In the end of November I held a tasting of vintage 2002 Champagnes in the wine tasting club AuZone. 2002 is a top-notch vintage, and this time the focus of the tasting was larger producers, both Champagne houses and some major cooperatives, and I did not include any small grower Champagnes. The selection was a mix of “regular” vintage Champagnes, i.e., “non-prestige” cuvées and some prestige cuvées, but mostly those where the pricing is less than stratospheric.
About the 2002 vintage
One thing that is characteristic of the 2002 vintage is a high maturity, which means that most 2002 Champagnes have good “substance” and concentration. What makes the vintage great is that they also have good acidity, providing freshness, and balance. Most Champagne critics seem to agree that 2002 is the best Champagne vintage in the 1997-2007 period, i.e., you need to go to 1996 and 2008 to find better vintages. On the level of individual Champagnes, there will of course be cases where e.g. the 2004 is better than the 2002 despite the overall assessment of the vintage. By the way, the most common other opinion than 2002 being the best vintage in this period is probably a tie between 2002 and 2004, possibly with 1998 thrown in for good measure.
In horizontal Champagne tastings, i.e. tastings of many wines of the same vintage, the comparison is always complicated a bit by the fact that the Champagnes are disgorged and released at different times.
Ignoring late-disgorged versions of Champagne that have been released earlier, such as Dom Pérignon P2 and DT versions from Jacquesson, most but not all of the “late appearing” 2002 prestige cuvées have been released by now. Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill, Salon and Bollinger R.D. were all released the past year. Among the “usual suspects” those we haven’t seen yet include Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs (most recent vintage 1998, and 1999 was released in a magnum-only special version, so we’ll have to see if there’s a 2000 first or not), Krug Vintage (moved from 2000 to 2003, since that is a faster-maturing vintage) and the two single vineyard Krug, Lanson Noble Cuvée and Noble Cuvée Blanc de Blancs (most recent vintage for both is 2000), and Boizel Joyau de France (most recent vintage 2000). So it is not yet possible to arrange the ultimate 2002 prestige cuvée tasting, but I’d be glad to show up as a participant once it’s time for one (or preferably several) of those. 🙂 Two notable prestige cuvées that unfortunately weren’t produced in 2002, most likely for pure commercial reasons, are Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame and Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires.
We tasted eight Champagnes, served blind (sent around covered with aluminium foil), and the participants had to vote before the bottles were uncovered and presented in a random order, i.e., they also had to guess which bottle that corresponded to which glass. This was a two bottle tasting but in one case (Bollinger LGA) I used a magnum instead, so not much guessing which bottle corresponded to glass number 8 once the bottles had been uncovered. My quality check before serving, the discussion and the voting pattern didn’t indicate any bottle variation among the seven two-bottle pairs.
My conclusion from this tasting is that the vintage lives up to its reputation both in terms of quality and style. Most of them were definitely good and several of them showed rather ripe aromas and a foody style but with no lack of acidity, minerality or elegance. Two of the Champagnes underachieved compared to my expectation, and one overachieved. One was clearly more developed than expected (but this is probably a producer style), while several of them would benefit from more time in the cellar.
2002 Jacquart Mosaïque Millesimé
40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, and 25% Pinot Meunier.
Yellow colour. Powerful nose that is noticeably smoky with some burnt match character, bready and developed notes, yellow apples and other yellow fruits with hints of tropical fruit. Definitely a developed style! Palate with citrus, green and yellow apple, rather good concentration, some spice, some mineral, high acidity, and a long “citrus-fresh” aftertaste with a lot of mineral. In summary a pleasant development but perhaps not too complex nose, and a fresh and balanced palate. 89 p
2 best and 2 worst votes.
2002 Louis Roederer Vintage
Approx. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.
Yellow colour. Nose with peach, citrus including zest, minerality with smoke and bread, as well as some sherry notes. Pinot notes, fruity but rather developed. The palate is medium-bodied + with good concentration, peach, red apple, some spice notes with a little pepper, good acidity, and a fruity aftertaste. Fruity and in a rather foody style, nice development, quite good! 91 p
1 best vote.
2002 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs
Light yellow colour. Nose with citrus, a hint of elderflower, green apple, and noticeable minerality with chalky notes. Rather young nose, the most citrus-dominated of the flight and one out of two coming across as quite young. Palate with citrus, noticeable minerality, green apple, high acidity, quite mineral-dominated aftertaste with some “steely” character. Still young, a very typical blanc de blancs style but a bit one-diminensional on the palate. 89+ p
1 best and 7 worst votes.
I liked this vintage better when it was younger, and since Salon-Delamotte usually produces long-lived Champagnes it seems reasonable to assume that this one has entered a somewhat closed-down phase. But I am still a bit surprised how it comes across, and some other participants at the tasting doubted that it would actually turn around.
2002 De Saint Gall Cuvée Orpale
Light yellow colour. Rather noticeably smoky nose with green and yellow apple, some red apple, other ripe fruit, and some peach. A rather powerful nose with an impression that hints at oak. The palate is medium bodied with citrus, yellow apple, noticeable minerality that is almost salty, high acidity, and a fresh aftertaste with citrus and a lot of mineral. Young, can take a lot more cellaring. 91+ p
1 worst vote.
Compared to my previous impression, I now found more mineral and less ripe fruit, but I’d still place Orpale on the fruity rather than the firm side of the (prestige) blanc de blancs spectrum.
2002 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or
50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay?
Rather light yellow colour. Nose with citrus, elderflower, some peach, a small touch of tropical fruit, candy and flower notes, mineral, and a hint of smoke. A pleasant nose but with some “simpler” notes, and one out of two that definitely come across as young. Palate with elderflower, yellow apple, citrus, quite high acidity, a hint of bitterness, and some candy notes. Somewhat simple aromas although the concentration is rather good. It could perhaps develop, but it doesn’t strike me as a Champagne delivering on the level of a prestige cuvée. 87-88 p?
7 worst votes including mine, and therefore voted the worst wine of the tasting.
This is the prestige cuvée from the gigantic cooperative Nicolas Feuillatte. To be frank, I’ve never been really impressed by anything I’ve tasted from them, but this must clearly be marked as a fail for a 2002 prestige cuvée. Also knowing what it was, I had expected it to be better, given the quality of the vintage and the enormous grape supply at their disposal. It happens that young prestige blanc de blancs produced in a firm style (such as Salon) receive low scores at blind tastings since they are so tightly coiled, but I don’t think that a similar phenomenon is the full explanation here. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it could become better with cellaring. My first impression when I opened the bottles and quickly tasted a few drops to make sure all bottles were OK, was that it was similar to a young Dom Pérignon, but this was definitely not an impression that lasted to the actual tasting.
2002 Dom Pérignon
60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir.
Yellow colour. The nose is noticeably smoky with some burnt match, yellow apple, hints of peach, minerality, elegance and some development. The palate is medium bodied + with good concentration, peach, yellow apple, noticeable minerality with salinity, high acidity, a hint of spice, and an aftertaste with a lot of minerality. Fine balance and elegance, could develop more, 93(+) p.
8 best and 1 worst votes, and therefore voted the best wine of the tasting.
A worthy representative of a top vintage! Again it is proved that Dom Pérignon, despite being produced in huge quantities, is a true top-class Champagne in the best vintages.
2002 Drappier Grande Sendrée
55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay.
A full yellow colour. Nose with peach, red apples, some winter apples/old apples appear with some time in the glass, noticeable bread notes, some smoke, some development and nuanced character. Fruity with pronounced Pinot notes but also development. Palate with winter apples/old apples, spice, some peach, minerality that comes through the other notes, good acidity, and an aftertaste with old apples. A foody Pinot style and more or less fully developed. 91 p
9 best and 4 worst votes.
The quite developed style was apparently somewhat controversial, but also appreciated by many. (In AuZone, the call to vote usually is phrased “best right now”, so many will go for fully developed wine if that’s what they like, rather than factoring in potential for further development.) The Jacquart also had a developed nose, but none of the other were as developed on the palate as the Grande Sendrée. I must say that it came across as more developed than expected, but on the other hand I should perhaps not be surprised that also the prestige cuvée from Drappier develops fast. (A post where I describe Drappier, following a mid-2013 visit, can be read here.) In general, Drappier includes a lot of “southern Pinot” in their cuvées and go light on the sulfur, two factors that both can lead to a quicker development.
2002 Bollinger La Grande Année
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Magnum disgorged November 2011.
Yellow colour. Nose with ripe yellow apple and red apple, some fried apple, after a while some winter apples, honey, peach and some oak notes. Finely nuanced Pinot notes with some maturity, but not too oxidative. Palate with red apple, peach, some citrus, noticeable minerality, good acidity, some spice notes, and an apply aftertaste with mineral. Foody style with Pinot fruit, some development now but could definitely evolve more with time in the cellar, 93+ p.
2 best and 1 worst votes, including my best vote.
The above tasting note could be compared to my impression of a 75 cl bottle I opened on New Year’s Eve. The tasting note was taken on New Year’s Day, however, and it was saved in the fridge using a “Champagne saver”. How the bottle managed to survived the New Year without being finished? Well, this bottle wasn’t exactly the only one popped, and it was served with one dish at dinner.
2002 Bollinger La Grande Année
Disgorged July 2011 (sold in the new green/white box that opens sideways as opposed to the bulkier white box with a hinged lid).
Deep yellow colour with some darker hints. A rather powerful nose with yellow and red apples including winter apples and old apples, just a small hint of red berries and dried fruit, some pepper and other spicy notes, and oak barrel notes in the background. Medium bodied ++, good concentration of red and yellow apples including winter apples, rather spicy with pepper notes, good acidity, some mineral, and an apply and spicy aftertaste. Ready to drink, 92-93 p.
This one came across as clearly less developed than the magnum above, and also with more spicy notes and less minerality. Of course, it comes as no surprise that a regular bottle is more developed.