I have a friend who works for KCD, a huge fashion PR firm that reps Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Alexander Wang among many others. So when she went to a vintage Champagne tasting, she told me she was surprised to learn that vintage doesn’t mean old when it comes to bubbly.
There are two types of Champagne: vintage and non-vintage (which you’ll see as NV on a bottle). About 90% of Champagne is non-vintage, and is blended into a house style from any year they want out of the wines they have in reserve. Vintage Champagne, on the other hand, is made from grapes that were grown in one year only, a year that’s exceptionally good and therefore will make a great Champagne on their own.
Winemakers “declare” a vintage at the time of bottling, but then age it for at least three years (NV Champs only has to be aged for 15 months). So while vintage Champagne can be old, it can also just be from 2004.
I recently had drinks with one of the winemakers at Moët & Chandon, Elise Losfelt. Surprisingly, she said the the vintage Champagnes are the easier ones to make – all you do is let the grapes from that year shine and be what they are. The NV wines, however, have to be blended to create a wine that tastes the same each year. If a year’s lacking in weight or a certain flavor, they need to detect that and find a reserve wine from a past year to fill in the gaps.
Btw, other fun fact Elise told me: the numbers on the vintage years replicate the writing on the chalk boards they have in their cellar that identify each vintage, and the writing is their cellar master’s (aka “chef de caves”). I love the gritty numbers – really cool and very old school.