Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris heads to the Champagne region of France to report on this year’s harvest.
For anyone with a thread of superstition, the number 13 is unlucky, and it was certainly looking that way in France’s Champagne region for much of this year.
After a cold, wet start to 2013, followed by a gloomy spring with even more rain, the vine cycle was two weeks behind the ten-year average.
It wasn’t until the start of July - and the sunniest summer for years - that the fruit finally started to ripen. A short snap of rain in September helped fatten the grapes, then more warm weather continued and, at last, the harvest began in the first few days of October.
Despite being the latest for 20 years, the Champagne Bureau says it has the potential to be “outstanding”. Indeed, the Champenois are already drawing favourable comparisons to the vintages (wines from a single harvest) of 1983, 1988 and 1998 which were also late, and 2013 could well become an all-time great.
In a class of its own, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame was first released in 1985 and in line with Madame Clicquot’s motto: “Only one quality, the finest”, there have been very few vintages since. In fact, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Brut 2004 (£135, www.harrods.com) is the first release of the millennium and the previous vintage was the glorious 1998. The precious fruit in this prestige cuvee is 69% pinot noir and 31% chardonnay and these elegant bubbles are marked by delicate, floral aromas, pure citrus fruits and a delicious freshness on the silky, long finish.
Appreciated for their excellent quality and keen pricing, Champagne Jacquart have launched a new cuvee that looks as good as it tastes. A handsome dark bottle with a golden collar, Champagne Jacquart Cuvee Alpha 2005 (£75, www.greatwesternwine.com) is a vintage blend of grand cru and premier cru grapes and this equal mix of pinot noir and chardonnay with its brioche nose, fine citrus fruits, creamy palate with a long, slightly yeasty finish has the makings of a masterpiece.
Like several other famous houses, GH Mumm have experienced a rollercoaster in fortunes. While GH Mumm Cordon Rouge NV (non-vintage) remains a classic, it’s also worth seeking out their 56th vintage over nearly two centuries, if only to see how this pinot noir dominant champagne pairs beautifully with food. Try Champagne G H Mumm 2006 (£39.99, Sainsbury’s) which is fresh and weighty with an aromatic, biscuity nose, candied citrus fruits and a vibrant long finish that can take this wine from rich shellfish to white meat.
Taittinger heiress Virginie Taittinger worked for Champagne Taittinger, one of the blue-chip labels in Champagne, for 21 years before breaking away in 2006 when the group was sold.
With bubbles running through her veins, Virginie launched her own champagne label and has now released her first cuvee, Champagne Virginie T NV Brut (£36, minimum 6 bottles, www.virginie-t.com). Classified as non-vintage, but mostly composed of grapes from the 2006 vintage, with reserve wines from 2005, the blend is around two-thirds pinot noir and one-third chardonnay - it tastes divine.
With power and elegance, there’s baked apple and toast on the nose with a hint of spice, a lovely fruity mouthfeel and a delicious finish.