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2012 Champagne: a versatile classic

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The 2012 vintage is tipped as one of the greatest this century – following in the footsteps of 2008, 2002 and 1996. We spoke to some of the region’s top producers to find out more about the year and the wines it produced

The 2012 vintage in Champagne is one of the most celebrated in recent years. The vintage was blessed by what the Champenois call a “Champagne miracle”. Initial outbreaks of frost and mildew drastically reduced yields, but a cool growing season was transformed in August. A pleasant, dry, sunny spell through late summer led up to ideal harvest conditions. A healthy crop of small, concentrated berries was harvested – combining excellent ripeness and acidity, with both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay performing well.

It wasn’t an easy year – in fact Louis Roederer Cellar Master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon described it as “one of the most challenging and complicated years ever experienced in Champagne”. However, as he noted “difficult conditions often lead to great things”, and the warm end to the season resulted in “unusual levels of maturity, resulting in rich, full-bodied and structured wines”. For Thomas Jorez at Philipponnat, the 2012 vintage is comparable to, and potentially surpasses, the excellent 2002 vintage – in the same way that the 2008 vintage surpassed the legendary 1996 – high praise indeed.

Pinot Noir in particular was impacted by the early frosts, however the little fruit that was harvested was therefore particularly concentrated. This played beautifully into the hands of Philipponnat, based in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and very much a Pinot Noir led house. In fact, Jorez almost plays down how special the conditions were, given their house style, which favours strong, rich, vinous and ripe, yet always perfectly balanced and fresh wines: “2012 was very good for us, but not miles away from what we usually make,” Jorez said. Tasting at Philipponnat’s cellars in Mareuil, the 2012 Blanc de Noirs stood out in a fantastic line-up as a wine of brilliant opulence and exuberance, a rich hazelnut and praline nose that became more floral with time in glass, and with amazing energy, drive and electric freshness.

But this is not to say that 2012 was purely a Pinot Noir year. Pol Roger has released a Blanc de Blancs and Gosset made a beautiful 2012 – the first vintage to be released since the 2006 (also considered a Pinot Noir vintage). For Gosset Cellar Master Odilon de Varine-Bohan, the Chardonnay fruit from this vintage provided the perfect balance of ripeness and freshness, elegance and dynamism to make a complex, layered and energetic Champagne that is gorgeous even in its relative youth and will age fantastically well. Unlike the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay enjoyed a very balanced, uneventful vintage, and so Chardonnay-based 2012s offer both fantastic quality as well as decent quantity to be able to stock up for drinking now, in the medium and longer term.

The wines are, in general, powerful, fresh and linear but complex and sophisticated – the year’s conditions bringing a distinctive vibrancy and intensity to the wines. A great vintage, the wines promise a long future in the cellar.

The vintage in brief

  • Tricky early start to the season with frost and mildew, but a fine, sunny end

  • A small crop – especially for Pinot Noir which nevertheless excelled

  • Ripe, concentrated yet beautifully fresh wines

  • Compared to 2008, 2002 and 1996

Browse all 2012 Champagne

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