There has been a lot of debate on whether champagne labels should carry disgorgement dates. Some critics favor the idea while others do not. The fact that more and more producers are adding this information to labels seems to show precedence in favor of the practice. Why is this? Because wine disgorged six months ago will taste quite different from the same wine disgorged four years ago. [What is disgorgement?] Some retailers are against labeling this information because they believe most consumers think the most recent disgorgement is the best bottle. Personally, if I have a choice, I will go for the older disgorgement, and I think many consumers would too if they understood the effects of post-disgorgement maturation.
Prior to my visit to Reims, I certainly would not know enough about the topic to care one way or another. Who cares about disgorgement dates anyway? Champagne is Champagne. There are good reasons why disgorgement dates are so important and my opinion changed with a visit to the area, talking in depth amid three forward thinking producers.
Bruno Paillard, Charles Philipponnat, and Pierre Gimonnet are at the forefront of this matter. They all have interesting remarks about disgorgement and ageing potential. Probably the most important takeaway during this trip was when I sat down with Bruno to conduct an experiment. Bruno produces brut champagnes, all of which have particularly low residual sugar. I do not recall the exact sugar levels used for the experiment, but it was around 4g/L. “I want you to taste the difference…,” exclaimed Bruno, as he pulled out four identical base wines of the same year that had undergone different post-disgorgement ageing. “Many people think champagne does not age simply because that has been the dominant message for decades. But when a consumer gets a chance to discover the effects of post-disgorgement maturation, it changes their opinions.”
The evolution of post-disgorgement maturation is what Bruno calls ‘life after dégorgement’ where the wine passes through five or six ‘lives.’ Each life builds upon its last as the wine takes on different personalities in the bottle. The younger the disgorgement, the fruiter—the older the disgorgement, the toastier it gets.
This graphic is my interpretation from a conversation I had with Bruno Paillard on post-disgorgement ageing. I give him full credit for the content and hope that this information is useful as a quick reference guide for educational purposes.
Discovering the Effects of Post Disgorgement Maturation by Enobytes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Citrus and red fruits dominate the first life with lively acidity. The second evolution goes into a white flower and rose’s stage, or ‘age of the flower. The third accentuates spiced notes, nuts, almonds and hazelnuts—also known as the age of spices, which moves to baked bread notes known as the age of toasted. On its final journey, the wine evolves towards candied fruit, gingerbread, honey and roasted aromas, the stage of fullness.
One of the biggest revelations was to taste the ten-year old disgorgement. I expected it to be undrinkable but on the contrary, it was quite interesting. There were no oxidized flavors. Rather, it attributed notes of toasted bread, orange marmalade, ginger bread and bees wax notes. I questioned Bruno why there was no oxidation. He attributes it to the high acidity and 22% barrel fermentation.
“According to the conditions of conservation, this maturity – fruit-floral-spice-toast-candied-roasted can be short or long. It will still take a minimum of four to five years after disgorging to obtain the first spiced notes and even decades to attain full maturity. Only the greatest champagnes can offer this path of evolution that real aficionados look for, as they have pleasure in keeping these wines in their cellar among other grands crus.” ~ Bruno Paillard
I also talked with Charles Philipponnat who is an advocate for declaring the disgorgement date on bottles. “All houses should do it unless they are too ashamed of their short ageing time” and went on to say that dosages have reduced considerably over the last ten years. His ‘1522’ and Clos des Goisses are around 4-5g/L, and he ferments a portion of the wine in barrels. I tasted an older disgorged ‘1522’ and Clos des Goisses—both were wonderful wines with no oxidation.
My last stop was at Pierre Gimonnet. He poured me a seven year disgorged 2002 Fils Cuvée Millésime de Collection (5g/L). This stuff was simply magical—creamy with an unbelievable full-mouth feel. I can’t even begin to describe its superior qualities. I also tried one of his older Extra Brut Oenophile 1er Cru, Non dosé, which Pierre likes to depict as, “A wine without dosage is like a woman without makeup” – simply delicious, lively, vibrant and inviting.
Coming back full circle, I believe labels should include disgorgement dates because nuggets of information such as this construct a picture of what is inside the bottle. Those that argue consumers only want to seek out the freshest (and in turn pass up champagnes with older disgorgement dates) are only accurate for those in quest of fresher, livelier styles. For those in search of discovering and experiencing older disgorgements, seek them out through a reputable retailer as they will not disappoint. I might also point out my advocacy for including base wine dates to non-vintage labeling but that is a debate for another post. Until then, experiment with older disgorgements and find a few favorites.
My passion around this subject lead me to obtain a Champagne Wine Location Specialist certification through the Center for Wine Origins, which collaborates with the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC).