famously warm vintages of the past in Champagne, which doesn’t really feel right to me. But I wouldn’t really know, as I didn’t taste the ’47s, ’59s or ’76s at the same stage. It’s always enlightening to talk to those who did.
On a visit to José Michel yesterday, one of the many wines that he generously opened for us to taste was a 1976 Spécial Club. Back then, his Club champagne was made of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent meunier, and this wine was fantastic — full and fragrant, it showed warm flavors of mature wine from a ripe vintage, with a toasty, almondy complexity and rich notes of dried apricot and apple, yet it was also surprisingly lively and vivacious. In contrast, Michel doesn’t think that 2003 is of the same quality, and in fact, he didn’t make any vintage wines in that year. “They weren’t the same type of vintages,” he says. “In ’76 we had a normal yield — there was a lot of ripeness, but there was also a lot of quantity. In ’03 we had a small quantity of grapes because of the frost, and so they ended up being too concentrated. The wines are too imbalanced to be really great.”
Michel also opened a 1959, made of pure meunier. True to the vintage, this was big, bold and full in body, with long, deeply resonant aromas of dried fruit, chestnut honey, roasted coffee and cocoa powder. The ’59 vintage was of course very warm, and in fact, this wine was harvested at 13 degrees of natural alcohol. “In ’59, there was a lot of alcohol and very little acidity,” says Michel, “yet this is still fresh, with a good balance.” He doesn’t think that the 2003s are capable of the same sort of harmony, and notes that some of them are already losing freshness.
Champagne generally lasts much longer than we expect it to, but of the 2003s that I’ve tasted, even among the ones that I’ve liked, I can’t imagine any of them capable of living for 50 years. Maybe some of them will, who knows. At any rate, I’m not interested enough to stock my cellar full of them. I’d rather buy 2002s.