Vintage vs. Non-Vintage Champagne

Vintage vs. Non-Vintage Champagne featured photo

The popular metaphor “age like fine wine” doesn’t exist for no reason. People often think that vintage sparkling wine is old and regular bubbly is fresher, however, the debate is more of a comparison of flavors than a battle of age.

Vintage champagne offers a stronger and richer flavor profile, and it gets more delicious as years pass—thanks to its longer aging potential. Non-vintage champagne is lighter and brighter, with fresh citrus and delicate floral notes. It’s a great alternative for the everyday palate.

You see, each champagne has a unique taste. That might be enough to choose one over the other. But the truth is, both champagnes are delicious; they just offer different expressions.

Below, we’ll explore the difference between vintage and non-vintage champagne and the secrets behind their distinct characteristics. We’ll also talk about what makes one more expensive than the other and more.

What Is the Difference Between Vintage and Non-Vintage Champagne?

Champagne is a sparkling wine, but that doesn’t mean sparkling wine is always champagne. As per Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) regulations, sparkling can only be considered champagne if the grapes used for the production came from the Champagne region of France.

Vintage and non-vintage champagnes use the same grape varieties. Both wines go through the same process. However, the key difference lies in their blend and aging potential.

Vintage champagne is made from grapes harvested from a single year, which is often displayed on the bottle’s label. Because of this vintage cuvées are considered exceptional.

Such champagne is produced in limited quantities, about 3 to 4 times in a decade. So limited that it makes up only less than 5% of total production in Champagne, France. The longer aging process of vintage champagne also makes them better at developing their character. Every year on the lees, the wine reveals a new flavor.

Non-vintage champagne, on the other hand, is produced in larger quantities and more often than vintage wine. The blend of grapes used in non-vintage champagne comes from multiple different vintage years. By blending the different harvests, the wine achieves a good balance of consistency.

NV Champagne Meaning

NV Champagne Meaning simply stands for non-vintage champagne. It’s a blend of the three grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, all from different years and harvests. Producers also use a vast range of other wines from previous years, with some even going as far back as Winston Churchill’s Brut NV. 

When it comes to aging, non-vintage champagnes are aged shorter than their vintage counterparts. Non-vintage champagnes are typically aged around 12 months on lees and 3 months after disgorgement, making it 15 months in total.

Unlike vintage cuvées, non-vintage champagnes are produced often, every year. They make up about 80 to 90% of total champagne production. It’s a large portion because Champagne Houses have reserve wines that are kept in steel tanks or oak barrels to be used later for blending NV champagne produced from the current year.

How Long Is Non-Vintage Champagne Good For?

NV champagnes usually don’t need additional aging since they’ve been aged properly in the cellars. But this is also a major con with going for non-vintage sparkling wines. Once opened, you should consume it right away so you can go back to your unfinished champagne bottle after 3 to 4 days.

But after disgorgement, you can store an unopened bottle for another 3 to 4 years, in a dry and dark place with a consistent temperature of 50 to 55°F. Vintage cuvées, on the other hand, can be kept for five to ten years. 

Each year reveals a new flavor profile in fine vintage champagne. However, most non-vintage wines could lose their effervescence if stored for too long. They could even turn into deep brown liquid, with changed flavors and aromas.

Vintage Champagne

There’s the misconception that vintage is old. When in fact, both vintage and NV champagne go through the same production process.

Vintage champagnes contain any of the three main grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. But, the blends must be aged for a long time. It’s a crucial process for vintages because it allows them to reveal their own individual character.

On average, vintage champagne must be aged for at least 3 years on the lees. Some vintage wines even go through a much longer aging process. Some Champagne Houses may age the bottles for longer periods after disgorgement to encourage the Maillard reaction, which creates the toasty or biscuity, brioche-like deliciousness in vintage cuvées.

The Dom Pérignon 1959 Oenotheque Brut Millesime, for example, is a prestigious champagne with an aging potential of 20 years and more. Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 1999 is aged in the cellars for 21 years. Such champagnes, however, also come with a hefty price range and they can even appreciate over time.

How Do I Know if Champagne Is Vintage?

How Do I Know if Champagne Is Vintage

For our fellow oenophile, there is guesswork needed here. But even if you’re a beginner, you can always tell when a champagne is vintage just by what the label says. All vintage bottles have the year stamped in front of them.

You can also look for the French word “Millésime”, which translates to vintage, but the vintage year on the bottle is usually a dead giveaway.

About Vintage Years

Vintage champagne reflects the highest expression of a Champagne House. But more importantly, it’s a testament to particular years’ exceptional harvests from the highly venerated vineyards.

The Champagne region of France experienced changing weather conditions, affecting the crops and the quality of the grapes. Extreme heat, heavy rainfall, early frosting—you name it. The vineyards need optimal conditions for them to produce high-quality fruits for producing vintage champagnes.

If the harvest isn’t good in a particular year, no vintage will be released in that decade. But if there’s an excellent yield for a particular year, the champagne producer will declare it as a suitable harvest for vintage bottling. This typically happens only three or four times per decade.

Vintage cuvées from 1921, for example, are made from that year’s yields with remarkable quality. It’s one of the most bountiful years for vintage champagne. The Champagne region during 1921 was unusually dry with only a few drops of rain between June and July.

The weather conditions began with a cold winter followed by spring, which is ideal for flowering. With consistent sunshine, the summer was warm and dry. This allowed the grapes to ripen slowly and fully. That same year also made a suitable condition for harvesting, under clear skies.

Why Is Vintage Champagne More Expensive?

The higher price tag of vintage champagne comes from their rarity value. They are rare in that they are produced only in the best years. Unlike their non-vintage counterparts, vintage champagnes are not produced every year. It makes up only 5% of the total Champagne production, so naturally, the price will go up.

According to vinovest.com, the most expensive vintage champagne in the world was sold for about $1.6 million. Among the most luxurious vintage champagnes, ​producers Dom Pérignon, Moët & Chandon, Krug, and Bollinger made the cut—these vintage champagnes retail between $3,000 and $8,300.

As vintage champagne becomes rarer, demand increases the price. After all, supply goes down as oenophiles say “Cheers!”

Does Vintage Champagne Taste Better?

Not necessarily. In the same way, it doesn’t always that it’s of higher quality than a non-vintage one. Other Champagne Houses produce some of the most highly prized NV champagnes. Some of them contain a mixture of vintage blends or single vineyard releases.

Vintage cuvées are more toasty and richer in flavor than non-vintage champagnes. It expresses the climate conditions and terroir of particular harvest years.

If you want to explore a stronger blend with unique characteristics and longer aging potentials, vintage champagne offers this opportunity. However, if you want a more consistent blend that is light and fruity, you’ll enjoy a bottle of non-vintage wine.

But keep in mind that the quality and flavors of vintage champagnes vary from one producer to another. It is why each champagne, whether vintage or non-vintage, reflects the “House style.” So, it’s important to know about the Champagne House and its signature flavor profiles.

Our Verdict

There’s a lot of thought and work that goes into producing vintage wines, but at the end of the day, it’s all about your preference. To put it beautifully, vintage champagne is not better than its non-vintage counterparts and vice versa. Each wine offers different expressions.

We hope you’ve found our post helpful, and if you have any questions, let us know and we’ll be happy to help. Cheers!