What's the Difference Between Vintage and Non-Vintage Champagne?
It's not about how old it is
Champagne is always a good idea, particularly in the summertime months. It's cold, it's refreshing, it's celebratory, and there's something extra special about being able to pop open a bottle on the porch. But when you're buying a bottle of Champagne you might have some questions. You probably already know that real Champagne is from the Champagne region of France (otherwise it's, legally speaking, another kind of fizzy wine). But what about the other distinctions on the bottle? For one, what's the difference between vintage and non-vintage Champagne?
It turns out that it has nothing to do with the age of the bottle. Vintage Champagne means that it's taken from just one year's harvest. It's not something that Champagne houses do every year, either—it's reserved for particularly good years. Champagne houses generally only make three or four vintages a decade. It's not always the case, but vintage Champagnes tend to command higher prices, too. That's because there are far fewer bottles of them out there than non-vintage Champagnes. Each vintage is unique—they tend to be a bit more complex on the palate.
Non-vintage Champagne, on the other hand, is made by blending the harvest of several years. It means that there's more of it, and it tends to come at a lower price point than vintage. "What you're looking for in non-vintage is consistency," explained Cyril Brun, the Chef de Caves at Charles Heidsick. The Champagne maker just introduced a Blanc de Blancs non-vintage (abbreviated NV) as well as their 2004 Blanc des Millénaires. Vintage bottles will have the year marked on the bottle, whereas non-vintages won't have a single year. The goal, Brun said, is to make a non-vintage taste the same from year to year. Having access to multiple years of harvest allows Champagne houses to balance the bottle's flavors according to the balance they're looking for.
Non-vintage bottles are aged for a minimum of 15 months, and vintage bottles are aged for at least three years. So yes, a vintage bottle, when released, tends to be older than a non-vintage bottle—but that's not really what it means.