Most Champagne is Non Vintage, often abbreviated as NV, although you won’t find this designation on the bottles. Instead you can tell it is non vintage by the absence of a vintage date. Non vintage Champagne is simply made from grapes from a variety of vintages or growth years. The goal is to produce a wine that is the same every year, despite differences in grapes grown during different seasons due to differences such as rainfall, hail, sun, temperature and more.
NV Champagnes are also known as Classic Champagnes, a term that makes sense since for the first century and a half or so all Champagnes were non vintage.
Where NV Champagnes aim is to be a consistent product, Champagne that tastes the same every year, the opposite, Vintage Champagne, will express both the specifics of the vintage or growing year as well as the style of that particular brand of Champagne. A non vintage Champagne will have most of the wine from the base year, with a percentage of wines from older vintages, often up to 20 % but sometimes up to 40 % or more.
Vintage Champagnes are only made in superior growing years when the grapes are superb, and the fairly complex French laws (even if you can read French) require putting aside at least 20 percent of wines from each year for use in NV Champagnes. Most producers put aside more than 20 percent, but this guarantees that there will always be high quality wine for blending into the NV wines.
NV wines are less expensive than their vintage counterparts, and many excellent ones are available for US$40 and well under. Also, sometimes an NV wine will taste as good or better than its vintage counterpart on release and shortly thereafter, with the vintage catching up and surpassing the NV after a few years of aging.
NV Champagnes are great for daily use, and are truly wonderful wines! You can’t drink Cristal or Pol Roger Winston Churchill every day after all (I’d love to drink the 1990 every day if possible, but it isn’t). They are a great way to try a variety of producers and experience their styles without breaking the bank, and you can always try the vintage wines of your favorite producers afterwards.
One interesting variation is so called Multi Vintage or MV wines, which are a non vintage blend of only very good vintages. Non vintage wines traditionally use wines produced from every vintage regardless of quality. MV wines are not common nor popular, but there are at least two utterly superb ones. Krug makes a killer MV as well as an MV Rose, and Laurent Perrier’s Grand Siècle is awesome. I love them both, and they do benefit from a few years of aging as well..
NV or Non Vintage Champagnes are the most common, followed by Vintage Champagnes, and a very few producers make a multi vintage or MV Champagne