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 report 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 will likely be 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. Personally, I think that it’s still difficult to see where this vintage is really going to go. The wines were flattering as vins clairs, and the non-vintage bruts based on 2005 were highly seductive when they were initially released. Since then, however, the wines have 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 remains relatively fresh and lively, but in some cases the flavors veer towards over-ripeness, and these wines can often appear awkward and overly heavy. It remains to be seen whether this is a definitive character or merely a phase that the wines are currently going through, and as the wines are still very youthful, it’s possible that they may change direction yet again. My enthusiasm for this vintage has diminished over the past year or so, but we will have a better idea of its true character once the vintage-dated cuvées are widely released, and I’ll reserve judgment until a future date.