While 1997 is often thought of as a warm, ripe vintage in Champagne, the growing season didn’t always give that impression. The winter was extremely cold, and there were periods of frost that lasted into the spring. Despite that, the flowering was relatively early, around the second week of June, thanks to a sudden burst of warm weather. Immediately following this, however, a period of cool weather set in, and the rest of June was particularly wet, with the Marne drenched in three times the average amount of rainfall. The weather cleared up in July, and August was very hot, leading up to a sunny and dry harvest in mid-September.

“Ninety-seven was a difficult year,” says Benoît Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant. “We lost around 30 percent of the crop to spring frosts, then we had mildew attacks in July. The only thing that saved us was the high maturation just before the harvest, which turned out to make rich, powerful wines.”

It’s always difficult to follow a highly acclaimed vintage such as 1996, and it’s no surprise that 1997 has often been overlooked. However, there were many notable successes in this vintage, and it was widely declared as a vintage year, producing forward, succulently fruity champagnes that have provided a lot of pleasure in the short term. The wines thrive on their rich depth and high ripeness, yet what most tasters overlook is that the average acidity of 8.4 grams per liter (measured as sulfuric acid) in 1997 is actually higher than in 1998. Today, the 1997s are rather variable: many are still fresh and deliciously enjoyable, while others are surprisingly mature. The greatest wines, such as those made by Salon and Vilmart, should continue to evolve well.