The 2000s and 2010s were two great decades for Champagne. As each harvest succeeded the one before, the growers and producers began to run out of superlatives for the quality of the fruit. And that quality has translated into the most recent releases of nonvintage Champagnes. These are the bottles we are most likely to see in the shops—the brands that aim for consistency year in, year out.
However, one thing we forget, as we so often buy the bottle and enjoy it immediately, is that Champagne—even nonvintage bottles—can age. The bright acidity, steeliness and freshness of the wines see to that.
Many Champagnes are bottled when the wines are still young and vibrant. They can be drunk for their bright character, but the best offerings are balanced by touch of yeastiness akin to brioche. As the wine ages, a toastiness emerges, it loses that up-front fruit and instead gains depth and richness.
What is true of nonvintage Champagnes is even more true of the more expensive vintage bottles. These wines are the product of one year rather than a blend of several years, usually offering more focus and intensity. This century has seen some great vintages: 2002, 2004, 2008 and, most recently, among the wines on the market, 2012. These wines will age for at least 20 years, probably more, all the while gaining depth, intensity and delicious toasty flavors.
If you can’t wait to see this aging in action or haven’t the space for storing many bottles, here’s a quick test that will at least make the point (though can’t fully take the place of the real thing). Open a bottle of Champagne, enjoy a glass or two and then stopper the rest. Keep it in the fridge or wine cooler for a couple of days and see how beautifully it evolves. The bubbles remain while the taste softens and ripens. Yes, the temptation to finish the bottle is always there, but resist this one time to explore the joys of an aged Champagne.
Charles Heidsieck 2004 Blanc des Millénaires (Champagne); $250, 98 points. This is an iteration of a legendary Champagne. Perfectly balanced, still packed with white fruit but just touching nuttiness, the wine is at its peak. Celebrating one of the great Champagne vintages of this century, this wine is totally memorable and magnificent. Folio Fine Wine Partners. Cellar Selection.
Louis Roederer 2012 Cristal Brut (Champagne); $279, 98 points. As the first 100% biodynamic Cristal, entirely from Roederer-owned vineyards, this is an important milestone. This latest incarnation is a great Champagne with its density, elegance and poise. Still impressively young, the wine is taut, tightly wound and textured. At the same time, it has pure, ripe white and citrus fruits that are perfumed, and an important part of this wine’s long-term future. Drink at the earliest from 2023. Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. Cellar Selection.
Pol Roger 2009 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut (Champagne); $290, 97 points. As always, this Pinot Noir-dominated Champagne is a great wine. In this vintage, it is fuller than usual, perhaps less structure —a true reflection of the vintage. Like all releases of this cuvée, the wine will age magnificently. Drink now or hold for at least 10 years to get full maturity. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. Cellar Selection.
Rare Champagne 2008 Brut (Champagne); $195, 96 points. The new release of this producer’s prestige cuvée comes in its usual beautifully sculpted bottle. The Champagne, from a great vintage in the region, is just approaching maturity still showing minerality from the high amount of Chardonnay in the blend. Nutty flavors are creeping in, keeping the great texture adding complexity. Drink this very fine wine now although it will also age further. Terlato Wines International. Cellar Selection.
Alfred Gratien 2013 Cuvée Paradis Brut (Champagne); $125, 95 points. This producer’s deluxe cuvée is dominated by Chardonnay. Wood fermentation has brought spice to Champagne’s rounded, rich fruits, hints of peach and tight minerality. This fine wine is mature enough to drink but it also has a great future. Perfect maturity should be from 2023. Freixenet Mionetto USA. Cellar Selection.
Henriet-Bazin 2012 Marie-Amélie Millésime Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Brut Nature (Champagne); $75, 95 points. Coming from premier cru vineyards close to Reims, this Champagne is still showing a bone dry character, demanding aging. Old vines give concentration as well as texture and minerality. This is an impressive taut, nervy wine and will be best as it softens. Drink from 2022. Bonhomie Wine Imports. Cellar Selection.
A.R. Lenoble 2012 Chouilly Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (Champagne); $90, 94 points. Grand cru Chardonnay and a low dosage set this Champagne up for a great future. That is to say, with its concentrated minerality contrasting with Meyer lemon fruitiness, the wine is only just hinting at some nuttiness and has far to go. Drink from 2022. Massanois Imports. Editors’ Choice.
Laurent-Perrier NV Cuvée Rosé Brut (Champagne); $100, 94 points. This great rosé combines texture with bright fruit and a bit of age. It is poised between a ripe dosage and a crisp texture, with red fruits and toastiness marking the flavors. It is a fine bottling to enjoy now. Laurent-Perrier US.
Soutiran NV Collection Privée Grand Cru Brut (Champagne); $70, 94 points. All grand cru grapes from Ambonnay on the eastern flank of the Montagne de Reims, this Champagne is impressively rich and beautifully balanced. The freshness of the white-fruit flavors is tempered by the softening effects of toastiness to give a great wine that is ready to drink. Sacred Thirst Selections. Editors’ Choice.
Champagne Sabine Godmé NV Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Brut (Champagne); $49, 93 points. A blend across four vintages aged for four years on the lees, has produced a Champagne that is rich, densely textured and with vibrant, green-apple and pear flavors that are shot through with acidity. The wine could age a little further in bottle, so drink from 2021. Misa Imports.
Vollereaux NV Brut Rosé de Saignée (Champagne); $55, 93 points. This is a delicately poised wine, with touches of structure from the Pinot Noir grape skins. It feels rich as well as fruity, showing weight as well as bright red fruits. Drink now. Palm Bay International.
G.H. Mumm NV Grand Cordon Brut (Champagne); $43, 90 points. The distinctive bottle with its indented red stripe contains a style of Champagne that is getting better and better. This latest bottling is crisp and full of citrus and apple flavors that are bright and tangy. Drink now. Pernod Ricard.