Most years, Champagne lovers do well to buy the blends that come from this region. That's because its winemakers are so adept at maintaining consistent house styles, even as growing conditions vary, by melding a combination of three grape varieties grown in different vintages. But this may be a year to abandon that logic and consider vintage Champagnes from exceptional seasons such as 1990, 1995 and 1996.
Great vintage Champagnes are typically aged longer. As such, they are capable of developing longer in your cellar. They all bear the stamp of their growing season. This makes them an indulgence you should consider only when they come from extraordinary vintages, as the winemakers must forgo reliance on reserve wines to add depth.
In 1996, a rare combination of ripeness and high acidity produced firmly structured, racy wines capable of long aging. Dry and sunny—if not particularly hot—the weather in 1995 brought healthy grapes that led to wines with balance and harmony. The 1990 vintage rendered big, rich, complex Champagnes with finesse and elegance.
Here are examples of the best from those outstanding vintages, followed by their ratings in Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado's sister publication, and their suggested retail prices: Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne La Grande Dame 1996 (95, $180) Subtle aspects of biscuit and walnut accent the whole-grain bread, lemon, honey and coffee flavors in this regal Champagne. Wonderful finesse and harmony underscore the innate power and vinosity. A match for Dover sole or roast chicken. Drink now through 2015. Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 1995 (96, $240) This is assertive and grainy in texture, a big-boned Champagne that's powerful and intensely flavored. Biscuit, graphite, honeysuckle, peach and floral notes come together, defined by the firm structure, and last throughout the complex finish. It needs a little more time for the elements to harmonize. Drink now through 2018. 500 cases imported. Krug Brut Champagne 1990 (97, $224) An aristocrat. Powerful and intense, yet with finesse and complex flavors of coconut, whole-grain bread, ginger, citrus and honey. Waves of flavor saturate the palate and the long finish picks up mineral and smoke notes. Very harmonious from start to finish. Drink now through 2020. 1,700 cases imported.