The paradox with vintages.

The new Dom Perignon, vintage 2013 has hit the market, the price is incredible and then the questions start to surface. Is 2013 a bigger vintage than 2012 or vice versa. Some critics give points for a vintage, others 1 to 5 stars. 

One critic said 2013 is a cross between 2008 and 2012 which is not very helpful  and frankly misleading. 2008 a cool year with an indian summer and a late harvest, champagnes with tremendous structure and aciditiy. 2012 a hot year, for the southern and south eastern to hot and for the colder, appellations with northerly exposures a good year. And then in each vintage producers excelled and other producers did not do so good. How can on define something so complex into a number or a star rating. 2013 resembles 2018 in that it was a late, elongated harvest, the problem was hail storms in the summer devasting up to 30% of crops. Also in September it rained and it was cold meaning the grapes did not gain the same structure as 2008 where the September was constant with no rain and colder temperatures.

Jasper Morris MW said on a podcast concerning the 2020 vintage in Burgundy, one should understand ones own palate, does one like rich, full-bodied wines or rather fresh, tight, acidity driven wines and on going on this one is better suited to understand which vintage one likes.

This also leads us to aske the question which is the best vintage. If one likes acidity definitely 2008, then 2013. If it is the other way around and one prefers warmer, richer champagnes with less acidity, then 2012 will definitely have more appeal as will the likes of 2006 or 2015. So who is right or wrong, I don'tthink one can really answer that question as it comes down to individual taste. 

More interstingly is the 2017 vintage. A vintage completely written off by the critics, yet in this vintage some great champagnes were produced. Shaman 17 from Marguet, Leclapart's L'Aphrodisiaque, Vouette et Sorbée's Blanc d'Argile  to name but a few. 

What fascinates me is how some critics arrive at their conclusions for vintage prognosis. On the basis of tasting Vin Clairs, they are able to devine how great or weak a vintage will be. This poses a number of problems. Firstly the producers or the maisons will only show their best vin clairs. Secondly champagne is like perfume, there are numerous possibilities through belnding to alter, add nuances or even manipulate. Thirdly, the second ferematation and how long the champagne stays on the lees, the longer the more depth and complexity a champagne gains and finally the dosage, this is the biggest gamechanger in the whole process with the resulting maillart reaction which adds those roast and patiserie notes. 

I would reiterate, how can a critic devine on the basis of vin clairs , how a champagne will turn out when so much happens between the harvest and the finished product.

The next problem in such prognosis, how much vin clairs, at how many producers has the critic tasted. The champagne region is a big place, the logistics involved in covering it are challenging. If say a producer has only tasted at 50 producers, how accurate is his prognosis compared to a critic who has tasted at 500 producers. Or look att eh likes of Dom Perignon, how many Vin Clairs are used in the final blend, has the critic tasted them all. 

I am very sceptical of this calling out vintages. I prefer to wait until the champanes are actually released and then taste and make a tentative judgement regardless of vintage.

Tags: Vintages