The Luxury Side of Non-Vintage Champagne


Non-vintage Champagne—a blend of reserve wines and the current harvest—is often considered the entry-level wine for a Champagne house. But some producers are rethinking how a blend of vintages can tell a different story. With individual harvest years becoming more volatile and less predictable in a changing climate, winemakers are redefining luxury with the art of non-vintage blends.

Last year, Ruinart released the all-new Blanc Singulier. The inaugural bottling called Edition 18, named for the 2018 vintage, is meant to look at climate change through the lens of Chardonnay. The cuvée is comprised of 80 percent wine from a specific vintage and 20 percent of reserve wine. “It’s meant to embrace [the conditions] of a year,” says Ruinart chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis. 

An exceptionally warm season with an early harvest, 2018 translated into riper fruit and spice character. The Blanc Singulier is done in a brut nature style, as Panaïotis doesn’t want the addition of sugar to alter the flavor profile. However, the reserve wines, which were partly aged in stainless steel and in neutral oak casks, are needed in lieu of dosage to provide more texture and complexity. As the climate continues to warm and growing seasons become more unpredictable, “We think the Blanc Singulier is the Blanc de Blancs of the future,” says Panaïotis. 

A new cuvée can also bring a house back to its roots. At just 36 years old, Emilien Boutillat of Piper Heidieck is one of the youngest winemakers in Champagne. When thinking about how he wanted to evolve the house—and start his own legacy as chef de cave—he took his cues from its identity as a Pinot house, meaning Pinot Noir is the dominant variety in nearly every wine. His new cuvée, Essentiel, Blanc de Noirs, is a Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier blend. Along with showcasing Piper’s longstanding work with Pinot grapes, the new Essentiel speaks to the winery’s commitment to sustainability. The house was the first in Champagne to become B Corp Certified. And only vineyards certified Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne (VDC) go into this wine. 

“Climate change is affecting all of us. And in Champagne, we face more and more extremes regarding the weather,” says Boutillat. “We need to adjust the way we manage our vineyards and the way we make wines.” In these changing conditions, he finds Meunier to be increasingly interesting, especially when planted in cooler areas. “It brings freshness, acidity, and vibrancy to the blends,” he adds.

In addition to brand-new cuvées launched this past year, Champagne houses are upping commitments to previous experiments. Billecart-Salmon started its Les Rendez-vous line in 2020 and recently released edition number 5. Each non-vintage iteration focuses on a single variety—either Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay—from select villages, and is meant to be a study of Champagne’s noble grapes. And Roederer just released Collection 244. It’s the fourth edition of a cuvée that incorporates wines from a perpetual cuvée (where a percentage of wine from a single harvest year is continually added to existing wine, similar to a solera system but usually done in a single vessel), as well as reserve wine to the base vintage. 

Raj Vaidya, director of operations for Pressoir, a wine education and events company that operates La Fête du Champagne festival, thinks consumers’ understanding of the value of Champagne spurs houses’ desires to create new high-end cuvées like these, even amid changing climate conditions. “When you consider a young Bordeaux or Burgundy, for example, in comparison [to Champagne], the amount of work, detail, time, and effort invested in production is nominal—rarely more than two years’ worth of aging,” he says. “Yet for the same prices in those regions, you won’t even be buying the top tier of quality. Champagne is truly a relative bargain when seen from a qualitative comparison perspective.”

5 to Try

Ruinart Blanc Singulier, Edition 18

Founded in 1729, Ruinart is Champagne’s oldest maison. Chalk caves (crayères) 131 feet underground run for 5 miles under the city of Reims and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The new Blanc Singulier from this historic property shows off the warm 2018 vintage: notes of ripe orchard fruits, a gingery spice, and a hint of saline complete the flavor profile. The wine is aged on the lees for three years—one year longer than the standard non-vintage Champagne—to further impart texture. And those mousse-y bubbles linger on the tongue. $129.99,

Piper Heidsieck Essentiel Blanc de Noirs

A blend of 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Pinot Meunier, Essentiel is a fruit-driven style with lots of vibrancy. This first release contains no reserve wines, so it will be an interesting one to watch evolve. Boutillat selects fruit from 10 different crus, all located in cooler spots from Montagne de Reims, the Marne Valley, and the Côte de Bar, to further drive home the bright, fresh qualities. $71.92,

Roederer Collection 244

Founded in 1833, the family-run house—one of the remaining few in the region—works with 593 acres of estate fruit, which they supplement with fruit from select grape-growing partners. The creation of a perpetual reserve was key for Roederer’s Collection. As it compounds with added vintages while simultaneously aging, it brings a new level of nuance to this Champagne. The base of the Collection is a little over 50 percent vintage wine, a third from the perpetual cuvée, and the rest a blend of reserve wines. $56.99,

Krug Grande Cuvée 171 Edition

For perspective into the category of luxury non-vintage, Krug’s Grande Cuvée has always been upheld as a leading example of a non-vintage prestige cuvée, meaning the highest-quality wine produced from a house. While some houses simply label wines as “NV” (non-vintage), Krug gives each new release of its Grande Cuvée an edition number. The newest, 171, brings together 131 wines from 12 different years. The 2015 harvest is the youngest in the blend, and 2000 is the oldest. It’s also one of the longest-aging, non-vintage wines—approximately seven years. $259.99,

Henriot Cuve 38

Speaking of perpetual cuvées, Henriot’s Cuve 38 contains a blend of wines from more than 30 vintages. Since 2007, the house has released tiny quantities of this wine—enough for just 1,000 magnums. After every harvest, 10 percent of new wine goes into this single vessel—called Cuve 38, from which the wine gets its moniker, while a small percentage is taken out, put through a second fermentation, and aged on the lees for approximately six years. $399,


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