Tête de Cuvée: The Very Best Champagnes

Posted on Mar 21, 2018


Champagne

Veuve Clicquot’s 1996 La Grand Dame Champagne

As we discussed in our article on Champagne, there are a wide variety of different Champagnes to choose from. Since Champagne is THE wine of celebrations, which Champagne does one choose for those really special celebrations? When that milestone birthday or anniversary comes around or when you accomplish a major lifetime event and you want to go all out and really celebrate the occasion, this is when you pull out your Tête de Cuvée.

Tête de cuvée is a French term that can be loosely translated as top batch or top blend. This is the term the Champenois use to describe their very best (and most expensive) bottlings. Outside of Champagne these wines are also called Prestige Cuvées.

Champagne

Some examples of tête de cuvée from Champagne.

Tête de cuvées are almost always vintage Champagnes. The only two exceptions we can think of to this are H. Billiot Cuvée Laetitia and Andre Clouet Un Jour de 1911. Vintage Champagnes utilize grapes from a single harvest whereas non-vintage Champagnes will blend several different vintages together. Vintage Champagnes are only made in special years where weather conditions produce outstanding grapes. Historically the Champenois have only declared a vintage on average about 3 times per decade. One reason for this is that Champagne is one of the most northerly wine growing regions in the world, sitting north of the 49th parallel. This gives it an inherently cool climate where the grapes struggle to fully ripen.

Champagne

The 2002 Piper Heidsick “Rare”.

With average temperatures around the world gradually rising (sorry climate change deniers, it is a fact), Champagne in the last 2 decades has declared more than the usual number of vintages. Most Champagne Houses declared a vintage in 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. The first decade of the new millennium saw vintages declared in every year except 2001, and maybe half the houses declared a vintage in the extremely hot 2003. If a Champagne house declares a vintage that means they will make a vintage wine or “Millesime”. It does not necessarily mean they will make a Tête de Cuvée. For example, since 1976, Piper Heidsieck has declared numerous vintages but made only 9 vintages of their Tête de Cuvée “Rare”. Tête de cuvées are only made in exceptional years.

Champagne

1998 Cuvée William Deutz

The Tête de Cuvée will always be made of grapes from the top Crus or vineyards or even vineyard plots in that year. Consequently most Tête de Cuvées are very limited in production. Another feature of the Tête de Cuvée is very long aging at the Champagne house cellars before being released into the market. There are two reasons for this. First, the Champenois believe that Champagnes should be released when they are ready to drink and not before. By regulation, NV Champagnes must be aged in the house’s cellars for at least 1.5 years, and vintage Champagnes for at least 3 years. In practice, most houses’ aging practices greatly exceed the requirements of the regulation. The Tête de Cuvée is usually the last wine to be released as they tend to be the most age-worthy. Count on seeing a Tête de Cuvée in the market place usually 10 or more years after the vintage. And expect that Tête de Cuvée to be ready to drink upon release but capable of further development in the bottle for another decade, maybe even two. Many Tête de Cuvées from the great 1990 and 1996 vintages are still reported by their lucky owners to be drinking wonderfully.

Champagne

2002 Dom Perignon

 

Finally, and we are sure this is no surprise, these are definitely splurge wines, generally costing over $150 per bottle and some are many multiples of this number. But they can be extraordinary wines and enjoying one of them to celebrate a special occasion is an experience that in our books is worth saving up for!

 

Here is a list (though no doubt not exhaustive) that we have complied of many of the tête de cuvées:

Champagne House Tête de Cuvée
Moet Chandon Dom Perignon
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne
Paul Bara Comtesse Marie de France
Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill
Roederer Cristal
Deutz Cuvée William Deutz
H. Biliot Fils Cuvée Laetitia
Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame
Bollinger R.D. and La Grande Annee
Laurent Perrier Grande Siecle
Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs
Piper Heidsieck Rare
Joseph Perrier Josephine
Mumm Grande Cuvée de Mumm
Pommery Cuvée Louise
Andre Clouet Un Jour de 1911
Vilmart Cour de Cuvée
Ruinart Dom Ruinart
Gosset Celebris
Duval Leroy Cuvée Femme

 

6 Comments

  1. s.co.jack@hotmail.com'

    Great post Allison!

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    • Thanks Scott, however Chris did all the real work on this one (I did help “research” though ;). Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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    • We have become big Champagne fans in the past few years and researching for this one was beyond fun. Thank you for reading!

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  2. Robin@Crushedgrapechronicles.com'

    I’m still learning about Champagne (other than I love it, that, I knew!). I was aware of vintage Champagnes, but the difference between Millesime and Tête de Cuvée was new to me. Thanks for expanding my Champagne education. We had a 1999 Dom that we enjoyed late last year, and now I know that it was a Tête de Cuvée!

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    • Glad to offer some insight given your wine knowledge! We think more “research” is always in order–cheers!

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