1995

 

This was another one of those vintages that saw a little bit of everything: severe frosts in March and April killed some buds, yet at the other extreme, a heat wave at the end of July saw temperatures hit 37°C (99°F), reminding growers of hot years like 1983 and 1976. Warm and wet weather in between brought a variety of problems, including oidium, fungal disease, botrytis and plenty of mildew—by some accounts, you’d have to go all the way back to 1958 to find a year so plagued with malady.

And yet, throughout all of this the vines thrived, producing a large crop of grapes with high sugars and above-average acidity, and 1995 was widely declared as a vintage year. “The funny thing with ’95 is that it was by all means a hot year,” says Richard Geoffroy, former chef de cave of Dom Pérignon, “but I wouldn’t have expected such a high level of acidity from such a warm year.” In the end, the average alcohol at harvest was 9.2 degrees, comparable to that of 1988 or 1979, and the acidity averaged 8.7 g./l. (measured in sulfuric acid), well above the levels found in 1989 and 1990, and even higher than 1991, 1992 or 1993.

This is a vintage that aged well, and my opinion of the ’95s increased over time. When they were first released, the ’95s often seemed to exhibit richness at the expense of finesse, and there was a certain coarseness of texture that was prevalent in these wines. A decade later, however, 1995 champagnes were noticeably finer in tone and more pleasingly balanced, their overt richness more harmoniously integrated into the overall package. Today the vintage is mature, even surprisingly so, and even many of the best wines feel more developed than expected for their age.

For me, one of the top wines of the vintage has consistently been the extraordinary Clos des Goisses by Philipponnat, one of the two best versions of Clos des Goisses in this decade (along with the 1998). Others that I have a particularly soft spot for include Roederer's Cristal, Pierre Gimonnet's Fleuron, Vilmart’s Cuvée Création, Fleur de Passion by Diebolt-Vallois and Charles Heidsieck’s Blanc des Millénaires. While there are a few superstars, such as Krug and Salon, that I’ve found to be disappointing, it will still be interesting to see how these develop in the future—I didn’t find the 1995 Dom Pérignon to be very impressive when it was first released either, but I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit as an Oenothèque and P2.

For more on the 1995 vintage, see this article from a tasting of 1995s in late 2015.