New Non-Vintage Champagnes

Looking back on the hundreds of Champagnes I tasted for this article and for my coverage of vintage releases in the current issue of the IWC, I've come to the conclusion that no region in the world produces a higher percentage of outstanding wines.  But in terms of value, Champagne might deliver the weakest return of all, so wine buyers are faced with as stark a yin-yang situation as can be imagined.  Granted, in the U.S. market we are blessed with a selection of the finest wines from the region (there's plenty of mediocre--and worse--Champagne made, including a host of "house brands" that dominate European supermarket shelves), but one is going to have to pony up to enjoy those bottles.  Good deals can be had, especially right now, but these are the exceptions and are mostly limited to the non-vintage bottlings from the largest houses, which regularly go "on deal" starting in November and running into January.  My advice, which I offer at this time every year?  Stock up now.

Plenty of attention--not to mention money--is heaped on prestige bottling and vintage Champagnes but the fact is that in many cases a house's non-vintage brut is at the same level of quality as their fancier cuvees, and much less expensive.  Non-vintage Champagnes, which are virtually always a blend of various and disparate vintages, allow the winemaker to mitigate the shortcomings of a weaker year's raw materials, which can often produce a better result than a wine sourced from a single vintage.  Since wildly variable quality across vintages has always been the rule in this cold, northerly region, the advantages of blending are obvious.

Speaking of vintage and prestige Champagnes, I have included a number of examples in this special feature as the bottles did not arrive in time to be included in my article in the current issue of the IWC.  As much as I might bemoan the high prices of the best Champagnes, it's hard to blame the producers because the wines, by all accounts, sell through quickly, which is the ultimate proof of the market's acceptance of  the current pricing structure.  What's dear to me is a pittance to many, and that's life in the big city.