The code breaker’s guide to unlocking champagne

Champagne is the most guarded wine region on earth and one of its biggest secrets is beginning to get out.

The age of a bottle of non-vintage champagne has long been a mystery. It’s been impossible to distinguish from the label a fresh, young bottle from a stale one, to track a collection in the cellar, to identify one batch or bottling from another and, most significantly, to choose a blend based on a great vintage rather than one marked by a lesser season.

A new day is dawning in the convoluted world of champagne communication and many smaller producers and even some larger houses are now beginning to disclose the age of their non-vintage bottlings.

The two most useful time stamps for a non-vintage cuvée are the date of bottling (almost always the year following the base vintage) and the date of disgorgement, when the bottle leaves the cellar to receive its cork (usually between a few months and a year before it is shipped).

There are rumours that the CIVC, guardian of Champagne’s regulatory requirements, is contemplating mandating disgorgement dates on back labels. Until this happens, decoding this information is not always straightforward, since there is no standard for declaring dates.

Those houses that do kindly volunteer this information use all manner of systems, hidden in difficult to read bottling codes etched into the glass of the bottle, printed on neck labels or back labels, printed in plain English or French on back labels, coded on front labels or corks, or accessed via QR codes, ID codes, web sites or dedicated apps.

In every edition of The Champagne Guide I explain how to crack the code for every grower and house who have volunteered their system – and some who haven’t, but which I’ve cracked with a little detective work! The following list offers a complete summary so you can quickly decode the next bottle you buy.

More champagne houses and growers are adding this information to their bottles every year, so if you spot one not yet in my list, please email the details to me at stelzer@winepress.com.au and I’ll add it.

In the meantime, this code breaker’s guide will equip you with everything you need to find the freshest bottles on the shelves. For full detail on each house and cuvée, pick up a copy of The Champagne Guide.

The codebreakers guide to unlocking champagne