The Difference Between Multi-Vintage and Nonvintage Champagnes

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In 2021, Champagne producer Louis Roederer made headlines when it decided to stop making its best-selling nonvintage Brut Premier, replacing it with a new multi-vintage cuvĂ©e called “Collection.” It’s the latest producer to announce such a change, following in the footsteps of houses like Jacquesson, which—over 20 years ago—got rid of its nonvintage blend in favor of the CuvĂ©e seven-series.

Besides Jacquesson, a handful of other houses also have multi-vintage offerings: Krug makes its Grand CuvĂ©e, Laurent Perrier makes Grand Siecle Iterations and Champagne Lallier created the multi-vintage bottling SeriĂ© R (the “R” stands for “Recolte,” the French word for “harvest”). But are these multi-vintage wines all that different from their nonvintage counterparts?

The answer is a resounding “oui.”

What Is Nonvintage?

If you’ve ever enjoyed a moderately-priced bottle of yellow label Veuve Cliquot or blue label Nicolas Feuillatte, you’re probably somewhat familiar with nonvintage Champagne—these wines don’t have a singular harvest year (aka “vintage”) specified on the label. The wine industry has long used the term “nonvintage” (sometimes written as “NV”) to indicate wines made with grapes from several harvest years. This is a particularly important practice in Champagne, where wine reserves are kept to mitigate the effects of a bad growing season.

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“Traditionally blends were made to avoid the vintage’s effects like yield and quality,” says Maximilien Bernardeau, enologist at Station Oenotechnique de Champagne (SOEC). “[Blends also help] preserve the same taste year after year.”

Nonvintage bottlings account for over 75% of Champagne shipped around the world, according to data provided by the Comité Champagne. Part of the allure of these wines is that since they’re made yearly, and in large quantities, they’re typically more abundant and less expensive than vintage Champagnes. They have a consistent style and familiar flavor profile, regardless of the release date.

The Nuance of Multi-Vintage

While all nonvintage Champagnes are technically “multi-vintage,” the producers opting to use that specific verbiage want to differentiate these bottlings from a typical house blend. Because the term “multi-vintage” isn’t one regulated by Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) rules, how each house chooses to blend can vary greatly—they only have to abide by the same guidelines as they would if they labeled their wine as nonvintage.

For Louis Roederer, the new multi-vintage process involves a base wine created from a “reserve perpetuelle,” much like the solera system used when making Sherry: A reserve of older vintages is kept in a vat that is replenished with wine from the current harvest. For Jacquesson, the base wine comes from the most recent harvest, supplemented by 20 to 30 percent reserve wines. At Krug, the Grand CuvĂ©e is centered on a specific harvest year, then meticulously blended with dozens of wines from ten or more different years. Lallier focuses on a single harvest mixed with small quantities of vintage years, and Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle blends just three outstanding vintage years.

CLR Reserve Perpetuelle Stainless tank
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While nonvintage wines strive for uniformity and consistency from year to year, multi-vintage wines manage to retain a more distinct style. They’re also meant to highlight the best attributes of a specific harvest and offer unique characteristics for each bottling—all traits that are usually only associated with vintage Champagnes.

“We now blend our multi-vintage with a vintage philosophy more than a non-vintage philosophy,” says Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chef de cave at Louis Roederer. “Each blend—242, 243—has a distinctive character and singularity of its own. That gives a real identity to each wine, almost like a vintage.”

A Stepping Stone to Vintage

Vintage Champagnes are only made in the most exceptional years, which is why they are highly coveted by wine collectors and connoisseurs, and often reserved for special occasions. For casual drinkers of sparkling wines, making a foray into vintage Champagnes can be quite a costly endeavor; the price of many bottles start at over a hundred dollars and, depending on the year and availability, can range well into the thousands.

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But just because a Champagne is considered vintage doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a superior wine.

“Even a qualitative vintage is not perfect, except for a very rare vintage like 2008,” says Bernardeau. “[Multi-vintage, which are] blends of the best vintages to get a high-quality cuvée, are often better than a single vintage.”

Multi-vintage options aren’t necessarily inexpensive, but they are often more accessible than their single-vintage counterparts. They can also offer insight and education about vintage variations without losing the consistency of a house’s signature style. These blends are the perfect vehicle for exploration by combining the best of both vintage and nonvintage cuvées.

“Elevating our ambitions toward a multi-vintage freed us from any previously imposed formula,” adds Lecaillion.

In short, multi-vintage Champagne may fall under the umbrella of nonvintage wine, but the category allows winemakers more creative latitude since they aren’t trying to make the exact same wine as the year before. The resulting wines are often more expressive and complex, and may lend themselves better to aging.

To many, this puts them a cut above your typical nonvintage Champagne—something worth raising a glass to.

Published on November 17, 2022
Topics: Champagne