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The Performance Tables

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1998 & 1997

First impressions can be misleading, but they do to confirm my feelings at vin clair stage. Neither year was a great vintage, but like 1992 and 1993 I suspect that we will see a large number of very good Champagnes and not a few truly excellent one. That is because they were large harvests and with strict selection it was easy to blend wines well above the average quality. Furthermore, if we see as many producers declaring these two vintages as we did 1992 and 1993, it is easier for pundits to find the wines that stick out in terms of pure quality. In terms of fruit, structure and acidity 1998 seems to mirror 1993 while 1997 is similar to 1992. In theory the 1997s have a slight edge over the 1998s, just as the 1992s had over the 1993s, yet it was a close call and quite possibly the 1993s will eventually be seen to have triumphed, so who knows? Especially as the earliest that the 1998s can be commercially disgorged is January 2002 and we won't see many examples of this vintage on the shelf until the second quarter of 2003. The 1998 here is, of course, a preview sample.

87 Mumm Cordon Rouge 1998 Brut Millésime
87 Mumm Cordon Rouge 1997 Brut Millésime
85 Gallimard Père & Fils 1997 Cuvée Prestige, Brut Millésime

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1996

The problem with announcing that any vintage is special is that it will be a long time before the first wines hit the market, thus anticipation inevitably builds up, yet the first Champagnes to be released of any vintage are unlikely to be the best, consequently hopes are often dashed. It happened with the 1990s, but look how great those turned out to be (and some like Krug are not expected to be launched for a year or more). We are now only just beginning to see the start of the first wave of 1996s. There is some dross, as there always will be, whatever the vintage, but after they have been eliminated we are left with some exceptionally fine offerings for such an early juncture in the campaign. I am more convinced than ever that 1996 could well be greater than 1990.

98 Vilmart & Cie 1996 Coeur de Cuvée, Brut Premiers Crus
97 Pol Roger 1996 Brut
97 Gosset 1996 Grand Millésime Brut
91 Henri Mandois 1996 Cuvée Victor Mandois, Brut
90 Cuvée Charles Gardet 1996 Brut
90 Mailly Grand Cru 1996 La Terre, Brut
90 Pommery 1996 Brut Millésimé, B42
89 Henri Mandois 1996 Millésimé, Brut Premier Cru
89 Mumm Cordon Rouge 1996 Brut Millésime
88 Perrier-Jouët 1996 Grand Brut
88 J. Charpentier 1996 Brut Millésime
87 Joseph Loriot-Pagel 1996 Brut Cuvée de Réserve
87 Henri Goutorbe 1996 Brut Grand Cru
87 Delbeck 1996 Cuvée Origines, Brut (magnum)
85 G.H. Martel & Co. 1996 Cuvée Victoire, Brut
84 Philippe Brugnon 1996 Brut
84 Paul Goerg 1996 Millésimé, Brut Premier Cru
84 Marie-Noelle Ledru 1996 Brut Millésime Grand Cru
84 Egérie de Pannier 1996 Brut
84 Taittinger 1996 Brut Millésimé

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1995

The extra maturity of the 1993s and 1992s made the best Champagnes from those years seem better than the 1995s last year, but we are now into the full swing of this vintage and it is blossoming beautifully. Not only is this vintage showing more class in general than either 1993 or 1992, it is turning out to be even better than 1995 was expected to be, and there are a number of top-notch 1995s still to come

97 Bollinger 1995 Grande Année, Brut
93 Gosset Celebris 1995 Brut
92 Louis Roederer 1995 Cristal Brut
91 Goutorbe 1995 Brut Grand Cru
91 Pol Roger 1995 Brut
91 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils 1995 Les Cuvées de l'An 2000, Brut (magnum)
90 Ployez-Jacquemart 1995 Brut Vintage
90 Taittinger 1995 Brut Millésimé
90 Billecart-Salmon 1995 Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart, Brut
90 Deutz 1995 Cuvée William Deutz, Brut
90 Perrier-Jouët 1995 Belle Epoque Brut
89 Nicolas Feuillatte 1995 Verzy
89 Drappier 1995 Grande Sendrée, Brut
89 Deutz 1995 Brut
89 R de Ruinart 1995 Brut
89 Louis Roederer 1995 Brut Vintage
89 Alain Thienot 1995 Grande Cuvée, Brut
89 Delbeck 1995 Cuvée Origines, Brut (magnum)
88 de Venoge 1995 Brut Millésimé
88 Alain Thienot 1995 Brut Millésime
88 Lanson Gold Label 1995 Brut
88 Moët & Chandon 1995 Brut Impérial
88 Egérie de Pannier 1995 Brut
88 Bruno Paillard 1995 Brut Millésime
88 Pommery 1995 Brut Grand Cru
87 Tsarine 1995 Brut Millésime, Chanoine
87 Nicolas Feuillatte 1995 Mesnil
87 Maurice Vesselle 1995 Brut Millésime, Grand Cru
87 Cuvée Charles Gardet 1995 Brut
87 Joseph Perrier 1995 Cuvée Royale Brut
87 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 1995 Brut Vintage Réserve
86 Nicolas Feuillatte 1995 Cramant
86 H. Blin & Co 1995 Brut
86 Duval-Leroy 1995 Fleur de Champagne, Millésimé Brut
86 Henriot 1995 Brut Millésime
85 Beaumet 1995 Cuvée Brut
85 Demoiselle 1995 Grande Cuvée Brut
85 Nostalgie 1995 Brut
85 de Castellane 1995 Croix Rouge Brut Millésimé
84 Guy Charbaut 1995 Brut
84 Daniel Dumont 1995 Brut Réserve Millésime, Premier Cru
84 Nicolas Feuillatte 1995 Chouilly
84 Mercier 1995 Vendange Brut
84 Piper-Heidsieck 1995 Brut
84 Jean Velut 1995 Cuvée Millésimée, Brut
84 Beaumont des Crayères 1995 Fleur de Prestige, Brut
84 Tarlant 1995 Brut
84 Massé 1995 Brut
82 Guy Cadel 1995 Brut
82 Heidsieck Monopole 1995 Gold Top Brut
80 Besserat de Bellefon 1995 Brut Grande Tradition

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1994

The worst of the lesser vintages between the great 1990s and the excellent 1995s, all four of which were spoiled by rain at harvest time. Nothing this year to challenge Louis Roederer Cristal (92 points) from the last edition.

85 La Préférence de Baron Albert 1994 Brut Millésime
82 Louis Roederer 1994 Brut Vintage

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1993

On paper the ripeness and acidity levels achieved during this vintage are less favourable than those of 1992. Tasted blind two years apart Dom Pérignon edges out Louis Roederer Cristal by just one point. I'll have to do a head-to-head at some time!

96 Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut 1993 Moët & Chandon
90 Vilmart & Cie 1993 Coeur de Cuvée, Brut Premier Crus
90 Pol Roger 1993 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut
89 Gosset 1993 Grand Millésime Brut
88 Laurent-Perrier 1993 Brut Vintage
88 Pol Roger 1993 Brut
87 Philipponnat 1993 Réserve Millésimée, Brut
87 de Venoge 1993 Grand Vin des Princes Brut
86 Gauthier 1993 Brut Millésime
85 R. Blin et Fils 1993 Brut Millésime
84 Jean Moutardier 1993 Brut Millésime

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1992

Theoretically the only vintage quality year between 1990 and 1995, and although it has provided some excellent Champagnes, 1993 has turned out to be superior.

89 Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut 1992 Moët & Chandon
88 Pommery 1992 Brut Grand Cru
88 Bollinger 1992 Grande Année, Brut
86 Mailly 1992 Deux Mille
85 Nicolas Feuillatte 1992 Cuvée Palmes d'Or, Brut (magnum)
84 Bricout 1992 Cuvée Millésime Brut
84 Nicolas Feuillatte 1992 Brut Millésimé, Premier Cru
84 Nicolas Feuillatte 1992 Cuvée Palmes d'Or, Brut

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1991

Although less houses declared this vintage and the ripeness-acidity levels were the less impressive than either 1992 or 1993, some producers evidently got it right. However, Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée in magnum stood head and shoulders above the rest two years ago and has jumped two percentile points in the meantime.

95 Vilmart & Cie 1991 Coeur de Cuvée, Brut (magnum)
87 Boizel 1991 Joyau de France, Brut
84 Philipponnat 1991 Réserve Spéciale Brut
84 Canard-Duchêne 1991 Brut
83 Alfred Gratien 1991 Brut

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1990

This is not only a true vintage, it is one of the 18 greatest Champagne vintages of the century. It is hard to believe for those who remember the 1976 Champagnes, but the grapes were riper in 1990 than they were in that drought year. What makes 1990 special, however, is that its grapes also possessed surprisingly high the acidity levels, with a much greater proportion of ripe tartaric to unripe malic than any other vintage on record. Sir Winston has been knocked off pole position by Krug (99 points), even though it will not be launched for a year or so and Clos des Goisses joins (from the previous two editions) Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvée at 96 points.

99 Krug Vintage 1990 Brut
98 Pol Roger 1990 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut
96 Philipponnat 1990 Clos des Goisses, Brut
92 L. d'Harbonville 1990 Brut
91 Femme de Champagne 1990 Brut Millésime
90 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils 1990 Les Cuvées de l'An 2000, Brut (magnum)
88 Chanoine 1990 Millésime Brut
88 Henriot 1990 Brut Millésime
88 Boizel 1990 Cuvée Sous Bois, Brut
87 Duval-Leroy 1990 Cuvée des Roys
86 Bricout 1990 Brut Réserve
86 Delbeck 1990 Brut Vintage
85 Bruno Paillard 1990 N.P.U., Nec Plus Ultra, Brut

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1989

The middle year of the great trio of exceptional successive vintages, 1989 was marked by the Pinot Noir, which had a physiological problem, causing coloration in some of the cheaper, earlier-released Champagnes. Also, acidity was very low and pH high for such a hyped-up vintage (only 1999 has had worse readings in the last 20 years), consequently some Champagnes were too heavy and oxidative. Krug defied these vintage characteristics to produce an extraordinarily pale Champagne with acidity that is more reminiscent of 1988 than 1989. Very few truly great 1989s are commercially available.

96 Krug Vintage 1989 Brut
90 Pommery 1989 Louise, Brut
89 Noble Cuvée de Lanson 1989 Brut

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1988

Although this vintage comes second to the 1990 out of the trio of three successive great Champagne years, the best 1988s will probably last as long as the best 1990s. I have just one six-bottle case left of Pol Roger 1988 (was 91 points three editions ago, but closer to 95 now) and I'm not sure how long I can keep my hands off it!

97 Krug Vintage 1988 Brut
89 Jacquesson & Fils 1988 Grand Vin Signature
89 Henriot 1988 Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, Brut
88 Mailly Grand Cru 1988 Cuvée Les Echansons, Brut
85 Divine 1988 Brut

Vintage Brut Champagne: 1985 and older

As part of the ongoing Millennium celebrations, a number of houses have decided to release old vintages from their library collection (Dom Pérignon did so too late for inclusion in this year's Guide). There is, however, huge variations in quality, which resulted in relatively few of these wines surviving my tasting. The champenois are, after all, French and it must be remembered that the French generally prefer their Champagnes young, thus it is not uncommon to find that the champenois are the last to understand the qualities that make a mature Champagne great. Often they think that because a Champagne is old a certain maderised or oxidised character is acceptable, but it's not, of course. In addition to complexity and finesse, the greatest mature Champagnes are those that remain the freshest and youngest for the longest period of time. It's that simple.

Only buy older vintages of Champagne that have come direct from the producer's cellars into a winemerchant's own cellars that you now to be good. Preferably buy direct from the producer on a visit. Only buy mature Champagne at auction if the provenance adheres to the above or you have tasted the an example from exactly the same lot.

98 Krug Collection 1981 Brut
98 Krug Collection 1979 Brut
98 Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut 1964 Moët & Chandon
97 Krug Collection 1953 Brut
95 Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut 1985 Moët & Chandon
92 Krug Collection 1982 Brut
91 Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut 1973 Moët & Chandon