A prestige cuvee is commonly regarded as the top Champagne of any given house, grower or co-operative, but fashion has taken a dramatic new turn.
Historically this was the realm of the top vintage blends of the grand marques. Then, the end of the last century, we saw the ascendancy of grower Champagnes and single-vineyard bottlings from the big Champagne houses – with names such as Clos du Mesnil, Clos St-Hilaire and Clos d’Ambonnay etched permanently into the sparkling stratosphere.
Now things are changing yet again, and 2015 saw the rise of a rare breed of prestige Champagne. The antithesis of a single-vineyard wine, the ‘super blend’ is a non-vintage prestige cuvée, built on a profound depth of reserve vintages.
The prestige Champagne world is becoming increasingly diverse as the lines between houses and growers blur. ‘Once upon a time, the houses did not own vineyards,’ says Pol Roger managing director Laurent d’Harcourt. ‘Now they’re becoming more like growers, who are sourcing from villages other than just their own and becoming more like houses. Many cooperatives now have their own brands and are acting as négociants.’
Houses are watching the rising prominence of growers in the marketplace and learning a few tricks themselves. ‘With the diversity of Champagne’s regions and the rise of growers,’ says Billecart-Salmon’s Antoine Roland-Billecart, ‘it’s increasingly important for us to produce more interesting, small-production wines.’
Louis Roederer assembles its vintage wnes exclusively from estate sources. ‘For the vintage wines, I do not say Roederer is a Champagne house,’ says cellarmaster Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon. ‘We are three growers: one in Montagne de Reims, one in Vallée de la Marne and one in Côte des Blancs.’
Prestige Champagne: A dream dozen