“We have a breakfast of Champagne this morning!” chuckled Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chef de cave and executive vice president of Louis Roederer and Cristal. Along with representatives from Dom Pérignon and Krug, he kicked off the 2022 Wine Experience seminars, rousing guests with 2008 vintage Champagnes.
“Virtually every house and winemaker bottled a 2008—a testament to the unique character of the vintage,” explained Alison Napjus, Wine Spectator senior editor and tasting director. “What I found in my tastings was a powerhouse profile of wines with truly monumental acidity, but there’s also a distinctive textural component … that helps to soften the impact of that acidic backbone and to carry an expanded flavor range. It's a must-try vintage for Champagne lovers.”
One of the most distinguished Champagne vintages in recent memory, 2008 was preceded by a frigid and wet winter, but the growing season was dry and cool, helping the grapes to reach full phenolic maturity. The combination of bright acidity and plush fruit made for perfectly balanced Champagnes, reminiscent of the historic 1996 and 1990 vintages. Recognizing the great potential of these cuvées, some houses held them for extra aging, in some cases releasing their 2008 vintage bottlings only in 2021.
“Most of the chefs de caves that made ’08 made ’96 before,” said Lécaillon. “We made so many mistakes in ’96: picking too early, looking for very high acidity and wanting a very low natural alcohol level. I think ’96 for Champagne was quite the turning point for us because we realized the conditions were changing.”
With those lessons learned, Lécaillon and the other panelists ensured that the 2008 vintage reflected the best of their houses. The Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 2008 ($279), which scored 97 points in Wine Spectator’s blind tastings, was vibrant and mouthwatering, with notes of white cherry and ginger.
Representing Dom Pérignon’s team of winemakers, enology heritage manager Daniel Carvajal Pérez introduced the dried rose-laced Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé Champagne 2008 (97 points, $329), emphasizing this rosé represented a touchstone in the cuvée’s history. Though it had once been a challenge to ripen red grapes fully in Champagne’s cool climate, the terroir has become more compatible with growing Pinot Noir, and the team’s success with developing new techniques for handling the grape is evident in the 2008 vintage.
“Every vintage talks about our relationship with nature, terroir, the seasons, and time,” said Pérez. “This rosé represents expansion and continuous knowledge improvement.”
Finally, the 99-point Krug Brut Champagne 2008 ($309) was poured, showing a constellation of compelling aromas such as orange peel, oyster shell and verbena. Olivier Krug, sixth-generation director of the Krug Champagne house, noted that the blend included the highest portion of Pinot Meunier ever, making this vintage reminiscent of Champagne’s older generations, when that grape was more dominant.
“We think this vintage is ‘classic,’” Krug told the audience. “When we say ‘classic,’ it’s a high word in our vocabulary, meaning the Champagne has a lot of class.”
Look for senior editor Alison Napjus’ latest report on Champagne in the upcoming Dec. 15, 2022, issue of Wine Spectator!