New Vintage Champagnes

I tasted a somewhat smaller number of vintage Champagnes this year than for past IWC articles, mostly because many American importers are still working through older inventory and are reluctant to lay in stocks of new vintages during a time of economic turmoil.  I suspect that another reason for this is the fact that many houses have chosen to bottle less wine, or wines, from the notoriously hot 2003 vintage, as this is about the time that those wines would be released.  In a way, that's good news for Champagne lovers, as many of the vintage bottlings currently in the market are from the mostly excellent 2002 harvest.  Some others are from 2004, also generally a very good year.   

As always, I'd be careful when buying Champagne (or any wine, for that matter) that has been stateside for very long, especially if it has actually been in a retailer's physical inventory.  While shipping and storage conditions have improved dramatically over the last decade, Champagne is a very fragile wine, and it's all too easy to get a heat-compromised bottle.  I would be especially careful about buying Champagne at auction, unless the wine's bloodline can be verified from start to finish.  Champagne with too many frequent flier (or trucker), miles is a dangerous gamble, as anybody who actively plays the auction game will attest.

A number of 2005 Champagnes have begun to enter the market and this is already becoming a controversial vintage.  There were issues with rot, which was brought on by a growing season that was by turns wet and very hot, a recipe for trouble in the vines.  Producers who were diligent and who could afford to make draconian selection appear to have been able to craft sometimes excellent wines, but there is simply not the uniform quality in Champagne in 2005 that there was in virtually every other region in France that year.  Since I mostly focus my tastings on the best Champagne producers, I didn't see any real disasters this year, but a number of '05s are still due to be imported, so who knows how things will turn out?  As a quick aside, I suspect that much of the rot-affected 2005 wine was blended into non-vintage bottlings in the hope that the higher-quality juice from surrounding vintages could compensate for the shortcomings of 2005.  Again, this will be a story to follow.