UK-based wine authority Jane Parkinson on Champagne
Global warming has made Champagne richer and oakier, writes Jane Parkinson. But the tipping point is still up for debate.
EARLIER THIS YEAR a Champagne story popped into my news feed, reporting that the region’s style had become richer during the past couple of decades. A natural consequence of climate change, the piece continued, adding that Champagne’s exposure to drought is set to triple by the 2050s, according to the S&P Global Sustainable1 report.
The article suggested that some producers welcome – if not encourage – the extra richness now provided by this change in climatic conditions, as it sets them apart from the ‘others’, the undeniably improved traditional method wines from across the world, some of which can’t offer as much richness yet, whether that’s due to cooler conditions or a younger industry with a smaller back catalogue of reserve wines.
The effect of climate change on Champagne has been well documented. The harvest dates alone point to an inevitable change in style as picking now happens a full fortnight earlier than it used to. And while houses nurture their cuvées to reflect desired styles, are they really being encouraged to be richer to distinguish themselves from the growing competition? This sounds unlikely and yet, somehow possible.
“The style of Champagne is evolving just as it has always evolved for more than two centuries,” says Bertrand Lhôpital, cellar master and vineyard director for Champagne Telmont.
“The Champagnes we tasted at the beginning of the last century are not those of today.”
Referring to earlier picking dates, Bertrand elaborates, “We
[now] observe a difference between sugar maturity and aromatic maturity from the harvest.” While picking in August is beneficial for increasing the sugar and reducing the acids, he says the aromatic development can’t catch up, “forcing us to seek a higher sugar maturity” to obtain the aromatic maturity. While this is a natural consequence of climate change, it isn’t a deliberate decision.
95 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2007, France
12.4% alc. RRP 470, drink by 2030
Now a B Corp-certified house, and one that flies under the radar but is loved by the cognoscenti, this once ugly duckling of a vintage (that was fantastic for chardonnay) is now showing its full beauty. Yes, the acidity is peppy, but the layers of lemon curd, brioche and putty salinity make this very exciting to drink right now.
95 Devaux Cuvée D, France 12% alc. RRP 75, drink by 2036
Devaux, whose Côte de Bar location is now super fashionable (although prices happily haven’t caught up yet), brings a new dimension of pinot noir to the table. As we see in this multi-award-wining cuvée – a fraction of which is fermented in oak – its marmalade, caramelised nut and creamy richness makes for incredible value.
95 Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2015, France
12.5% alc. RRP 175, drink by 2030
Pol doesn’t add meunier to its vintage cuvées, and this pinot noir and chardonnay blend has a great definition and poise. At first, an explosion of primroses and buttery pastries, leading to a palate of fantastically balanced proportions, a coming together of richness and power with finesse and freshness.
94 Bollinger Special Cuvée NV, France
12% alc. RRP 98, drink by 2032
No one can deny this is one of the GOAT flagship cuvées in the whole of Champagne. Bollinger masters pinot noir to perfection, here with 25% chardonnay and 15% meunier fermented in oak barrels, it produces a beautifully elegant wine with brioche structure, vivacious energy and a long nutty finish. Sublime.
94 Krug Grande Cuvée 171ème Edition, France
12.5% alc. RRP 400, drink by 2032
Blenders par excellence, Krug demonstrates once again with this non-vintage release – now incorporating some 2015 fruit – that the precision and generosity of flavour does not hamper the vibrancy or complexity of the wine, with lashings of ginger, nuts and vanilla alongside the roasted grapefruit.
94 Bruno Paillard Assemblage 2012, France
13% alc. RRP 207, drink by 2032
Known for its consistently low dosage levels and extended ageing, this is another cognoscenti favourite. Now, from this well-documented sensational vintage, we have a 60/40% pinot noir/chardonnay with eye-popping tension that quickly opens out into a symphony of nutty, apple compote, nutmeg and lemon flavours.