As with many wine regions in France, Champagne enjoyed favorable conditions throughout most of the growing season in 2005. Bud-break and flowering proceeded without incident, and growth was steady through most of the summer. Some areas reported mildew attacks in August that reduced the yields slightly, but quantity was generally high, if not as dramatically abundant as in 2004. A heat wave at the end of August accelerated the ripening, and picking began as early as 9 September under sunny skies. While the weather remained sunny and dry throughout the harvest, the nights were noticeably cool, preserving acidity in the grapes and slowing the spread of rot. Overall, chardonnay enjoyed the highest degree of ripeness, although most producers reported success with both pinot noir and meunier as well, and in fact, several chefs de caves have told me that they believe pinot noir to be the top performer of the vintage.
The 2005 vintage was initially hailed as a great one by the press, partially for its bold, easily accessible ripeness and also partially because a great vintage in Bordeaux is instinctively regarded as a great vintage everywhere in France. The wines were flattering as vins clairs, and the non-vintage bruts based on 2005 were forward and seductive when they were first released. As time progressed, however, the wines changed significantly in character, with the fruit taking on a saturated, sometimes even coulis-like concentration in flavor, feeling increasingly more dense on the palate. In the best examples, the tone of the fruit remained relatively fresh and lively, but in some cases the flavors veered towards over-ripeness, and these wines could often appear awkward and overly heavy. More problematically, a certain moldiness began to appear in the wines, with characteristic flavors of moldy potato, turnip or wet earth. This was widespread among 2005s, and so far, it has been unique among Champagne vintages: it is believed to have been caused by geosmin, a compound that developed inside the bunches, often hidden from view. The vast majority of the champagnes from this vintage are affected by it to a greater or lesser degree, and my enthusiasm for this vintage has diminished sharply since it was released.