This was a year that was marked by extremes, beginning with an unusually cold winter. While there were some frosts in the springtime, they didn’t result in major damage, and flowering proceeded normally in mid-June. Following this, a brief period of hailstorms in July preceded a heat wave that kept temperatures atypically high for the rest of the month, yet August, in contrast, was cool and wet. The beginning of September, just before the harvest, saw a return of hot, dry weather that rapidly increased the sugar levels in the grapes, also resulting in a corresponding drop in acidity. Harvest began as early as 7 September in some places, while cooler regions, particularly in the Marne Valley, didn’t start until the 25th. Although rain during the harvest caused the spread of grey rot, requiring some care in sorting, most people were pleased with the overall quality of the grapes.
Acidity levels were slightly lower than average, and this is the reason most often cited for not producing a vintage cuvée this year. Yet the acidity is generally around the same level as in 2005, which many producers happily declared. It varies from producer to producer, of course, but in general, I prefer the overall balance and flavors of the 2006s to the weightier, more concentrated—and in some cases, problematic—character of the 2005s. In general, the 2006s are brighter and clearer, even though maturity levels were a touch higher on average than those of the preceding vintage. At their best, 2006 champagnes offer a forward, opulent fruitiness, although at times, some can feel a little top-heavy and one-dimensional.
Those who did release vintage wines in 2006 were happy with the character of the vintage. “We are very enthusiastic about 2006,” says Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, chef de cave of Louis Roederer. “It was a warm, ripe vintage, yet the wines show a lot of freshness and a lot of finesse. 2005 was rich, but not as fresh as 2006.” Rodolphe Péters of Pierre Péters agrees: "For me, 2006 is a very good vintage for chardonnay," he says. "It's ripe but still very fresh, with a balance like 1990." In contrast, many of the non-vintage cuvées based on 2006 suffered from the 2005 reserve wines, and most of the notable successes were vintage champagnes.