Posted: 01 Apr 2011 04:18 AM PDT
Well, the first thing that you have to say is that 'Good' is a personal judgement and so if you find a champagne that you like and think is good, then that's fine.
Having said this there are one or two pieces of information that give you an indication of the quality and the more of these little pointers you have, the better equipped you are to make your own judgement.Today let's take a look at the age of the vines.
It's not often that champagne makers will tell you the age of their vines - it's considered a bit too technical for most people I suppose, but it does have a bearing on the quality of the champagne and occasionally you may find this information amongst the blurb that the maker hands out.
When they are young vines are full of energy and grow like crazy, producing lots of fruit. More fruit means more champagne.
As they get older they lose some of that energy and produce less fruit, but make up for it by producing grapes that have more intensity of flavour and aroma and this means champagne of higher quality.
A vine can live for decades - 50 years and more is not unheard of - and a vigneron needs to manage his various plots of land so as to have a good balance between young and old vines: too many young vines and the champagne may lack depth; too many old vines and there won't be enough grapes, so he or she will constantly be uprooting old vines when the yield has become so low as to be uneconomical and planting new vines that need a few years before they produce a viable crop worth harvesting
I was reading a description of Henriet-Bazin champagne the other day in which it was mentioned that the average age of the vines used was 26 years. That's pretty high because it means that there must have been some vines older than that, probably considerably older, so it's an indication that the champagne will be big on flavour.
It's difficult to give any specific guidelines on what constitutes the 'right' age for a vine to produce good champagne but you can bet that if a vigneron bothers to tell you the age of the vines at all then they will have something worth boasting about. As a rule of thumb though, an 'old' vine will be 40 or 50 years old.
So that's one more fascinating fact to consider when looking for a 'good' champagne
In the pictures below you'll see the various cycles of the vine from a few weeks right through to the end of its life. Do leave a comment or question below if you want
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