Although the drink known as Champagne is changing before our very eyes with Grower Champagne and single vineyards on the rise as driving market forces, one shouldn’t forget that great classic champagnes from historic houses can provide some of the most singular wine experiences, especially with age.

I was very clearly reminded of this at a recent Acker Merrall vintage Champagne tasting.  Some of the greatest houses were present and I can say that the one’s that surprised the most were perhaps the one’s that one might not expect.  That said, they surprised in a different way perhaps.  And this reflects the way that Champagne can be approached.

Champagne is a many faceted thing.  It can wear many hats.  It is not a singular monolith of a thing.  It is not easy to define.  I won’t go into all the nuance here, but anyone who is at all familiar with Champagne can attest that blends, vintages, disgorgement dates, etc. can make it one of the more elusive beverages to chart.  But I digress.

The most fantastic wines, were the ones with the most evolved character, but house style, blend, and vintage certainly played into things as well.  The takeaway here is this:  there are a lot of different things to appreciate about vintage Champagne, and Champagne in general.  Enjoy it young and crisp, older and creamy.  Vintage dated or not.  Single vineyard from a grower or skillfully blended from a big house.  In my book, it’s all good.

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Pol Roger 1996 Sir Winston Churchill

A touch flat to my taste, especially this being the youngest Champagne.  Overall, brunt caramel with a touch of zest.  Nice, but expected a bit more.

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Salon 1988 Le Mesnil

Lots of nice toasty brioche and vanilla spice.  Very much alive with a nice pear tart note.  This Blanc de Blanc might have played better in the leading role considering that the Pol Roger Winston Churchill was a bit on flat side.

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Bollinger 1973 RD

The first great wine of the night for me.  The first “WOW” comments began to fly.   Lots of aged butterscotch and toast.  A grand bottle of old Champagne.  Lovely stuff!

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Dom Ruinart 1976 Blanc de Blanc

Not everyone seemed to make as much out of this very fine 1976 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc as I did, but it was a gorgeous bottle.  Plenty of toast with notes of mushroom and very fine bubbles.   A nice little wow in my book.

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Louis Roederer 1976 Cristal

If there was one vintage Champagne that was easy to love, it was the 1976 Cristal.  It was an ice cream sundae of a Champagne with notes of Strawberry red fruits, frosted icing, and just an overall delicious factor.

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Taittinger 1966 Comtes de Champagne

Burnt butterscotch meets apricot, with some surprising acidity and lift still left in the reserves.  A wonderful bottle.

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Taittinger 1961 Comtes de Champagne

Maybe the finest Champagne of the lineup.  The old toast is there, but so effortlessly balanced.  Almost fresh, considering it’s age, the 1961 Taittinger had bubbles, acid, and creme all in balance.  Exceptional stuff.  Wow.  Lucky.

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Krug 1985

The toastiest and most evolved of the Krug wines.  Plenty of toast and marzipan on the palate, with hints of lime.  There was still some decent lift going on here too.  An excellent segue from where we had been with the 1961 Taittinger into the exit plan.

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Krug 1989

By comparison, extremely youthful to the 1985 Krug.  The 1989 is yet crisp, youthful, and tart.  Nice notes of apple and drinking well.  Expected a bit more aged character, but there you go.  Let this one ride!

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Krug 1990

Even fresher still.  The 1990 Krug had ginger and berries and just a robust freshness that was surprising.  A great way to finish the night.  Left the palate fresh after the old toasty buggers.  So young, one for the ages.