Wed 08 Jan 2014

Cellar Surprises

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This one reminded me of years ago, when I worked at The Fulham Road Wine Centre in London (long since gone, sadly) and loyal customers brought in some old half bottles of Champagne they knew had been badly stored; because, they said, if they were still good we would appreciate them and if not we would understand why!

So it was with this magnum of Mercier, donated to a large family gathering for similar reasons, probably early on a raffle prize, and very likely passed through several hands. The label looked pretty old-fashioned (perhaps someone out there knows its era?) and, given its uncertain provenance, hopes were not high.

Mercier

In the event the wine was still very much alive, mature, yes, probably better younger, yet remarkable for hanging on in there.

We always recommend you don’t hang on to non-vintage Champagne for too long (it’s released to be enjoyed) but this venerable old lady proved you need not panic!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Comments

  1. Bruce Fireman says:

    How long is too long to be hanging on for non-vintage champagne? For around 20 years now, I have bought Bollinger non-vintage, usually in late January or February when the big retailers sell their Christmas/New Year overstocks at a discount, and have stored it for at least five years. I have also experimented by keeping a bottle or two back for longer. I see no sign of deterioration. It gets better every year. This may simply be a characteristic of Bollinger, but I doubt it.

    • Marcel Orford-Williams says:

      Apologies for the late reply. Champagne does keep though storage conditions are important. After that, all depends on what is in the bottle: how good the grapes were, vineyards and how well the wine was made in the first place. Good houses tend to take far more care in preparing their NV wines. That is certainly the case of Gratien and Bollinger to name but two. When visiting Gratien last year, I had the pleasure of being given a vertical tasting of non-vintage wines, in other words The Society’s Champagne, going back to 1976, and fascinating it was too. I have tasted old wines from Bollinger and Roederer and I think we still have stock of 2002 base Pol Roger in Jeroboam which is absolutely brilliant. Larger formats like magnum or Jeroboam keep even better.

      Most NV Champagne is just that, usually a base from a recent vintage with 20 to 30% reserve wine which might be the previous vintage or a blend of several. Holding back reserve wines is pretty much a legal obligation these days as a way of controlling the production surpluses and deficits. Occasionally though a producer may be unhappy with a vintage Champagne and decent to release it as non vintage. Sometimes the reason may simply be overstocks, remembering that most recent vintages have been of vintage quality.

      Marcel Orford-Williams
      Champagne Buyer

  2. Tony Bull says:

    i am surprised the Mercier was any good. It’s not that good fresh.
    I believe that some producers sell their surplus grapes to Mercier, presumably keeping their best grapes for themselves.

  3. Ben Hunting says:

    Lovers of non-vintage grower champagne — where the bottlings are often 100% single vintage despite not being “vintage champagne” — have come to expect information about dosage, base vintage and disgorgement dates on the back label of the bottle. Champagne writers like Peter Liem strongly advocate for drinking non-vintage champagne with some post-disgorgement aging. Indeed, it’s widely known that Prévôst’s famous Les Béguines requires several years of post-disgorgement aging. It would be great it The Wine Society always provided the dosage, disgorgement date and base vintage for the non-vintage grower champagnes it sells on the website.

    • Marcel Orford-Williams says:

      Apologies for the late reply. I agree without reservation that knowing about dosage levels and disgorgement dates are useful, even essential, and more and more houses are following that lead. In time it will be standard on all labels. Post-disgorgement ageing is essential for wines that have had sweetener added after disgorgement. Most seriously minded houses will give wines at least three months, sometimes more. This is the case of The Society’s Champagne. For wines that are zero dosage, this is not as necessary.

      Marcel Orford-Williams
      Champagne Buyer

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