Louis Roederer non-vintage Champagne is no more. Gone forever. Forget about it.
Now, instead, there's Louis Roederer multivintage Champagne. It's less consistent but more interesting! Pay more for it!
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That sounds like I'm kidding, but in fact it's the TL;DR version of the actual production, sales and marketing plan for Louis Roederer Collection 242. It's the first annual release in a planned rebrand of the entry level from the pedestrian Louis Roederer Brut Premier into the Gucci-bag-like Louis Roederer Collection. That plan has apparently been very effective, at least in convincing US retailers and restaurants to carry the new, completely different wine that's not like anything (slightly cheaper) you may have seen in the past.
I could say "there's more to it than that," but there really isn't. The first two paragraphs above really are the outline. It's a bold plan that will allow Louis Roederer to charge more for its main product: of the 4 million bottles of Champagne the winery makes annually, about 2.5 million will be this new entry-level. Now let's fill in the details.
The most interesting part, to me, is that Roederer is abandoning the idea of achieving a consistent house style for its entry-level Champagne. Instead, each annual release from the Louis Roederer Collection will be based on mostly wine from a specific vintage, augmented by two different types of reserve wine that I'll get to in a minute.
You could say, that's how non-vintage Champagnes are always made. Well, yes. But the concept of non-vintage Champagne was always to smooth over rough vintages, not to accent the majority component. In other words, because 2010 was a bad year, maybe the non-vintage wine made with that as a base would have less 2010 in it. More older reserve wines would be added, but the goal of blending would be so that consumers couldn't tell a difference between a 2010-base non-vintage and a 2009-base non-vintage.
Now, the idea is to go with what the vintage offers, even in a bad year. There's a reason Louis Roederer can attempt this philosophical change: thanks to global warming, Champagne has far fewer bad years.
Xavier Barlier, Roederer's senior vice president of communication, said this type of non-vintage wine is actually what the prior company president, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, wanted to do back in the 1980s to take advantage of the fact that – unusually for Champagne – Roederer owns a lot of vineyards and doesn't have to rely on buying as much still wine from small growers. But he just couldn't do it.
"In the '50s, '60s and '70s, the weather in Champagne was extraordinarily challenging," Barlier said. "The goal of the house was to produce a Champagne every year even in dire conditions. It was believed to be best for a house to create a house style. [Rouzaud] decided to make the wine in a non-malolactic style, which is unusual in Champagne. The malolactic makes a wine that is less acidic, very round. Jean-Claude's idea was to make a wine that was very refreshing. Having this wealth of grapes, he didn't want to mask the terroir."
And then, the Earth started warming.
"Champagne, like Piemonte, they are the beneficiaries of global warming," Barlier said. "Champagne is one of the northernmost wine regions in the world. With the changing of the weather, the vision became a little a less challenging. [Jean-Claude's son] Frédéric joined the house in 1996. He brought the idea that things have changed. The world was warmer. We can do things we couldn't do before. He said there's no reason our non-vintage can't be as good as our vintage wine. They wanted to leave the non-vintage category and join the elite multivintage category."
What's the difference, you might ask? It's like asking what's the difference between a $50 wine and a $150 wine – the answer is $100.
The two types of reserve wine to be used are interesting. In 2012 Roederer began creating a "perpetual reserve" wine based on the solera system. As wine was taken out of this reserve in 2020 to create that vintage's wine, fresh 2020 wine was added to the tanks to bring them back to the same level. The "perpetual reserve" is supposed to be a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It's kept in stainless steel to preserve freshness.
The other reserve comes from young vines that are eventually destined to create Cristal, Roederer's top-end wine. The house says it doesn't use fruit from vines under 20 years old for Cristal, so that fruit will go into oak casks to age for up to 10 years in order to build more richness.
Collection 242 is a blend of about 55 percent 2017 vintage wine with 35 percent from the "perpetual reserve" and 10 percent from the oak casks.
Most non-vintage Champagne is not meant to age. But the Collection, Barlier said, is different. The year 242 represents the 242nd harvest at the winery; next year's release will be 243, and so on. Barlier said currently there are no plans to create a rosé version.
"Every year the blend of Brut Collection will be different. Why? Because the harvest is going to be different," Barlier said. "Also the reserve will be a little different too. The wines that are fairly constant are the wines aged in wood."
I'm a fan of Roederer's wines, both these from Champagne and from their winery in California. So I was happy to try this.
I wish I had had a bottle of that old, discontinued and disavowed Brut Premier (that I liked) to compare. That said, I like Collection 242: it opens fresh on the palate, chalky and citrusy, and then expands into a lengthy toasty finish that is reminiscent of a blanc-de-blancs. It's quite good for a non/multi/entry Champagne. TL;DR: Costs more, tastes good.