Taittinger: Comtes de Champagne 1971— 1998

1971 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne


1973 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne


1973 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé


1975 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne


1976 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1981 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1983 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’  


1986 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’  


1988 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1989 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1990 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1993 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’  


1993 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1994 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’  


1994 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (magnum)     


1995 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’  


1995 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1996 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


1998 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne  


For some reason, Taittinger’s tête de cuvée Comtes de Champagne seems to fly under the radar among the region’s elite bottles.  Savvy consumers know better, though. Comtes de Champagnes is one of the most profound wines readers will come across, particularly with some bottle age.

First produced in 1952, Comtes de Champagne has built a track record of excellence equaled by very few Champagnes.

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with proprietor Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger to taste through a dizzying array of older vintages. This tasting was quite special, as a number of bottles were shipped over directly from the estate, guaranteeing perfect provenance. Many of the wines were tasted from recently disgorged bottles. Champagne fans know Taittinger does not offer a late-release/late-disgorged program as the house prefers to issue their wines and then ‘let them live their own lives’ to paraphrase Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger. Older vintages are quite rare at Taittinger. It’s hard to believe, but the estate began holding back significant quantities of their wines only within the last 20-25 years.  So, the late-disgorged bottles in this article – which I have referred to as ‘RD’ – are not available in the market. I apologize in advance for reviewing wines readers will not be able to purchase! Still, I thought it was quite instructive to taste the wines, particularly where it was possible to compare the regular release with the ‘RDs’. All of the ‘RD’ bottlings were disgorged in late 2009 and shipped over by the estate specifically for this tasting. As one might expect, all of the  ‘RD’ wines were quite youthful and fresh, but I have not included maturity dates for those wines as I have no way of knowing how they will age…unless Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger repeats this tasting with the unopened bottles in a few years’ time!

Comtes de Champagne is 100% Chardonnay sourced from Oger, Cramant, Avize, Mesnil and Chouilly, all Grand Cru villages, although in some years the estate has also employed vineyards in the Premier Cru village Pierry. Taittinger uses only the juice from the first pressing for Comtes. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and roughly 5% of the juice is aged in oak. The total production of Comtes de Champagne ranges from 100,000-300,000 bottles per year.

In the 1970s dosage was often in the 17 grams per liter range. Today dosage is closer to 9-10 grams per liter. Like many houses, Taittinger has lowered dosage over the years in response to warmer growing seasons and overall improved viticultural practices, both of which have resulted in generally riper fruit than was the case in the past. In recent years it has become fashionable to criticize Champagnes with high levels of dosage. Readers who are unhappy with how their wines from 1971, 1973 or 1976 have aged are welcome to send their bottles my way…

Young Comtes de Champagne is intensely mineral and focused, with bright citrus, minerals and flowers dominating the flavor profile. As it ages, Comtes often acquires a signature liqueur-like inner sweetness that is not found in any other mature Champagne. Readers who are familiar with aged Comtes know well the magical qualities the wine acquires over time. At its finest, Comtes is a totally beguiling, compelling Champagne with few peers.

Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Rosé is an equally brilliant wine with its own impressive track record for developing beautifully in bottle. In its early years the estate’s Rosé was made from 100% Pinot Noir, predominantly vinified off the skins, but with the addition of a percentage of still red Pinot. Today it is made through the assemblage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, plus a percentage of still Pinot, with Pinot accounting for the majority of the blend.

The 1971 Comtes de Champagne (original release) reveals the liqueur-like inner sweetness that is the hallmark of fine, aged Comtes.  Suggestions of roasted coffee and citrus peel linger on the delicate, ethereal finish. The 1971 remains impressive for its gorgeous mousse and graceful personality. Drinking window: 2010-2015.

The estate’s 1973 Comtes de Champagne is noticeably richer and weightier than the 1971, even if some of the aromas and flavors are a touch more advanced. Round and enveloping on the palate, the 1973 flows with superb depth and textural finesse. Hints of caramel and toffee add the final notes of complexity. This is a breathtaking Champagne. Drinking window: 2010-2013.

The 1973 Comtes de Champagne Rosé comes alive in the glass with breathtaking richness. In 1973 the Rosé was 100% Pinot, mostly from the Grand Cru villages of Bouzy, Ambonnay and Mailly. Most of the wine was essentially a blanc de noirs, i.e. Pinot vinified without skin contact, with the addition of 20% still Pinot from Bouzy. The Pinot comes through loud and clear in the gravitas of the dark fruit, autumn leaves and cedar, all while retaining a surprising level of freshness that keeps things in balance. Despite the warm vintage and relatively low acidities of the component wines, the 1973 Rosé has aged spectacularly well. Simply put, this is a stupendous bottle. Drinking window: 2010-2015.

The 1975 Comtes de Champagne offers up truffles, mushrooms and autumn leaves in a mid-weight, fairly open style of Comtes. The wine turns more delicate in the glass; in fact it is quite a bit better composed on the palate than on the nose. Still, the mousse isn’t quite as refined as the best vintages. Today the 1975 comes across as fully mature. Drinking window: 2010. Tattinger’s 1976 Comtes de Champagne is simply fabulous. Still creamy, textured and vivid, the 1976 possesses a breathtaking combination of signature citrus freshness, superb inner sweetness and the slightest hints of more advanced oxidative tones. The 1976 has matured beautifully and appears to be at its most profound peak. Tonight it is devastatingly beautiful. Wow! Drinking window: 2010-2020.

The 1981 is a fairly pointed, focused Comtes de Champagne. There is tons of clarity and freshness to be found in the glass, with only the faintest hints of oxidation coming through from time to time. This slender, understated Comtes is all class and balance. Well-stored bottles should drink well for another decade. Drinking window: 2010-2020. The 1983 Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’ is all smoke, minerals, slate, lemon peel and white peach. This pointed, superbly chiseled Champagne shows Chablis-like focus and tons of energy that carries through to the well-articulated finish. Drinking window: 2010-2020. The estate’s 1986 Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’ emerges from the glass with layers of lime peel, flowers and oak in a rich, creamy style. This generous, polished vintage of Comtes offers exceptional length and a refined finish. I am not sure the 1986 will be one of the longer-lived vintages of Comtes but today it is singing. Drinking window: 2010-2020.

I am blown away by the 1988 Comtes de Champagne. Still incredibly fresh, the 1988 Comtes flows with intense mineral notes that frame a vibrant core of Chardonnay fruit. The color, aromatics and flavors are all remarkably youthful, while the crystalline purity of the finish suggests the 1988 will drink well for another two decades, if not longer. Readers who enjoy mature Champagne will need to be patient. Still, I see no reason to deny gratification; this is a rock star wine! Drinking window: 2010-2030.

The 1989 Comtes de Champagne is darker in color than the 1988 and also quite a bit more forward. Candied orange peel, spices and caramel suggest it is on a fairly quick path. Today the 1989 is most impressive for its generous texture and complete, developed personality. This won’t make old bones, but it is delicious today. Drinking window: 2010-2020. The 1990 Comtes de Champagne captures a stylistic middle ground between the 1988 and 1990. Slightly advancing tones of orange peel and roasted nuts are beautifully contrasted by a streak of minerality that gives the wine its freshness and verve. Bright floral and mineral notes reappear on the finish, adding focus. Rich in its texture yet effortless, the 1990 offers exceptional balance and tons of class. It should continue to drink well for another 15 years. Drinking window: 2010-2025

The two 1993s provide a fascinating opportunity to compare original release and RD bottles of the same vintage. The 1993 Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’ is marvelously fresh, rich and layered. Minerals, slate, smoke and citrus are just some of the nuances that emerge from this intense, powerful Comtes. This is a prime example of how extended aging on the lees prior to the late disgorgement has helped keep the wine fresh. The 1993 Comtes de Champagne (original release) comes across as a touch fat and lacking freshness. Truffles, autumn leaves and mushrooms are some of the tertiary nuances that emerge from this mature Champagne. Drinking window: 2010-2015.

The 1994 Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’ offers up plenty of ripe, almost tropical fruit in fat style while retaining great clarity and precision. Fragrant and elegant throughout, the 1994 shows exceptional balance and tons of class. This recently disgorged bottle comes across as very, very young. Drinking window: 2014-2024. The 1994 Comtes de Champagne (magnum) shows lovely richness in burnished tones of apricots, spices and flowers. Soft, seamless and opulent, the fruit caresses the palate in a rich, up-front style. This isn’t the most powerful Comtes but it is among the most rewarding vintages to enjoy today and over the next decade. Drinking window: 2010-2020.

The estate’s 1995 Comtes de Champagne ‘RD’ is, not surprisingly, painfully young. Today very little of the wine’s ultimate potential comes through, even though I have great faith in this vintage. The 1995 Comtes de Champagne (original release), on the other hand, shows fantastic intensity in its freshly cut flowers, citrus and spices. Endlessly layered and perfumed, the 1995 reveals gorgeous richness and intensity wrapped around an intense, mineral-driven frame. The tension between ripeness and minerality is simply breathtaking. Drinking window: 2010-2025.

The 1996 Comtes de Champagne is awesome, but it, too, is all about potential, and there is no shortage of it here. Austere and very youthful, the 1996 is dominated by bright, piercing acidity and formidable structure. Readers who can wait will be rewarded with a magical bottle of Champagne, but today patience is the word. Drinking window: 2016-2036. The 1998 Comtes de Champagne is a different story altogether. This is a sexy, up-front Comtes endowed with lovely richness in its fruit and open, expressive aromatics. It remains an impressive, inviting Comtes that should also continue to develop nicely in the bottle for at least another decade plus. Drinking window: 2010-2025.

--  Antonio Galloni