House-Aged Champagne

House-Aged Champagne
Photo/Jeff Harris

Everyone knows a sandwich tastes better when someone else makes it for you. And if you want a perfectly aged bottle of vintage Champagne, you let the experts do it. That’s the concept behind Champagne library releases, allocated bottlings of top vintages from a handful of producers. 

Unlike most wines, Champagne undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle to create its bubbles. The final production step is disgorgement in which sediment in the neck is removed (for a top vintage-dated cuvée that moment typically comes four to seven years after harvest). Standard Champagne aging—something anyone with a good wine cooler could do—is a post-disgorgement cellaring process. But real aging expertise comes before disgorgement. The chef de cave (head winemaker) extends maturation and contact with the enriching sediment, carefully monitoring select wines for the ideal moment to disgorge.

That may take decades, as was the case with this year’s editions of Vinothèque, the Cristal library releases from Champagne Louis Roederer. “The idea . . . was really to show Cristal in the 20-year window,” says chef de cave Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon. He feels the program “catches the best of both worlds,” showcasing the concentration and richness of aged Champagne, while allowing the wine’s minerality to emerge. Current library releases include the 1996 Brut Cristal Vinothèque ($1,200) and Brut Rosé Cristal Vinothèque ($2,400).

Dom Pérignon chose to reflect three phases of disgorgement when it relabeled its Oenothèque program as Plénitude. Initial releases are disgorged after about six years. P2 label indicates 12 to 16 years. P3 means disgorgement after 20 to 30 years. The Brut Plénitude P2 2000 ($395) and the Brut Plénitude P3 1988 ($1,000) are currently being offered.

While availability may be limited in the category, choices are expansive. Moët & Chandon has its Brut Champagne Grand Vintage Collection 2002 ($140). Krug focuses on 1990 with its Brut Collection 1990 ($600), while Veuve Clicquot goes back even further with their Brut Cave Privée 1989 ($185), the 1982 ($355), and the Brut Rosé Cave Privée 1979 ($420). Pierre Péters is the lone small grower-producer in the game. Its single vineyard Brut Blanc de Blancs Les Chétillons Oenothèque 2002 ($280) is a beautiful example.