If you examine the labels on bottles of Champagne, you may notice that they sometimes omit the year the grapes were harvested. That’s because the region’s producers only create “Vintage Champagne” when the harvest is better than average and they know they can create a blend worthy of aging.
The 1997 growing season wasn’t easy for Champagne. Severe spring frosts followed by cold, dry weather damaged vines early on. The summer sun did appear after a wet July, allowing the remaining grapes to ripen, but only a few houses were able to produce vintage bottlings.
Piper-Heidsieck wasn’t one of the lucky producers. “The 1997 harvest did not justify declaring a vintage,” says Régis Camus, then cellermaster for Piper-Heidsieck, now cellarmaster for Piper-Heidsieck’s top-tier Rare Champagne. “But I managed to blend a cuvée that I knew would have longevity.”
In 2015, the magnums were rediscovered. The Champagne had aged perfectly and, with such limited amounts, the producer decided to team up with the oldest jeweler in the world, Mellerio dits Meller, for a special release. Established in 1515, Mellerio’s handmade baubles have adorned the likes of Marie Antoinette and Empress Eugénie Bonaparte, their jewels generally more at home in a museum than a wine fridge.
Mellerio came up with two designs for Rare Le Secret. For the $2,000 “Goldsmith” edition, the numbered bottles come in a mirrored box with the front label made out of gold.
For the producer’s ultra-limited $100,000 offering, only 10 of which were made, Mellerio went all out. Yellow and white gold strands wrap around the black magnum, coming together in a golden bow that showcases either a one-carat diamond, a ruby, a sapphire or an emerald. Holding in the cork is a 24-karat gold cage. According to Rare, there is one sapphire-adorned bottle left for sale in the U.S.
Rare Le Secret wasn’t the only high-end bottle of Champagne released this year. Here are a dozen other vintage Champagnes we tasted in 2018.
Pol Roger 2008 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut (Champagne); $293, 100 points. One of the great Champagnes both for its richness and its longevity, this latest incarnation is superb. The wine’s richness is linked to the ripe fruit and the dominance of Pinot Noir in the blend. It also shines in the perfect balance between the texture, the minerality and the integration of the fruit. It can be enjoyed now, but it will be better from 2020 and then for many years to come. Frederick Wildman 7 Sons, Ltd. Cellar Selection. –Roger Voss
Salon 2007 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne); $672, 99 points. This legendary Champagne, only produced in exceptional years, comes from the village of Le Mesnil in the Côte des Blancs. It is made from 100% Chardonnay and aged for many years before release. Its minerality, concentration and beautiful fruit are still astonishingly young and deserve further aging. Drink from 2020. Vineyard Brands. Cellar Selection. –R.V.
Louis Roederer 1995 Cristal Vinothèque Brut (Champagne); $1,200, 98 points. This amazing wine is timeless. Just hinting a golden hue, the nose offers layers of toastiness balanced by an impressive amount of fruit and freshness. At 23 years old, it still has some life in it, showing bright citrus and minerality. Let it breathe before drinking to bring out all the subtleties. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. Cellar Selection. –R.V.
Pol Roger 2006 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut (Champagne); $305, 98 points. This is the latest release of this legendary wine. A blend, although with a majority of Pinot Noir (Churchill’s preference), the wine is rich, just beginning to show wonderful signs of maturity. It still has intense fruit along with the taut mineral texture that will allow the wine to age further. It is a standout Champagne from this vintage. Drink now, although this Champagne will age for many years. Frederick Wildman 7 Sons, Ltd. Editors’ Choice. –R.V.
Louis Roederer 1995 Cristal Vinothèque Brut Rosé (Champagne); $2,400, 97 points. This magnificent wine celebrates the enormous aging potential of a great Champagne. It is still full of bright red fruits and tense minerality, with only a hint of maturity. While nearing its peak for enjoyment, let it breathe before drinking. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. –R.V.
Krug NV 21ème Edition Rosé Brut (Champagne); $299, 96 points. This wine has richness, maturity and intensity. It offers so many complexities and layers of flavor that come together in a red-fruit-flavored, lightly toasty wine that has freshness as well as some age. Drink now. Moët Hennessy USA. –R.V.
Louis Roederer 2002 Cristal Rosé Brut (Champagne); $800, 96 points. Showing its age well, this wine offers a mature toastiness balanced by rich red fruit. The acidity is well integrated, making this impressive wine ready to drink now. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. –R.V.
Barons de Rothschild 2008 Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne); $350, 94 points. This vintage Blanc de Blancs completes what is now a full range produced for all the Rothschild family-owned properties in Bordeaux. It is full of minerality as well as crisp intensity. The fruit is almost mature while still fresh and tangy. This textured Champagne will be best from 2020. Taub Family Selections. Cellar Selection. –R.V.
Pommery 2004 Cuvée Louise Rosé Brut (Champagne); $260, 93 points. This is the palest possible rosé, with a hard-to-discern hint of pink. On the palate, the wine is now more about mature richness than any connection to rosé. That said, it is a fine wine, ripe with secondary flavors and layers of toast. It is now ready to drink. Vranken Pommery America. –R.V.
Ruinart 2004 Dom Ruinart Rosé Brut (Champagne); $350, 93 points. This is a classic style, ripe with a relatively high dosage and a mature taste. Its color shows maturity while the fruitiness has been transformed into a splendid nutty, toasty wine with attractive acidity and a soft aftertaste. Drink this rich wine now. Moët Hennessy USA. –R.V.
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 2008 La Grande Dame Brut Rosé (Champagne); $295, 93 points. Veuve Clicquot’s prestige cuvée is a ripe, mature wine. With toastiness coming from soft fruit and a rich textured character, it is a classic of this producer’s ripe style. The wine’s acidity and crisp edge make a good contrast to the full-bodied character. Drink now. Moët Hennessy USA. –R.V.
Faniel et Fils 2011 Les Secrets d’André Millesimé Brut (Champagne); $290, 92 points. This wood-aged, vintage-dated Champagne is the top of the range from this producer. Blending Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is rich, just hinting at toast and certainly at nutmeg and cinnamon. The wine is intense, with a strong mineral edge. Still young, it will be better from 2020. Potomac Selections. –R.V.