Champagne Vintage 2008 − The Summit

The 2008 vintage ranks alongside 1990 and 1996 as one of the great classics of recent decades. The best champagnes have an electrifying acidity, impressive fruit flavours and a unique structure. A tasting of 24 of the vintage's top bottlings was recently held in Berlin.

9 mins read

It was time to take stock. Almost all the top cuvées from 2008 have now been introduced. The post-release scores have been published and the market is now almost empty. Looking back on the vintage today, it must be said that it is groundbreaking in the recent history of Champagne for several reasons. Firstly, because of the quality of the wines themselves. We will have to wait until the top wines of the 2019 vintage are released before a similarly high overall quality is achieved. This was due to the climate. In 2008, a cool, cloudy summer turned into a fantastic September, producing wines of perfect ripeness and crystalline precision.

Accompanying menu at ‘The Cord’ restaurant

Secondly, top champagnes from 2008 were traded significantly as investments for the first time. On the London trading platform Liv-ex, the Champagne 50 Index has clearly outperformed all other sub-indices with a gain in value of over 50% in the last five years (as at March 2024). Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne 2008 was at times the most traded wine on the market. It was fuelled by two factors. Firstly, there was the Champagne enthusiasm of the second coronavirus year 2021 and the first post-coronavirus year 2022. As well as the extremely high ratings, particularly from William Kelley in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Ratings of five times a full 100 points sent collectors into raptures and turned the market into a madhouse. Because the producers wanted to pocket the high profits on the secondary market themselves, the prices of later tranches and subsequent vintages were sometimes dramatically increased.

The tasting

In this respect, it was simply sensational what Christoph and Sascha from FWH Fine Wine Handel brought together that evening in the ‘Cord’ restaurant in Berlin. All five 100pp were there, even though the prices on the secondary market have each reached four figures – and in some cases far beyond. Of course, you always miss a personal favourite. It’s a pity that the Comte wasn’t there – in my opinion it’s definitely one of the top wines of the vintage. But the organisers were not 100 percent convinced by it in a preliminary tasting. Felix Bodmann was responsible for organising the (blind-tasted) flights. In most cases, he was inspired by suggestions from the producers. Should the 2008 rosés be tasted one day, other glasses could be considered. Stölzle’s Quatrophils were not always up to the task of the complex wines. Incidentally, a Dom Pérignon Rosé 2008 in the magnum, which was still in the embryonic stage, kicked things off out of turn. Not under tasting conditions, therefore no rating.

Flight 1: Deutz − Brochet − Dhondt-Grellet

A classic start with three Blancs de Blancs. Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs Brut is the second prestige cuvée from the house in Aÿ alongside William Deutz. Strawy yellow-green in the glass, with a somewhat unpolished perlage. Broad, still very yeasty bouquet with some lime and apples. A little rustic on the palate (at least in this league) and with a less precise acidity. Currently not in top condition (93 p.).

Emmanuel Brochet Les Hauts Chardonnays Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut shows a completely different style. Golden yellow reflections, noticeably more oxidised on the nose with fruity sweetness and perceptible wood aromas. In contrast, the mouthfeel is quite austere, salty, long and without any noticeable dosage. The components do not yet seem integrated, but at the same time the flavour is very mature (92 p.). Dhondt Grellet Les Pensées Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut comes from old vineyards in Cuis. The bouquet is initially restrained, mainly lemon, grapefruit and stone fruit. Fresh, complex and powerful on the palate, with delicate bitter notes and a silky perlage. Lots of classicism here from the newcomer (96 p.).

Flight 2: Jacques Selosse − Louis Roederer − Egly-Ouriet

Jacques Selosse Millésime Premier Cru Extra Brut from 2008 is the last vintage champagne from pioneer Anselme Selosse and the first that is not only made from Chardonnay. Deep golden yellow, with no recognisable fruit on the nose, but lots of pastries and roasted nuts. Ripe apples and dried apricots on the retronasal with a little air. Very vinous mouthfeel, multi-layered and with a soft mousse, slightly salty and without any residual sweetness. Here too, great ripeness meets striking acidity. Not my style, but undoubtedly an exceptional champagne (97 p.).

Louis Roederer Cristal Brut from the magnum shows great classic cinema. Still a youthful golden yellow in the glass, apple, quince and pear dominate the bouquet. Flowers and brioche in the background. Wonderfully animating perlage and ultra-elegant texture. Dense, fresh and extremely long. And with this idea of chalkiness of the really great champagnes (99 p.). Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Millésime Brut is more in line with its predecessor. Broad shoulders, with earthy notes, wood and some liquorice. Vinous mouthfeel with a very subtle mousse, noticeable fruit sweetness and quite a length (96 p.). Will certainly continue to develop.

Flight 3: Ulysse Colin − Krug I − Salon

There has been much discussion about Ulysse Colin Les Roises Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut. Quite ripe in the glass, but also a little cloudy. Not quite clean on the nose, with a hint of liqueur. On the palate, on the other hand, it has a fresh flavour with some apple and good length. The wine was already disgorged in 2012 – in any case: not a good bottle (90 P.).

Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut, on contrast, was disgorged nine years later. This is reflected in its enormous freshness. Delicate straw gold colour, flowers, citrus fruits and hazelnuts on the nose. Very classic, albeit noticeably undeveloped structure on the palate, with laser-sharp acidity (98 p.). Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut is produced from plots in the immediate vicinity, in 2008 only in 8,000 magnums. Stylistically different, of course, due to the ageing in stainless steel and the consistently blocked malolactic fermentation. Surprisingly, the Salon, with its distinctive yeast and brioche flavours, appears more mature and also a touch more forward. On the palate, however, it impresses with precision and complexity. Currently 97 points, but young Salons have always been difficult to understand, especially from the magnum.

Flight 4: Jacquesson I − Pol Roger − Bollinger I

Jacquesson Avize Champ Caïn Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut presented itself highly ripe, almost oxidised with undergrowth, liquorice and old panettone. At least it was noticeably fresher on the palate. Admittedly, according to Felix, no comparison with the bottle from the previous tasting. Only 91 points in this form. Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill also presented a surprisingly developed but not overripe flavour of mirabelle plums, honeydew melon and classic brioche. Perhaps the fruit is a little too much in the foreground here. But beyond that, the champagne is fresh, relatively light-bodied and has good length (95 p.)

The fruit in Bollinger’s Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes Françaises Brut is beautiful and almost kitschy. Notes of red berries (raspberry drops!) betray the Pinot Noir, the present yeast the long autolysis. The palate is flattered by a decidedly luxurious mouthfeel, with a wonderful mousse and hedonistic fullness. Fabulously fresh, dense and very long (97 P.)

Flight 5: Billecart-Salmon − Phillipponat − Henry Giraud

Billecart-Salmon Nicolas François Brut has a classically ripe aroma on the nose with red and yellow fruits. There is also some Granny Smith and lime, as well as plenty of flavour. Medium-bodied on the palate, almost slender, but full of tension with striking acidity (95 p.). Philipponnat Les Cintres Blanc de Noirs Extra-Brut also comes from Mareuil. However, the Cru Parcellaire was matured entirely in new wood and without malo. Nevertheless, it also tastes classic, with a still restrained bouquet of apples and toast. On the palate, the mousse is still somewhat effervescent, but dense and pure, with a noticeable phenolic flavour. Should mature excellently (96 P.). Henry Giraud Argonne Grand Cru Brut in the magnum from the neighbouring village of Aÿ is much more mature. A subtle ‘natural’ touch on the nose, with lush fruit flavours and pastry cream on the nose. Great cinema on the palate too, with plenty of fruity sweetness and quite complex. Perhaps not the most elegant of the bunch, but very harmonious and balanced (96 p.).

Flight 6: Vilmart − Doyard − Marguet

Vilmart & Cie’s Cœur de Cuvée Premier Cru Brut, with its notes of raspberry, takes you down the road of Pinot Noir. Many a taster will experience this with the powerful Chardonnays from the northern Montagne de Reims (here: 80% vs. 20% Pinot Noir). Otherwise, grapefruit, ripe apples and blanched nuts on the nose. On the palate, all the freshness of a non-Malo-aged wine, with a delicately creamy texture but taut, youthful acidity. Bottled in March 2015, it is still at the beginning of its drinking maturity (96 p.).

Doyard Les Lumières Millésimé Grand Cru Extra Brut has a pale yellow-green colour in the glass. Lime, grapefruit, roasted nuts and biscuits on the nose. Ripe, compact and quite powerful on the palate, but still a little direct and limey. Has not quite found its feet yet, currently 95 points. The Marguet Sapience Oenothèque Premier Cru Brut Nature, with its deep golden reflections, shows the highest degree of maturity. The nose is difficult at the moment, with some wild “off” aromas, but also ripe fruit and noticeable wood. Full and smooth on the palate, with some substance and density. Not my cup of tea (93 p.).

Flight 7: Krug II − Bollinger II − Dom Perignon

The Krug Vintage Brut presents itself as a champagne sphinx, at least at the moment. Fresh white flowers, lime peel and toast on the nose, so far, so classic. On the palate, however, it is dominated by a monumental, almost raw acidity that is hardly reminiscent of the house’s usual elegance (95 p.). Is this a youthful immaturity that will one day unfold? Or is it just a promise that may never be fulfilled?

Bollinger R. D. Extra Brut is one of the last prestige cuvées on the market. With a disgorgement date of 12/2022, it also has the longest yeast aging of all the bottles in this tasting at 13.5 years. The Champagne now shows plenty of ripe fruit, some country bread and various nutty flavours. Very dense on the palate, with a discreet mousse, plenty of volume, but very fine and with a phenomenal balance (98 p.). The presentation of the 2008 Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut was a furious farewell to the charismatic chef de cave Richard Geoffroy. When it was released, the ‘DomPi’ was in spectacular condition. Now it has retreated a little into its shell. Subtle nose with stone fruit and toasted white bread. Very beautiful creamy texture, with high tension and yet much harmony with well integrated dosage (97 p.). For many in the group, the best flight of the evening.

Flight 8: Jacquesson II − Roses de Jeanne − Marie-Noelle Ledru

With its Aÿ Vauzelle Terme Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut, Jacquesson emphatically ‘rehabilitates’ itself in this tasting. Very attractive bouquet of apples, stone fruit and papaya. Enormous freshness on the palate, good pressure and brilliant acidity. Begins to unfold (96 p.). Cédric Bouchard’s Les Roses de Jeanne Lieu-dit Les Ursules Blanc de Noirs Brut from the magnum is much darker (already disgorged in 4/2012!). ‘Très gourmand’ on the nose, with ripe pears, nuts and pastries. Velvety texture, vinous and concentrated. Lots of fruity sweetness on the finish, but in this constellation it appears harmonious and balanced (97 p.) Marie Noelle Ledru Millésime Grand Cru Brut nature from the Grande Dame from Ambonnay is possibly one of her last vintage champagnes. Here too, ripe flavours dominate, but mainly of red berries, wood and a little brioche. A lovely freshness on the palate, but not the density and elegance of its predecessors (94 p.).

Summary

The tasting team after work

With this selection, which is as broad as it is representative, it makes sense to let the numbers speak for themselves. Firstly, the grape varieties: Only two out of 24 cuvées contained Pinot Meunier (Krug Vintage and Marguet). The ‘Pinot Meunier revolution’ has therefore not yet arrived among the top champagnes. Seven champagnes in the field were single-varietal Blanc de Blancs, while five were Blanc de Noirs. Conversely, seven Pinot Noir-dominated blends dominated compared to five Chardonnay-dominated blends. Only the ‘DomPi’ is half and half. There were hardly any outsiders in terms of origin either. No champagnes came from the western Vallée de la Marne, the Sézannais or the Vitryat. Only one each came from the Aube (Roses de Jeanne) and the Val du Petit Morin (Ulysse Colin), i.e. from reclassified communes. Six, on the other hand, were classic branded assemblages without a communicated narrower indication of origin. Six came from the Côte de Blancs. And five each from the Montagne de Reims and the Grande Vallée de la Marne.

The wines that follow would be worth an article of their own.

Only one of the 24 champagnes – Marie-Noelle Ledrus Millésime – was produced by a woman in a lead position, although she is about to retire. This situation will not be significantly different for the 2019s – Julie Cavil only took over at Krug in 2021. Pleasing on the other hand: There were at least two Brut nature and nine Extra Bruts in the tasting. Of the 11 bottles labelled as Brut, two actually belong in the lower dosage class. 15 bottles from the sample came from négociants, while nine were from winegrowers or ‘Récoltants Manipulants’. And none from a co-operative. The tasters were almost unanimous in their astonishment at the high quality of the top brand champagnes once the samples were revealed. If the tasting is also seen as a competition between the best of Grandes Marques and Growers, the final score was 2:1 in favour of the first.

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Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images (except for the group photo)

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