Paradoxical, I know. But I strongly dislike the myth perpetuated by many Champagne houses that a non-vintage wine is the same from year to year. It might share a family resemblance each year, perpetuating a character that’s typical of the house, but it’s not the same wine. Even the hallowed Krug Grande Cuvée is not identical from year to year, no matter what anyone says.
I don’t know what the average percentage of reserve wine is in non-vintage champagne, but it’s not a lot. Some of the best houses use reserves up to 30 percent or so, and a few growers who work on a smaller scale can even go as high as 50 percent, but this is extremely rare. Generally speaking, a non-vintage blend is dominated by a single year, and while you can use reserve wine to amplify or suppress the character of that year to varying degrees, it can’t help but set the overall tone for the wine, as it forms the foundation of the blend.
Tasting large quantities of champagne at the moment, I am often encountering non-vintage champagnes based on the 2005 harvest, which feels to me particularly exceptional as a base for a blend. The 2005 vintage produced ripe, full-bodied wines: tasting them as vins clairs back in 2006, I consistently noted a forward, fruity charm combined with a certain density of flavor — not necessarily weight, but intensity. The acidity was good, well-balanced, but not painful to taste (like 2008, for example, or even 2004, for that matter, which was more “classic” in profile, whatever that means nowadays). Now, as finished wines, the NVs based on 2005 demonstrate that same forward charm and voluptuousness of fruit, and combined with the acidity of 2004, these champagnes are extremely compelling. I’m wondering if I will like 2005 as a blending year even more than as a vintage year, in fact. Although it’s too early to know, and I should reserve judgment until the vintage wines are actually released.