This was a warm year, yet while it was marked by unusually high temperatures, it was also marked by higher-than-average rainfall. It began with a relatively mild winter, continuing with sunny weather in the spring that accelerated maturity, despite some severe hailstorms in April and May that caused localized damage. The summer months were hot, with scattered rain showers, and the sunny weather continued up until the harvest, which began on 15 September. Unfortunately, rain during the harvest caused some dilution in the grapes, and what might have been a great vintage turned out to be merely a good one.
In general, the 1999s are ripe and round, with a generous and forward fruit character. Many wines seem to be at their peak now, while a few still feel youthful and capable of further development. The vintage is notable for having some of the lowest acidities and highest pH levels seen in Champagne in a long time, yet the wines do not necessarily feel flabby—whether this is due to the richness of fruit or elevated alcohol levels or whatever else, I don’t really know. As vins clairs, these wines were voluptuous and full in body, and more than once I remarked in my notes that I would be happy to drink a particular wine if it were bottled just as is. As champagnes, they’ve evolved irregularly, and often in unexpected ways. A few years ago, Didier Gimonnet of Pierre Gimonnet told me, “As they’ve aged, many ’99s actually seem to have been getting younger.”
Gimonnet is highly enthusiastic about the vintage, and has maintained from the beginning that 1999 is the estate’s finest vintage of the decade. Other notable successes in this vintage include Vilmart’s outstanding Cuvée Création and Gosset’s finely elegant Grand Millésime. In addition, 1999 was the inaugural vintage of at least two superb new wines: Tarlant’s La Vigne d’Or, a single-vineyard, 100-percent meunier champagne from 50-year old vines; and Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses Juste Rosé, the first rosé champagne ever made from this hallowed vineyard site.