As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I realized how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it is to figure out what the base year of a non-vintage champagne is. It’s a little different as a consumer in France, if you patronize small, independent, high-quality cavistes, as one should. In this case, your shopkeeper should have a direct relationship with the grower or house, and ought to be able to tell you exactly what’s in the bottle. If he or she can’t, you’re clearly shopping at the wrong place. In export markets such as the United States, however, where the multi-tiered wine trade is much more anonymous and information not always reliable, it becomes more of a problem.
If I were benevolent dictator of all things Champagne (a prospect that ought to make you terrified indeed), I would insist that some sort of information be put on the back labels of all non-vintage champagnes to indicate the base year or base years of the blend. It doesn’t have to be nearly as detailed as Champagne Raymond Boulard, for example, who lists on their back label the base year, percentage and years of reserve wines, composition of the blend, bottling date, disgorgement date and amount of dosage, although I like having all of that information. It could be as simple as Charles Heidsieck, who writes Mise en Cave en 2003, letting you know that the base year of the blend is 2002. Simple and efficient. Or it could even be as minimalist as Bertrand Gautherot, who writes the code R05 on the label to indicate that it was harvested in 2005. Just something — anything — to let the consumer know. (In fact, most champagne bottles do have some sort of coding somewhere on them, but it’s so deliberately cryptic and concealed that only the winemaker can decipher it. I’m talking about a code that the consumer can read.)
Incidentally, one of the (many) things that I like so much about Champagne Jacquesson is that they’ve completely acknowledged the fact that consistency in a non-vintage wine is a mythical beast, and have created a unique system of numbered cuvées to celebrate, rather than repress, the changing character of the blend from year to year. Following the lines of yesterday’s post, it comes as no surprise that the Cuvée No. 733, based on 2005, is outstanding — along with the No. 730, which was based on the magnificent 2002 vintage, the 733 is my favorite so far of these numbered cuvées.