The Best New Non-Vintage Champagnes

Given the sheer scope of non-vintage Champagne it's foolhardy to overgeneralize when discussing the current state of the category.  And when one throws in the differences of house styles and the varied blends that make up any given set of current releases things become even blurrier.  However, generalize I will (hopefully not too foolishly) on a few points that I found interesting as I conducted my tastings this fall.

First, this year's set of releases (the eighth that I have tasted for the International Wine Cellar) was the strongest, overall, that I have experienced.  That's interesting because there is undoubtedly plenty of wine from 2005 and 2007 in the current non-vintage bottlings, and those are two decidedly uneven vintages for the region.  I have to surmise that the quality of the 2009, 2008 and 2006 wines (all very good to excellent years here) in the NV blends is sufficiently high to compensate for the shortcomings of 2007 (uneven ripeness and rot) and 2005 (rampant rot due to warm, damp conditions through much of the summer).

More large houses, or "Grandes Marques," seem to be cutting back on the dosage levels in all of their Champagnes.  Moet & Chandon is on record as moving toward lower dosage, and it shows in this year's releases.  It's the rare producer that doesn't say that they're trying to express their region, or terroir, as clearly as possible, but that's difficult to accomplish if your wine is made blurry by the addition of loads of sugar.  That's especially true with Champagne, which is prized specifically for its crystalline, pure character rather than for sheer mass and weight.

There are more small-house and grower Champagnes available in the U.S. now than ever before.  I have to guess that this is a reaction to the ongoing success of small, specialty importers like Terry Theise, who have proven that Americans will accept artisanal Champagnes with the same enthusiasm as they have shown for small-production Burgundies.  Being small is no guarantee of quality, though, just as being large doesn't necessarily mean that the Champagne is anonymous or some sort of vinous Antichrist, as many fundamentalist wine aficionados would like to believe.  As stated earlier, generalizations are foolish.

Note that there are a handful of vintage wines included in this year's piece.  These are wines that arrived too late for us to include in the annual vintage Champagne article, which appears in the current issue of the IWC.

I have included disgorgement dates for the bottles I tasted, if they were provided on the label--as well as lot numbers, if they were legible.  Lot numbers are usually preceded by the letter "L" and can be found printed or embossed on a bottle's front or back label or foil, or laser-etched onto the glass itself.