Wine

Why Are There So Many New Champagne Cuvées This Year?

A recent influx of new releases from Champagne houses has been spurred by a changing climate, a move towards terroir specificities, and increasing demand for this sparkling wine

Frédéric Panïotis, chef de cave for Ruinart, inspects a bottle of Champagne
Frédéric Panïotis (pictured above), the chef de cave at Ruinart, decided to introduce a new cuvée due to the impact of a changing climate. Photo credit: Yan Senez.

“The offer of Champagne today is way wider than before,” says Emilien Boutillat, the chef de cave at Piper-Heidsieck. Though the classic styles remain, “we also see more and more premium blends of non-vintage Champagne, extra-brut Champagne, mono-cépages, and plenty of mono-terroir Champagne as well.”

This year in particular has seen a bumper crop of new offerings in the world of Champagne, a confluence of independent decisions made as many as a dozen years ago, given the time it takes to prepare a new cuvée. Some houses are responding to climate change or reflecting the growing movement towards sustainable viticulture in the region. Others reflect the growing interest in Champagne as a wine, rather than just as a celebratory beverage. And still others simply wanted a refresh to ensure they were making the most of Champagne’s popularity.

As these new cuvées hit the market, SevenFifty Daily spoke with producers and regional experts about the new wines, the motivations behind them, and what they signify about the state of the region.

New Wines for a New Climate

“Consumers are demanding and curious about transparency and sustainability,” says Boutillat, who began separating Piper-Heidsieck’s sustainably farmed grapes from the rest of the crop in 2019, the year after he arrived at the house. Piper-Heidsieck was an early adopter of the Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne (VDC) program introduced in 2014; all of the house’s vineyards have been certified since 2015, and some of their partners’ vineyards are as well. Only VDC-certified grapes would go into a new wine, released this year: the Essentiel Blanc de Noirs. 

Other houses are emphasizing their red grapes in new cuvées as well—a turnabout, as the Blanc de Blancs style has always been more common in the region than Blanc de Noirs. The Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs ‘Assemblage No. 4’ made its appearance this year, and in the past five years Bollinger has released three Blanc de Noirs Champagnes: PN, B13, and La Côte aux Enfants Champagne to complement their already highly-regarded Vieilles Vignes Françaises. 

Peter Liem, the author of Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region, says Champagne’s red grapes are now better able to stand on their own. “In the past everyone felt that Pinot Noir and Meunier needed Chardonnay for finesse,” he says, but vineyard improvements and climate change are coaxing more and more elegance and ripeness from the red varieties.

At Ruinart, however, Chardonnay is king, and the house is well-known for their Blanc de Blancs. But this year, spurred by the impact of the changing climate, Ruinart released another all-Chardonnay wine: the Blanc Singulier. 

Left to right: Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs (photo courtesy of Armand de Brignac); Leclerc Brianr's 'Les Monts Ferrés' 2018 (photo courtesy of Leclerc Briant); Lanson 'Le Blanc Création (photo courtesy of Lanson).
Left to right: Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs ‘Assemblage No. 4’ (photo courtesy of Armand de Brignac); Leclerc Briant ‘Les Monts Ferrés’ 2018 (photo courtesy of Leclerc Briant); Lanson ‘Le Black Création’ (photo courtesy of Lanson).

“The climate for the vines in Champagne in 2018 was similar to the climate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the 1980s,” says chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis. “In these warmer years, instead of trying to blend in and use wines that are different in profile, we can set aside the more atypical ones and work with them together in a separate wine.” 

Since the base wines were riper and softer in character, Panaïotis was able to omit the dosage for the Blanc Singulier, yielding a non-dosé wine that doesn’t have the austerity Panaïotis dislikes in some other brut nature Champagnes. Ruinart will only make the Blanc Singulier in vintages where enough vineyards experience the warmer conditions that inspired it, but Panaïotis notes that these are increasingly common.

A Movement Towards Specificity

Not all of the new Champagne cuvées are a response to changing vineyard conditions. Leclerc Briant introduced their fourth single-vineyard Champagne, Les Monts Ferrés, a 100 percent Chardonnay wine from the southern tip of the Côtes de Blancs. Single-vineyard Champagnes have been on the rise since the mid-1990s, says Liem, part of a move that emphasizes Champagne’s repositioning as a terroir-based wine rather than purely a creation of the cellar. 

“The success of Burgundy’s wines also highlights the importance of the soils and climate, so we’ve started to explore that as well,” adds Boutillat. As producers took a renewed interest in their vineyards, vinifying parcels separately became more common. Producers began to discover which vineyards could create balanced, expressive, and unique wines on their own and began bottling these separately rather than losing them in a cuvée. 

Henri Giraud, on the other hand, tapped into the resources of their cellars, introducing the PR 90-19. They draw on two perpetual reserve tanks—tanks containing reserve wines that have been topped off, vintage after vintage—to create the Champagne. In this case, one tank dates back to 1990 and the other to the 1950s; the most recent wine added to either was from 2019. 

“The perpetual reserves represent the concentrated extract that we find in all Henri Giraud champagnes,” says CEO Emmanuelle Giraud. “For the first time in its history, and that of Champagne, we are today revealing the original taste of a 100 percent perpetual reserve cuvée.”



Fresh Cuvées for Old Houses

Other Champagne houses are reinventing parts of their portfolio. “The independent winegrowers want to highlight the specificity and uniqueness of their individual vineyards, pushing the houses to reinvent themselves as well with what make the houses styles so unique: the art of blending,” says Boutillat. 

Moët & Chandon built their new flagship Champagne, the Impériale Création No. 1, on base wines from 2013; additional releases in the series are planned every couple of years leading up to 2043, the house’s 300th birthday. Designed to celebrate the house’s long history, the wine draws on seven different vintages, matured in casks and in the bottle.

Form left to right: Peter Liem, author of <i>Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region</i> (photo courtesy of Gentl Hyers); Hervé Dantan, winemaker for Lanson (photo courtesy of Lanson); Hervé Jestin, winemaker for Leclerc Briant (photo courtesy of Leclerc Briant); Emilien Boutillat, chef de cave at Piper Heidieck (photo courtesy of Piper Heidsieck).
Form left to right: Peter Liem, the author of Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region (photo courtesy of Gentl Hyers); Hervé Dantan, the winemaker for Lanson (photo courtesy of Lanson); Hervé Jestin, the winemaker for Leclerc Briant (photo courtesy of Leclerc Briant); Emilien Boutillat, the chef de cave at Piper-Heidsieck (photo courtesy of Piper-Heidsieck).

While Moët & Chandon’s new release reconceptualizes their high-end offering, Lanson has reinvented their core wine. The 257th blend in the house’s history is Le Black Création 257, and the Black Label is no more. While the new wine is not a vintage product, future releases will bear the cuvée number going forward, with a QR code on each bottle to learn more about its components.

Winemaker Hervé Dantan says this increased transparency is meant to introduce new customers to Lanson as a wine, but the black label will still remain familiar enough to established fans. Ten years of change and investment prompted the refresh, even if the fresh style the house is known for hasn’t really changed. “In the last decade we made many investments in the winery and in the vineyards,” Dantan says. “We’ve become more sustainable and gone organic or biodynamic in some of the vineyards, and in the cellar we’ve introduced many new vats so we can vinify more plots separately, and more oak casks for the aging of reserve wines.”

While there are many motivations behind this diverse crop of new Champagne offerings on the market, Liem suggests that the fundamental reason is demand. “Champagne has never been more popular,” he says. “I’ve been following it for 30 years and have never seen the amount of interest I see today.”

Dispatch

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Jim Clarke writes about wine, beer, and spirits for trade and consumer publications, including Beverage Media, Fortune, and World of Fine Wine. He is a sommelier and the U.S. marketing manager for Wines of South Africa.

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