Aging champagnes/ buying drinking aged champagnes- help please

If they have very low pH despite low acidity (sounds odd, though), this might explain their freshness and potential to age.

Doesn’t matter much, if the wines are still dull, flabby, heavy and excessively ripe in fruit. For example - while an impressively voluminous wine in its own right - 2003 DomP Rosé was quite flabby and jammy an effort, at least for my taste.

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Otto,

Sorry, meant to type second highest pH not lowest. I have now corrected this.

I’d argue with you on the 2003 DP Rose being flabby. I would call it showy, but growing very well with time and I feel the same for the 2003 DP Blanc (especially the P2). The Moet Grand Vintage Rose from 2003 is a thing of beauty. 2003 is a vintage that seems to do best with extended lees aging and all of the producers who released them very young (like Bollinger) didn’t do themselves or the wine any favors.

Thanks Brad and I have to amend to my comments above to acidity only contributing to a part of the equation re aging and viability.

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I wouldn’t say that I am a fan of warmer vintages. I am a fan or vintages where the grapes achieve phenolic ripeness and you time your picking appropriately. You can let the grapes get too ripe and that isn’t a good thing in my book. I think most of Champagne got away from tracking phenolics/tasting grapes in the 80s, 90s, the first decade of the 2000s, and even the start of the 2010s. A lot of harvesting became based on numbers on paper and that led to mistakes. I like 2008, but there were some mistakes made especially with Chardonnay and chasing acidity over ripeness. Interestingly, while there are a lot of growing season differences between 2008 and 2009, the acidity numbers for 2009 are not that different from 2008. I also really like 2013, love 2004, and am a bigger believer in 2021 than most. All of these are classical, cooler, vintages. 2002 is an interesting vintage because the year is really nice except for quite a bit of Chardonnay that got overripe. There is a case of a vintage where quite a few waited too long and the grapes ripened too quickly for them to react. Again, an example of too much ripeness.

To build on what you said, the grapes today often have a shorter growing season until ripeness is achieved and when ripeness is achieved the acidity is often lower and the potential alcohol often higher than in decades past. You used to be able to have a late Sept. or Oct. harvest with ripe grapes and a lower potential alcohol and higher acidity than today. There is definitely something to be said for a longer growing season and the benefits that may or can provide, but the key to me is still harvesting at phenolic ripeness without regard for where the acidity is at.

I don’t think the problem today is losing the acidity; it is losing the freshness. There were a few folks chasing or saving the acidity in 2022. They will be chapitalizing under-ripe grapes in the name of saving the acidity and freshness. They also are making wines that I likely won’t be drinking very often.

*Edited for misspelling ‘of’ in the first sentence of this post

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This may be the best WB thread I have had the pleasure of reading. Thank you all for a civil, informative read. (Figures Blake would have started it.)

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I think one has to be really careful with the word freshness and confusing it with acidity. Freshness has become, the new buzzword in the age of climate change. Freshness makes sense in the context of the PH in relationship to the phenolic ripeness but acidity is something else and for me the bigger constant in champagne and plays a far more important role in the balance of a champagne than perceived freshness…

In the context of aging champagne how relevant is freshness, I drink a lot of young grower champagne as I need to understand what I am selling and I love the freshness in young champagnes especially before the Maillart starts but taste the same champagne after the Maillart , the aromatics are usually not the same and the freshness is not as pronounced. Some producers say they want to retain freshness but how does one do this and what do they actually mean with freshness, acidity or freshness as they are not the same. Freshness we perceive in the aromatics, lime, lemon, fresh apples, can one preserve these aromas into older champagnes. One can sometmes open an older bottle of champagne and be struck by the freshness, the older Tarlants are a good example but they harvested with 10° , cleverly chapalitised and this way conserved the acidity.

Champagne is a product where a lot of manipulation is possible for want of a better word. Blocking the Malolactic, use of reserve wines from northern climates, slower aging of reserve wines, dosage even acidification. In the Champagne region ph is on the rise and acidity levels on the decrease. A really good example is Mont Aigu in Chouilly, in the past the prime site and since 2012 too hot. Guiborat 2008 Mont Aigu is a masterpiece, well at least for me. With the 2013 vintage Mont Aigu became too hot and he blended in wines from De Caures on the northside to counterbalance and add acidity. Going for phenolic ripeness and ph values are not here the answer, blending is the answer.

What concerns me most is the ageability of grower champagnes and it is a question I get asked a lot and which I do not like answering. We work closely with George Remy in Bouzy, he operates a press and in 2022 he advised a lot of producers to go for the phenolic ripeness and watch the ph levels to avoid high dosage. I am now entering into the realms of specualtion, I imagine we are going to see a lot of vinousy grower champagnes similiar to 2019, and if the yields are low enough I imagine they will age more like wines than champagnes.

In the grower genre there is one producer where we have a proven track record, Selosse, one has to love oxidised notes but if one can get past them then he sets benchmarks. In this context an interesting development which is in an embryonic phase is more grower producers moving away from the vintage model and taking reseve perpetuelles more seriously. The most interesting producer doing this is Dehours. His feeing was, the 2015 was too warm and just did not have the acidity he desired. The recent releases of the Brisefer and the La Croix Joly are now reserve perpetuelles with the reasoning behind this being the variation in vintages and to have a constant champagne but also i believe a champagne that will age like a champagne rather than a wine…

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I’m pretty new to Champagne and have only drank young examples. What does the above quote mean and is this implying a negative? If it means that they will not develop the yeasty/bready elements, some could see this as a positive.

Thanks

It might be helpful to understand the basic principles of making champagne.

After the first fermentation where wines are created or Vin Clairs, the process of blending occurs, and then the tirage is added, a mixture of sugar and yeast which kicks off the second fermentation crating the bubbles. The yeast dies/ or autolysis occurs, the dead yeasts release amino acids and also add depth anc complexity to a champagne depending how long the contact is.

After a certian amount of time the degorgement takes place where the dead yeast is removed and the dosage is added. The dosage is desribed in terms of extra brut, brut etc. Dosage is basically the additon of sugar.

What happens is the maillart effect, the sugars from the dosage react with the amino acids creating the yeasty, brioche, caramel aromas. This occurs over a period of 2 years post degorgement. In this phase the champagnes are often difficult to taste and best left alone, for this reason is the degorgement date so important.

A movement originating from the french gastronomy wanted lighter, less sweet champagnes which were not only ideal as apertifs but also could be paired with foods.Thus the emergence of extra brut and brut nature. The problem here if the dosage is too small meaning not enough sugar, it is unlikely that the maillart will occur and the champagne instead of developing the aromas you describe develops more like a wine.

This is in itself not a bad thing just one has to be aware when buying, what the dosage is, under 3 g/ls the dosage can occur but is not as pornounced as say with 6g/l.

Grower producers are in many cases obsessed wth terroir and believe dosage gets in the way of expressing terroir and thus they use no or extremely little sugar. Thes champagnes age different, more like wines, similair to white burgundy or pinot noir. The question here, is it better to drink when they are fresh or wait until they develop a patine of age, this is a matter of taste with no right or wrong answer,

To make things more complicated a lot of grower producers have perfected what I would call the oxidative manner of making champagnes. The wines are exposed to oxygen which speeds up the ripening process, they are held for the minimum amount of time on the lees and from the point of degorgement are ready to drink, little dosage is used. Agrapart is a good example of this sort of champagne. These champagnes can be drunk more or less direct after the degorgemnent, they also have aging potential but will d evelop more like wines than champagnes as high dosage.

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This is an excellent summary IMO. Thank you for posting.

Mr. Pennet,

Thank you for your response. You could have saved yourself a lot of typing if you had not assumed “pretty new to Champagne” meant “didn’t know the basics of Champagne.” However, you confirmed my implication that it is a bad thing if you like Champagne with “yeasty, brioche, caramel aromas” as a result of the Maillard reaction and it is a good thing if you want Champagne that shows purity of fruit, minerality, and terroir unencumbered by an extra ingredient (sugar). I was confused by your differentiating Champagne from wine in the aging process. I think what you are saying is Champagne is not Champagne unless a sufficient amount of dosage is added to affect the Maillard reaction much like Port is not Port until it is fortified. Otherwise, it is just “wine.” Obviously, this view is obsolete by at least 20 years with the rise of low/no dose producers, though it is interesting that many say they are wine makers first and Champagne makers second. Agrapart can be drank on release (like a Chablis)? Wonderful! Will it age like a wine (say, Chablis)? Glorious! That doesn’t make it any less Champagne and I am not sure why this gives you concern. I recently had a 2012 Agrapart Mineral that seemed like it had years of life ahead of it.

I must also say that “obsessed with terroir” is one of the most odd critiques I have ever heard applied to a wine maker. If a wine maker is not obsessed with the terroir he or she is working with, then I am not interested in their wines.

Regards

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The question I get asked most, which champagnes should I buy, where I can get Brioche aromas etc. It is a question I cannot really hear any more. Simple buy vintage Moet et Chandon and cellar ten years, that is what I do.

Obsessed with terroir, the moment one speaks of terroir in the sense of champagne it is like opening a pandoras box. In the Champagne region two fundamental phiosophies of winemaking collide, the Bordeaux mentality and the Burgundy mentality, then you have the tradtionalists and the modernists. Unlike Piemont this conflict is more internal and it exists. How does the Bordeaux concept fit into the concept of terroir, are blended champagnes lesser than champagnes made in the Burgundian scheme of things. Even in a producer like Agraaprt we see this contradiction, 7 Crus and Terroirs fit more into the Bordeaux way of things, the optimal blend and then the Crus which are more Burugndian. How does the Complantation fit into the scheme of things, can terroir only be expressed with one grape or if we go down the Marcel Deiss’s path, someone who greatly influenced Agrapart is field blends/complantation the best way to express terroir.

Take Cedric Bouchard, he has said the bubbles get in the way. Bouchard adds 22g of sugar in the tirage instead of the usual 26g/l. 2 bar less pressure. Does reducing the tirage increase the expression of terroir or does it just increase the vinousy feel. In what relation does the tirage play in expressing terroir, why just not make Coteauxs. And the same applies to dosage, at which level of dosage does the expression of terroir stop.

Taking the obsessed with terroir futher, we are seeing more and more fragmentation of parcels, champagnes being made from the bottom of the hill, middle of the hill and top of the hill to show the differences in say 200m of altitude and very light soil composition differences. My concern does the customer want this and understand it and would not a better champagne have been producer if all three parzelles were blended as one champagne.

I work with around 110 grower producers, the more I taste, the more one listens to them the more clearer to me that there is no common denominators and any attempt to find simple answers is a quixotic pursuit. And terroir, a wonderful fairytale.

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Why do you keep writing it as “maillart”? It is maillard, named after Louis Camille Maillard.

Also, you seem to think of it as a process that happens over a set period of time, as you’ve written several times how something happens “before maillart” or “after maillart”. It is a continuous process that starts very soon after autolysis releases necessary amino acids into the wine and it doesn’t really stop - there is no “after the maillard reaction” phase for a wine. It happens as long as there are enough amino acids, residual sugar and other necessary compounds in the wine and the rate at which it happens depends on the temperature, the dosage, the amount of lees in the aging sur lattes phase, how long the wine was aged prior to the disgorgement, and so forth. It’s basically impossible to tell how much maillard reactions have occurred in a wine without actually tasting it.

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Spelling has never been my strong point.

A few years ago we did an experiment out of personal curiosity. Over the course of 2 years we tasted oncea month two champagnes from two different producer, one with 7g/l and one with 1g/l dosage to follow the development of the Maillard. Our cellar has optimal conditions so both producers bottles developed at the same pace. It took about 4 months to really notice a discernible difference in the 7g/l bottle, it started to lose the freshness and went into a dumb phase and then after 13 months the aromas were simiiar but much darker and the emergence of light roast notes started to emerge at about 18 months the development stopped and the champagne remained constant in its taste profile. The low dosage champagne did not go through such a curvature and aged more like a wine, there was no roast aromas or darkening of the aromas.

Producers have told us the first 18 months are critical for the champagnes development as this is when the Maillard mostly occurs or is most active…

Yes! And all this is what makes the Champagne region one of the most interesting, exciting, and dynamic wine regions in the world today. And if you or your clients are seeking static predictability, some of the traditional big houses are happy to oblige with that too.

I work with over 100+ grower producers from the top to the yet undiscovered, I am in the Champagne region every week so I believe I understand a bit about grower champagnes, grower champagne is my business. I just do not put them on a pedestal or idolise producers or worship at the temple of terroir. If I recommend a customer a champagne and miss the mark, I lose the customer.

You I think want simple answers to complex questions, Every producer has unique ideas about champagne. If Savart says he wants to replicate Guffens-Heynen, how does that tie into terroir. Wenn Paul Gosset says he wants to emulate Bollinger, how does that tie into terroir. Take the most interesting new producer on the scene, Petit Clergeot and listen to what he says, it contradicts everything every other grower producers are doing and the results highly indiviual but really interesting. Listen to Natalie Falmet on the importance of Dosage and then listen to Benoit Marguet on why he does not use dosage. Trystan Hyest on emulating Krug in a small way. Believe me I have spent years working in the grower scene, if one can look beyond the labels, nothing is static.

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What happens is the maillart effect, the sugars from the dosage react with the amino acids creating the yeasty, brioche, caramel aromas. This occurs over a period of 2 years post degorgement. In this phase the champagnes are often difficult to taste and best left alone, for this reason is the degorgement date so important.

This is not a correct statement. You are going to get very little maillard reaction in the first two years post disgorgement. I think you are mixing up disgorgement related impact with the maillard reaction. There is a shock that the wine gets a disgorgement and then some settling time required for the liqueur/wine added. Some producers need more than a year for the wine to settle, others settle around six months. I think a good rule of thumb is to let any wine rest at least six months post-disgorgement and wish the AOC mandated this.

The maillard reaction takes many years to really show itself and is not the main driver of yeasty or doughy notes - especially in a wine just a few years from disgorgement. Caramel, coffee, chocolate, toffee, toasted, baked bread, biscuit, pastry, brioche flavors, yes, those are maillard reaction characteristics. You aren’t going to see much of this (if any) after just two years. This normally takes a decade or more to really start to show itself (assuming proper storage).

A movement originating from the french gastronomy wanted lighter, less sweet champagnes which were not only ideal as apertifs but also could be paired with foods.Thus the emergence of extra brut and brut nature. The problem here if the dosage is too small meaning not enough sugar, it is unlikely that the maillart will occur and the champagne instead of developing the aromas you describe develops more like a wine.

I would love for someone to explain to me what it means that Champagne will develop more like a wine. Champagne is a wine. Champagne with dosage/sugar does tend to develop differently than very low dosage/Brut Nature wines, but low dosage/Brut Nature wines still gain bread/toast/biscuit/ and spice notes just like higher dosage Champagnes. Many times over 10+ years, the acidity in a low/no dosage wine may take over and the fruit dry out making for a different experience than a higher dosed Champagne, but the wine still develops like I expect a Champagne would based on how it was made. I’m not sure what ‘wine’ people are referring to when they say Champagne develops more like a wine. It develops like a low dosage Champagne.

To make things more complicated a lot of grower producers have perfected what I would call the oxidative manner of making champagnes. The wines are exposed to oxygen which speeds up the ripening process, they are held for the minimum amount of time on the lees and from the point of degorgement are ready to drink, little dosage is used. Agrapart is a good example of this sort of champagne. These champagnes can be drunk more or less direct after the degorgemnent, they also have aging potential but will d evelop more like wines than champagnes as high dosage.

I am going to disagree here. You can drink almost any Champagne à la volée and enjoy it at that moment, but once you decide to add your mix of wine, liqueur, and/or dosage, and then recork, the wine needs time to settle. Even in a disgorgement environment that is protected from oxygen via jetting, the wine needs to settle. When opened after just a few months post-disgorgement, I often find the wines to be disjointed, mute, or crazy - there is a lot of variation. However, things normally start to settle down by six months.

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Thank you for your contributions. I also think it’s all a matter of perspective. Some people here may not quite see where’re you’re coming from for any number of reasons (ideology, lack of experience, different perspectives or simply different agendas, no negativity intended). Personally, I think your posts on this thread are the most relevant commentary I have seen here, or indeed elsewhere, on what has been going on in the region over the last 20+ years (and I have followed this very closely myself). You raise a lot of crucial points and I agree with your observations on every single one.

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Indeed… a little bit like a Coteaux :slight_smile:

No, IMO low dosage and no dosage (or any level of dosage) sparkling wines from Champagnes do not develop like still wines from Champagne. There is a second fermentation involved and a disgorgement that make things very different. I don’t find much in common between still and sparkling wines in Champagne in terms of how they age.

This doesn’t even begin to talk about whether or not the producer was trying to make a still wine in the vineyard/winery or just decided to bottle a barrel, tank, batch of wine that was picked and vinified for Champagne, but then directed elsewhere.

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Personally, I think it’s perfectly fine if someone who is nominally a Champagne producer wants to replicate Guffens-Heynen or whatever else they think is fabulous from somewhere other than Champagne. I also wish somebody could finally put Cedric Bouchard out of his misery and tell him that it’s OK for him to stop using tirage and dosage altogether :-). Technically, it’s all “Champagne”, but what’s in a name? A lot of things that have been happening over the last 20+ years were meant primarily as a challenge to the traditional idea of Champagne (assuming high quality here) and an attempt to question Champagne’s identity. A kind of revolution, one might say, and, as with most revolutions, the original bandwagon soon became a motley crew, and the original drivers/motives a mixed bag of noble ideas and worthy pursuits, pure ideology and/or agenda, and everything in between.
Good thing we can all simply taste for ourselves and decide what aligns with our own “Platonic idea” of Champagne… or simply what we need to drink/cellar as opposed to what we don’t.

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