de Billy: NV Champagne should be aged for longer

Non-vintage Champagne should be aged for longer before it reaches the market in order to ensure quality, according to Hubert de Billy of Pol Roger.

Hubert de Billy of Pol Roger poses with a bust of Sir Winston Churchill. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White

Speaking to the drinks business during a trip to maison Pol Roger last week, de Billy, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Pol Roger, said he wished other houses would age their Champagnes for longer than the 15-month minimum ageing period required.

“90% of Champagne is sold after less than two years of ageing. The co-ops and small growers are having difficulties at the moment, but we need to make sure that the Champagne appellation continues to grow in quality.

“It’s actually quite hard to make bad Champagne nowadays, but some of the Champagnes being made today are not at the quality level that people should have in their glass. People should be ageing their non-vintage wines for longer to increase quality.”

Pol Roger Brut Reserve is aged for a minimum of four-and-a-half years, making it the oldest non-vintage Champagne on the market according to de Billy.

“I always like to say that we’re not a producer of Champagne but a producer of wine from Champagne. I don’t want the wines to be too heavy but I also don’t want them to give you a hole in your stomach from the acidity,” he told db.

“Gerard Basset MS MW describes Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill as Burgundy with bubbles, which is big compliment and that’s exactly what we’re going for. We want the complexity of wine but the lightness of touch that comes with the bubbles,” he added.

As for increased competition from the likes of Prosecco, Franciacorta and English sparkling wine, de Billy admitted that the Champenois have to take stock of the situation.

“English sparkling wine is still too small to be a true competitor but when we see that Prosecco sales are up by 20% and Champagne sales are down by 6%, then we have to take notice,” he said.

China remains largely unchartered territory for Champagne but is a market de Billy believes could be hugely profitable in the future.

“I think the appetite for Champagne will catch on in China and the demand will fuel itself and it will grow to be as popular as it is in Japan,” he said.

3 Responses to “de Billy: NV Champagne should be aged for longer”

  1. Jiles Halling says:

    M. de Billy is quite right to encourage champagne makers to age their wine a little longer but it’s hard to take seriously the statement that “90 % of champagne is sold after less than 2 years ageing”.
    Consider that Moet and Chandon / Dom Pérignon sell somewhere around 40 million bottles between the two brands – that’s already more than 10% of total champagne sales. Add in the sales of the other Moet Hennessy brands such as Veuve Clicquot, Kiug, and Ruinart, not to mention other brands such as Roederer, Taiittinger and Pol Roger itself, none of whom I suspect age their champagne for less than 2 years, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the the ‘90% aged less than 2 years’ claim can possibly be correct.

    As for the small producers, I work as a consultant almost exclusively to small champagne growers and it’s true that many of them are having some problems, but I know of none who has responded to the challenge by reducing the age of their wines – the opposite is in in fact the case as part of an effort to add value and increase prices.

    It would be good to have some idea of the source of the 90% claim

  2. Phil Hopkin says:

    Excerpt from “In practice, most Champagne wines are cellared for much longer: 2-3 years for non-vintage wines and 4-10 years for vintage Champagne.”
    In view of the agreed fact that it is hard to make a bad champagne, maybe the focus should be promoting the high quality of champagnes and not acidic holes in the stomach!

  3. Steve Pritchard says:

    My toes literally curl up when I hear the phrase “Burgundy with bubble”. And I fall over backwards when I hear this sentiment being applauded by such an icon of the Champagne world. Champagne is its own wine and doesn’t need to be from anywhere else + bubbles. Is the perception now that bubbles, autolysis, and reductive characteristics have absolutely no effect on the style (we know that they do)?

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