The best champagnes of 2021
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One of the year’s most talked-about launches was Louis Roederer’s Collection 242 – a new multi-vintage cuvée that will replace Louis Roederer’s Brut Premier. Made with a higher percentage of mature reserve wines, and a touch more oak, it marries Roederer’s signature precision and salinity with just a little more succulence. What really makes it different from the Brut Premier, though, is the fact it will evolve from year to year in line with the vintage. “The reserve wines will be the heart of each blend,” says cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, “but the vintage will be its identity.”
On the vintage front, this was a year that saw the release of some long-awaited 2008s. Hailed by many as the best vintage this century, 2008 was characterised by wines with big, structured acidity and great length. Krug 2008 showed the whole spectrum of orange from prickly zest and marmalade to orange flower – a complex, architectural wine that really rewards time in the cellar. The prestige cuvée Rare showed 2008’s more delicate side, with fine, complex fruit characters and great freshness. There were also rosés with real gravitas. Gosset Celebris Rosé 2008 was big and textural, with notes of cranberries and blood orange, edged with dark chocolate and spiced wood. Billecart-Salmon’s Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon was also excellent, marrying fine cherry and clementine acidity with rose notes and a gentle creaminess.
Many houses that had already released a 2008 got their teeth into 2012 – another great vintage, but a riper one that’s easier-drinking now. Dom Pérignon 2012 combines sherbetty pineapple, greengage and yuzu with a whiff of flintlock. Another standout was La Perle 2012, the prestige cuvée from Bollinger’s sister house Ayala, blending cloud-like creaminess with crab-apple sharpness.
For a luxurious blanc de blancs consider Dom Ruinart 2009 – 100 per cent Grand Cru, aged eight years on the lees, it’s as vinous as a white burgundy, with musky white peach notes and an elegant toastiness. Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne 2011 already tastes fantastic: creamy lemon mousse, shortbread and a hint of struck match, borne on a wave of fine bubbles. Or for a great value non-vintage BdB, look to Champagne Palmer – its signature BdB is pure and silky with attractive aromas of lime flower. And if you see anything by chardonnay specialists Champagne Pierre Péters, snap it up.
Thanks to the increasingly noisy grower movement, 2021 was a year when unusual grape varieties came to the fore. Meunier most often plays a supporting role in blends (if it’s used at all). But more houses are now making cuvées that are majority or even entirely Meunier. The 100 per cent Meunier from up-and-coming Vadin-Plateau is excellent – fresh, floral and taut. Meanwhile, family-owned Drappier released its first 100 per cent Fromentau (Pinot Gris) champagne. Playfully entitled Trop m’en Faut! (“I can’t get enough!”), this unsweetened champagne is as esoteric as they come. But its character is generous and juicy, with notes of rosy apple skin and tropical fruit.