Comparative Review: 2014 and 2015 Champagne, A Study in Contrast

By | 8 February 2024

Comparing two Champagne vintages that are in many ways polar opposites.


Essi Avellan MW.

How do the wines of a vintage produced in “classic” conditions compare to those from a year more in keeping with the new, warmer normal in Champagne? Essi Avellan MW is joined by Simon Field MW and Tom Hewson for a tasting that suggested the differences are more stylistic than qualitative.

For scores and detailed notes on all 46 wines included in the tasting, subscribe to The World of Fine Wine.

The climate in Champagne has evolved over recent years, transitioning from cold to more moderate temperatures. High-acid vintage champagne produced late in the season has become a rarity. Now, we are observing more varying weather conditions, shortened growing periods, increased levels of sunshine, and drought. The colder present years may mirror previous warmer periods, with achieving the appropriate ripeness rarely becoming an issue. The sequential vintages 2014 and 2015 are markedly contrasting, with 2014 representing a traditionally cold wine profile, while 2015 highlights the effects, both positive and negative, of the newer climate. Both vintages are presently readily available in the market so we wanted to critically assess them.

The year’s drastically fluctuating weather patterns kept the cultivators engaged right up to the harvest season. An exceptionally rainy winter was followed by an unexpectedly warm and dry spring, with minimal rainfall between March and June. Cloudy weather with rains and storms featured in July, but it wasn’t until September that conditions started improving. The autumn sun and heat managed to save the harvest once again. Sugar concentrations increased quickly, and a large crop (11,553kg/ha) was harvested starting September 8. Despite the wet conditions, neither gray rot nor mildew critically affected the quality of the crop, though some sorting was needed. The most discussed issue of the year was the Drosophila suzukii fruit fly, which was associated with the high levels of sour rot, especially in Meunier grapes. With an average potential alcohol content of 10% and total acidity of 8.3g/l, the harvest turned out well. The wines are enjoyed for their lively acidity and easy-going style. Although less structured and intense than the best, these wines entice with their aromatic clarity and rich fruitiness.


If the initial underestimation of 2014 is waning as the top wines hit the market and the Champagnes mature, the narrative is different for 2015, which was initially met with significant enthusiasm. Post a wet winter and a temperate spring, from mid-May until mid-August, the weather was predominantly hot and dry. Rainfall was just 39 percent of the usual amount over the summer, resulting in the vines experiencing drought even in chalky terrain. The end of August saw heavy rain, but the first two weeks of harvest enjoyed sunny weather, allowing the vines to avoid major disease issues. With the 2015 vintage sharing similarities with the comparably sunny 2003, yields were still higher, at 10,602kg/ha. As a result, the wines, with an average potential alcohol content of 10.5% and a total acidity of 6.9g/l, were plentiful but still fresh enough, without becoming overly heavy.

There was initial optimism for the plush and promising base wines. However, this soon turned to disappointment as the year’s Non-Vintage wines hit the market. There was an unusual vegetal, ashy aroma leading to an austerity found in many of the bottles to a certain extent. Despite there being a good level of sunshine and warmth, phenolic ripeness should not have been an issue. It’s believed that this was instead due to the ripening effects of a drought causing rough aromatics. If the cooperatives had noticed the aroma earlier, it’s doubtful many Vintage wines and prestige cuvées would have been produced. Still, there seems to be denial within Champagne of the problem (and not everyone appears to notice the characteristic in the wines). And with climate change likely to lead to more drought years, it’s an issue of increasing significance for Champagne’s growers and winemakers.

Simon Field MW, Tom Hewson, and myself blind tasted 46 wines from houses and grower-producers. The majority, 27, were from 2015 and 19 from 2014. We only had eight pairs of the exact same cuvée from both years, which makes it hard to draw firm conclusions. From these pairs, we preferred the vintage from 2014 four times, whereas 2015 was the preferred year three times. The top 2014 wines were Taittinger Brut Millésime, Philipponnat Cuvée 1522, Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs, and Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvée. The best from 2015 were Drappier Millésime Exception, Pierre Gimonnet Special Club Grands Terroirs de Chardonnay, and Louis Roederer Vintage (although I was personally quite partial to the 2014). Both vintages of the Leclerc Briant Les Basses Prières received the same average score.

By average score, 2014 just edged out 2015 with a score of 90.3 over 90.2. I had a strong preference for 2014, which got an average of 0.41 more points from me. Simon’s preference for 2014 was tangibly less with a difference of 0.16, whereas for Tom, the two years were nearly identically scored.

The top ten were mostly 2015 wines, with six compared to four from 2014. The standouts were Ruinart Millésime 2015 and Taittinger Brut Millésime 2014, which we all consistently rated highly. However, the top ten included some wines that we weren’t unanimously in agreement on – notably, the Louis Roederer 2014 which I rated 97 compared to Simon’s 91 and Tom’s 89. Generally, we were in agreement when it came to more reductive styles, but we were more divided over the more oxidative styles, with Simon developing a liking for this style that neither Tom nor I shared.

The 2014 wines performed predictably well. These wines exhibited a bright and fresh fruity palette, with a lean structure and an appealing lightness. Out of them all, two 2014s received very high scores, but as a whole, they satisfied more than they excelled. Their apparent overt character and immediate palatability make one question their longevity. Nevertheless, thus far they seem quite satisfactory with no clear issues.

The 2015 vintage had both high and low moments, surprisingly taking the top spot of the tasting as well as the bottom eight. All three tasters identified a certain ash-like aroma in some of the wines. I personally found this aroma distracting from the wine’s purity, somewhat diminishing its finesse with a following austere taste. But thankfully, many of the wines were devoid of this character. It is hoped that further aging post-disgorgement will develop a richer character in many more of these wines. Despite this distinctive aroma, I did not let it affect my overall enjoyment of the wine as there were still good qualities to appreciate, especially in the taste.

In trying to draw conclusions about the prominence of the vegetal aromatics, I found no clear patterns between blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs. I find it surprising how the distinct vegetal character of many 2015s goes unnoticed in Champagne discussions. This vegetal trait should be immediately and extensively researched in light of climate change, to prevent harvesting such grapes or incorporating these base wines into future blends.

The tasting did not present a clear frontrunner. The wines were vastly different, akin to comparing chalk and cheese, and personal preferences significantly influenced our appreciation. The absence of exceptionally high scores for either vintage is also quite telling.

Ruinart Millésime Brut Champagne France 2015 (12.5% ABV) | 94

EA | The champagne exhibits a pale lemon color. Its nose is beautifully toast-complexed, with a mix of smoky-reductive and florally fragrant tones overlying the pristine orchard fruit core. Similarly, the palate mirrors the nose and highlights the fine, cushiony quality of the mousse. It boasts a pristine, cool, and crunchy fruitiness. Exceptional freshness and succulent fruitiness contribute to the wine’s appeal. This is a very commendable effort for the vintage. | 95

SF | The champagne presents a green-gold hue, with a generous, semi-savory aromatic character, featuring umami, quince, and even a hint of white truffle. It is broader than many on the palate, but this does not compromise its rigorous and pleasing structure. The champagne respect the warmth of the vintage in terms of ripeness, but is constrained by the rigor of its own construction. It is a distinctive champagne, noted for its distinction. | 95

TH | This champagne features a beautifully exotic, almost dramatic nose of gunflint, mango, clementine, and blossom. It is a surprisingly svelte and brightly toned 2015 of notable refinement, subtly backed up by delicate lees-aging textural interest. The heat of the year is muted, resulting in precise tropical fruits and finessed, smoky, charry notes, which are carefully balanced. A truly impressive champagne, expected to peak between 2023 and 2028. | 93

Taittinger Brut Millésime Champagne France 2014
(12.5% ABV) | 94

EA | Deep lemon color. Gorgeously charred nose, with toasty, spicy, and sweetly fruity layers. Tropical fruit meets vanilla and exotic spices. Pristine fruitiness and sweet charm promise a lot for the palate. Very intense on the rich palate, which gets cut by a fine, racy acid line. Immediately impressive, with plenty of toasty wow factor and a juicy, flowing, long finish. Drinking perfectly but comes with further potential. 2023–28. | 96

SF | Straw-citric color, small bubbles; a nose of gunflint and quince, therefore reductive of inclination. Billows beautifully on the palate and not solely as a result of a generous dosage; quality of fruit, encyclopedic in intent, is the star here, and the result is more than agreeable. Approachable now and for several years henceforward, such is the quality of the composition. | 95

TH | Svelte, reductive style here, fragrant with bergamot and tropical nuances, almost toward passion fruit. Airy, bright, and elegant on the palate, Chardonnay leading here with delicacy and precision. Charming. | 92

Paul Bara Special Club Grand Cru Brut Champagne France 2015 (12.5% ABV) | 93

EA | Pale lemon color. Mild, florally scented nose, with cool and crisp white-fruit profile. Lemon juice, white flowers, and pear drops, with just a little toasty complexity. Rather youthful still, with little autolytic complexity. Lightweight palate, which comes across as a little stripped. Juicy, fresh, and energetic palate, finishing on a dry note. Very correct, with some cool elegance to it. 2023–33. | 93

SF | Pale color, limpid; a powerful and persistent mousse. Flinty, fruit-stone nose, kernels and pith, too. Lean, it seems, but less so on the palate, where the sugar sits a little awkwardly, unsure of how it will regiment the inherent quality. A transitional phase; this one needs more post-disgorgement time to settle down. Firm of purpose, at least, and that purpose appears well thought out! | 93

TH | This plays on the maturity rather than the angularity of the year, with a controlled, reductive character, white-peach succulence, delicate red fruit, subtle dairy characters, and plenty of detail—there’s a real sense of assemblage and equilibrium here. The mousse is well integrated, and the palate is shaped with rare elegance and clarity, Chardonnay’s fine, lightly puckering zestiness closing with sapidity rather than force. This even shows some chalky, mineral detail, which is not always present in this warm vintage. A fine 2015. | 93

Taittinger Brut Millésime Champagne France 2015 (12.5% ABV) | 93

EA | Bright, medium-deep lemon color. A very appealing and inviting nose of pristine fruitiness. There are plentiful sweet peach and apricot tones to it, with a twist of vanilla, pencil shavings, and fruit drops. Cool and crunchy fruit, with hardly any austerity. The palate comes across fresh and fluffy, with an expansive but elegant mousse. The sweet and juicy appeal lasts all the way through to the fresh and perky finish of pristine fruit. 2023–35. | 94

SF | Pale straw. Nose of red and green apple, plum, and quince; hedgerow and hints of petrichor. Yeasty notes take over on the palate, with hints of digestive biscuit and mirabelle plum; more expansive and accommodating, its dosage hitherto conspicuous but in no way overwhelming. Attractive, forward, and well primed for a pleasant evolution. | 92

TH | Refined aromatics of tart pastry, raspberry, and orange citrus, subtly reductive and backed up with nicely pitched crusty bread and toasted almond. This shows a measured white-peach ripeness, but little of 2015’s less desirable greenness. 2015’s bustling energy is made rather approachable on the palate here, succulent, with some pear juice, bitter lemon, and a careful, complete shape. 2023–33. | 93

Louis Roederer Vintage Brut Champagne France 2015 (12.5% ABV) | 93

EA | Pale lemon color. Soft, fruity nose, with creamy-leesy tones and some toast and hay adding on to the secondary aromatics. A blend of ripe orchard fruit, with apple and peach at the forefront. A slight vegetal tone is fluently hidden beneath the spotless fruitiness. The palate confirms the nose, with attractive, sweet fruitiness and its creamy textural characteristics in the delicate, cushy mousse. Extended, succulent length of softness and spotless fruit. A delightful whole, with excellent freshness and energy. Pleasurable already but worthy of additional cellaring. 2023–38. | 95

SF | Captivating straw-gold, radiant, with a halo of tiny mousse. The nose is reserved, dignified maybe, with supple fruit and a hint of damp pavement and spice. More expressive on the palate, vanillin comforting the apples, plums, and gentle mango in assistance. Dosage is evident, but not intrusive. Accessible now, sensual rather than cerebral, but pleasingly coordinated. | 93

TH | Pleasing brown-bread and blackberry nose, featuring mature and aromatic Pinot Noir, supported by some zesty and forceful Chardonnay. This circumvents 2015’s aromatic peculiarities, presenting a mature and food-friendly style of mid-palate Pinot breadth and terminating citric grippiness. Straightforward. | 90

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