Champagne: 2020 New Releases


For the first time in a dozen years, this past spring I was unable to travel to Champagne to taste the new vintage and survey the latest releases. Given the extraordinary challenges this year of both traveling and collecting hundreds of samples in a timely fashion, we will be publishing Champagne reviews within this article in a continuous stream over coming weeks and months, as I taste the wines. This latest installment covers wines tasted in October and November 2020. The best way to stay up to date on additions is to make sure you are receiving our emails and turn on notifications within the Vinous app.

Readers will see a number of compelling wines in the market. Some of these are releases that had originally been scheduled for spring and that were pushed back because of COVID-19. Understandably, demand for Champagne has dropped precipitously as the world grapples with a number of crises that are unfolding simultaneously. As of this writing, in November 2020, the global outlook continues to be uncertain. Champagne sales are forecast to be down 25% in 2020 by volume. That strikes me as a bit optimistic, but we will see. Anecdotally, sales for the most prestigious wines seem to be holding up better than sales for mid and lower-tier bottlings, mirroring the state of the wine market more broadly. Current market dynamics are likely to create significant opportunities for savvy consumers.

One of the results of the current situation is that yields for the 2020 harvest were lowered from the standard 10,800 kilos per hectare to 7-8,000 (the final number will be determined by the sale of bottles in 2020). Producers can either use production above the maximum to replace lesser-quality reserve wines in their cellars from the previous year or send their excess wines to be distilled. 

I am reminded of the popularized saying: "May you live in interesting times…"

Finding Value in Champagne

Champagne can be intimidating. The explosion of young grower estates making compelling wines is a fascinating development that has started to highlight the uniqueness of Champagne’s villages and terroirs. But the subtleties of say Pinot Noir from villages such as Aÿ, Bouzy, Ambonnay, Verzy, Verzenay and Cumières (to name a few) are not widely understood just yet. That will come, but it takes time. The grandes marques continue to push with new wines and ultra-tête de cuvées. These trends show absolutely no sign of slowing down. At the same time, prices for the most sought-after Champagnes continue to accelerate. Sorting through all of that is not exactly easy. It takes a bit of work, but it is possible to find compelling Champagnes that deliver superb quality, value, and often a good deal of artisan craftsmanship, too. These are some of my favorite affordable Champagnes. They are among my go-to wines, the bottles I order in restaurants and Champagnes that will elevate any occasion. Most of them retail in the $50/bottle range. 

Best Affordable Champagnes of 2020

· A. Margaine NV Brut Le Brut

· Chartogne-Taillet NV Brut Cuvée Ste.-Anne

· R.H. Coutier NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 

· Gatinois NV Brut Réserve Grand Cru

· Laherte Frères NV Brut Ultradition Blanc de Blancs 

· Christophe Mignon NV Brut Nature Blanc de Noirs ADN de Meunier

· J.L. Vergnon NV Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs Murmure 1er Cru

 A view of the Côtes de Blancs from Avize. These are blocks Roederer uses for their Blanc de Blancs.

The Must-Have Champagnes of 2020

Once again, I tasted several hundred Champagnes in 2020. These are among the wines that made the deepest impressions. Some are pricey, other less so, but they all represent the pinnacle of quality. 

· Chartogne-Taillet 2016 Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs Heurtebise

· Christophe Baron 2016 Brut Nature Les Hautes Blanches Vignes (Magnum) 

· Ulysse Collin NV Extra Brut Rosé de Saignée Les Maillons (2016 base)  

· Marie Courtin 2017 Extra Brut Sans Soufre Présence             

· Georges Laval 2016 Brut Nature Les Chênes

· Laherte Frères 2016 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les Grandes Crayères 1er Cru       

· Cédric Bouchard-Roses de Jeanne 2016 Blanc de Blancs La Bolorée

· Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Rare Vintage Cuvée Spéciale

· Jacques Selosse NV Extra-Brut Le Mesnil sur Oger Les Carelles (2013)

· Jacques Selosse NV Extra-Brut Aÿ La Côte Faron (2013)

· Taittinger 2008 Comtes de Champagne

· Veuve Fourny & Fils NV Extra-Brut Rosé MV 13 Vinothèque

· Vilmart & Cie 2012 Coeur de Cuvée

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Champagne – 2019 Fall Releases, Antonio Galloni, December 2019

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