Reims, 29 January 2020
At a recent auction, the House of Chanoine Frères had the good fortune to acquire an authentic rarity — a bottle of Chanoine Frères Brut champagne from the vintage year 1926.
1926 was indeed a vintage year for champagne. As you may know, in the Champagne only the best years are vintage years, since only then does the quality of the harvest make it possible to assemble wines from one year only. And since champagne is not a wine that benefits from long aging, bottles of this age are not frequently found.
Champagne and Charleston
In the annals of champagne, 1926 is known as a “vintage of high quality”; the harvest was low in quantity but quality was high. For Chanoine Frères and the other champagne houses, 1926 was truly a favorable year, after the recovery from the Great War, which destroyed 40% of the vineyards and caused consumption and exportation of champagne to plummet.
By 1926 the vineyards had been restored and the struggle against the devastating Phylloxera mite was gaining ground. The equipment, presses, wine stores and cellars were again in operation. The champagne cities of Reims and Épernay had been rebuilt. The champagne houses were busy rebuilding their businesses, and with the return of economic prosperity, champagne sales doubled between 1922 and 1925.
In France, 1926 was the year of economic and financial recovery with the new Franc Poincaré. The Roaring Twenties were at their height. At Paris’s Folies Bergères, Josephine Baker made the Charleston fashionable and Parisians thronged to dance it in the night clubs in Montparnasse on the Left Bank and at Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Maxim’s, and Le Fouquet’s on the Right Bank. Once again Paris was the City of Light and the champagne flowed.
Examining the label and neck band
Under the dust, the Chanoine Frères Brut 1926 bottle reveals a restrained and elegant label with the British-style typography very much in fashion at the time. In another Anglophilic touch, the phrase “Established 1730” recalls the historicity of the House and is also a nod to the British and Americans who are its faithful customers.
Below the gilded, embossed capsule or coiffe, on the neck band, a drawing of a comet can be made out, along with a star and its tail. Head Wine-Maker Isabelle Tellier tells us: “It’s amusing to learn that several major champagne houses have often decorated their bottles with that motif since the time of the comet that appeared in the skies in 1811 and was visible for several months. Napoleon named it the “Imperial Comet,” and its appearance happened to coincide with a harvest of remarkable quality. In the Champagne the harvest began on 15 September instead of at the beginning of October, as is normally the case, and produced excellent wines.” So the comet that appears on the Chanoine Frères bottle is not just an ornament; it’s the very symbol of a champagne of superb quality.
Chanoine Frères 1926: Brut Champagne and Mechanical Blowing
Also notable is the fact that the bottle’s punt — called piqûre in the Champagne — is fairly deep, as was the custom at the time. But this bottle was produced mechanically rather than mouth-blown. The House of Chanoine Frères was at the leading edge of innovation: the first mechanically produced champagne bottles were produced in 1924.
This bottle is all the more interesting since it contains a brut champagne, whereas the majority of champagnes sold then had a higher sugar dosage than today. In the 1920s, the taste for sweeter champagnes still held sway; but it was at that time that the famous gastronome Doctor de Pomiane recommended that true connoisseurs “drink only brut champagnes. Not out of snobbery or Americanism, but because they are wines that are almost natural and of the first quality.”
The House of Chanoine Frères will respectfully preserve this vintage 1926 brut and, since the bottle is unique, it and its mystery will remain intact, along with the aura of a legendary champagne.