Individual reserve wines are usually still wine, held back from vintages of excellent quality, within the limit of 8t/ha, that is 4100 litres/ha. All producers are committed to creating this reserve, under the supervision of the CIVC.
Reserves can then be released either to compensate for a small vintage, to satisfy growing demand, or to smooth the blend of NV wines across vineyard space and time.
The musts undergo a normal 1st fermentation in tank or old oak barriques, to produce the base wines or vins clairs. It is unclear as to whether, in general, those base wines destined for reserves are kept separate from one another – different vineyard, different plot and so on, or are blended to some degree. Logically, to retain the greatest blending utility, they would be kept separate, but that adds cost.
Reserve wines are stored either in vats, temperature controlled tanks (Krug, but used to hold in magnums), small old oak casks, or bottle. Most keep them in vats. Definition-wise vat=stainless steel tank.
Krug hold about 150 reserve wines, and are probably the supreme masters in the art of using reserve wine – their NV Grand Cuvée is blended from 120-140 wines, comprising chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier, across for example 10 vintages, 47 wines and 25 villages.
Some producers – for example Bollinger and Pierre Gimonnet, keep all their reserves in bottle, the former in magnum for 5-10 years. However, neither keep still wines.
Didier Gimmonet explained why and how in his video – the delicate still wine (from the cuvee), if stored in vat for 1 or 2 years, starts to oxidise and lose freshness – it starts to age. 30 years ago Gimonnet decided to bottle all reserve wines, separated by plot, with 4 grams of sugar and a little yeast, to cause a weak 2nd fermentation. The CO2 gas generated prevents the oxidation and ageing associated with vat storage. The wines also take on secondary autolytic notes of toast and brioche which contribute to the ultimate complexity of the final wine.
In a personal conversation via my man in Champagne, Didier Gimonnet commented that a few years ago they decided to change to blending before bottling reserves, rather than keep wines separate by plot – not to do with cost, rather the quality. Essentially, the wines develop more complexity, so that Gimonnet’s NV becomes a blend of several NVs from previous years, this also makes it easier to achieve a consistent taste with time. Gimonnet currently hold reserves of 7-8 vintages.
NB for the full 2nd fermentation, 18 grams of sugar is the norm to achieve 6 atm of pressure; so it takes 3 grams to produce 1 atm of pressure.
NB on Bollinger – remains family owned, based in Ay, in the Vallée de la Marne. Bollinger own sufficient vineyard to supply over 60% of their needs, together with a reserve wine library > 600k magnums which are stoppered with cork and agrafe staple for long ageing.
This is an alternative route for reserve quality wines to take, and with some producers, wine is retained from every vintage. The still wines are added to individual old oak barriques or (possibly) tanks, year by year, slowly developing a complex base wine. As wine is removed each year, to go to 2nd fermentation and prise de mousse, the new vintage’s wine is added. These storage vessels must need to be continually topped up to avoid undue oxidation.
Jacques Selosse of the GC village of Avize pioneered this approach. He produces a very exclusive Blanc de Blancs – NV Jacques Selosse Champagne Substance, based on a solera started in 1986, in which vintage effects are completely lost. The tasting note (Liem, 2008) tells of its complexity … the wine is a strikingly deep amber color, the nose is expressive and intense, full of ginger and exotic fruit; broad and rich but finely focused, and with incredible detail on the palate, this is a complete wine …
Another solera (started in 1997) user is Francis Boulard, with Champagne Petraea – each year the previous year’s wine is added in the proportion of 25%, so that balance of the wine contains some of all the earlier vintages in decreasing proportions.
- Champagne Francis Boulard – solera champagne. [online]. Accessed 15/11/16.
- Liem, P. (26/04/08). Champagne and Terroir: Jacques Selosse. [online]. Accessed 15/11/16.
- CIVC, Champagne, from vine to wine. [online]. Accessed 15/11/16.
- Pierre Gimonnet interview. [online]. Accessed 15/11/16.