“1959, a hot year, was an interesting vintage for Champagne,” says Champagne lover and collector Peter Crawford, “and can perhaps be seen as a representation of wines to come.” The 1959 vintage gave rise to wines rich in alcohol but low in acidity; not normally a recipe for long-term success. However, 1959 Champagnes are in fact aging splendidly, suggesting that high acidity is not always an essential component for enduring freshness and ageing potential.
Once a Champagne reaches around sixty years of age, most or all of the primary fruit character has developed into more structured secondary and tertiary flavours. The drinker expects complex aromas such as biscuit, caramel, honey or even mushroom and forest floor. However, when Peter Crawford opened up his Champagne cellar back in October 2019 for an epic 1959 tasting at Chelsea restaurant Elystan Street, he discovered in many of these Champagnes a freshness that he describes as “astonishing”.
A highlight from the tasting was a 1959 Salon: “intoxicating, with notes of dark peppermint chocolate and creamy mousse, but which needed time in the glass to draw out its magic.” Other stars included an exquisite bottle of Bollinger R.D., a freshly disgorged, “revelatory” magnum of Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, and a limey, zesty bottle of Dom Perignon Oenotheque. To finish there was a magnum of Moet direct from the Maison, which Peter says had “an almost insane level of youthfulness. So primary, so fruity, with notes of celery and that textbook gunsmoke reduction.”
So, can low-acidity Champagne vintages age well? “Yes, they can,” says Peter, “and 1959 is proof.” Our changing climate means that there will certainly be plenty more lower acidity years to come in the Champagne region, and this once in a lifetime tasting was a rare insight into how new wines might hold their freshness, to be marvelled at and enjoyed in decades to come.
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