WHAT MAKES VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE SO SPECIAL?

Liz Palmer, and Delphine Veissiere PhD

imagesThe Champagne region, which is an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) is based on two key characteristics: assuring place of origin of each product and its method of production. It’s not the largest wine-growing region, but it is the most famous. The region is divided into four main growing areas; Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte de Blancs together with Côte de Sézanne, and Côte des Bar (referred to as the Aube). It is important to note that – it is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

Champagne has been brilliantly marketed the past few decades, and has succeeded in retaining a cache although there are many serious sparkling wine alternatives on the market.

But, why is it so expensive?

A good answer, could be partly because the process is very long and complex and requires many steps along the way, so these drive up the price.

And what about vintage champagne?

Theoretically, vintage Champagnes are made only in particularly good years . This scarcity and quality are the key determinants for investment opportunity.

Vintage champagne is a matter of rarity and style

Vintage Champagne, also known as millésimé, is the unique expression of a single year. There is no regional announcement or vintage decree – the winemaker or Chef de Cave will only produce vintage Champagne in years when the quality is exceptional. These wines are made with the best grapes from superior vineyards.

Also in Champagne the word “vintage” takes on a new meaning – about 90% of the sparkling wine produced in the region is blended into non-vintage Champagnes. These wines are blends of wines from a number of years, or vintages. Non-vintage Champagne often a representation of the house style, while vintage Champagne is a reflection of the year. What gives a vintage Champagne that “special character”? The weather.

“A vintage Champagne is a joint venture between the winemaker and the climate,” says Olivier Krug.

The Champagne region is located in a key climatic area influenced by oceanic and continental weather. Harsh weather conditions makes the winegrower’s métier quite difficult.

Champagne aficionados are ecstatic these days due to a recent shift of good to great vintages commencing with the 2002s.  The character of a vintage Champagne is a reflection of that year’s weather. Here is a précis of 14 vintages from 2000-2014 and where you will find some vintages more exceptional than others.

2015 — Too early.
2014 —  Too early.
*2013 —  Difficult flowering period; Chardonnay badly affected by millerandage; a smaller crop with high quality.
*2012 —  Deemed one of the best vintages the Champagne region has experienced. “The quality and the intensity are definitely there to make an outstanding vintage” states Dom Perignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy. The base wines show beautiful richness with perfect acid levels; yields were very low.
2011 — An erratic year with problematic harvest.
2010 -This will be a variable year depending on the producer, not many vintages declared; some producers produced excellent fruit driven Champagne.
2009 —    A very difficult vintage; high sugar levels with moderate acidity.  I believe they will be more fresher than the 2003s; better suited for early drinking and not long-term cellaring.  I suspect that most of 2009 wine will be destined for non-vintage bottlings; a few vintage Champagnes were produced.
2008 — Some good vintages produced, watch out for some classically styled, acidic Champagnes.
2007 —  witnessed a cold, rainy summer, with a huge crop (especially Chardonnay) that was brought in earlier than predicted, near the end of August; mostly diluted fruit and high acidity, a large proportion will be reserved for non-vintage Champagnes
2006 — Supple and expressive wines; immediate drinking.
2005 — Not many great vintages produced – acidity was on the low end; 2005 Cristal is a good reflection.
2004 — Structured and well balanced wines, 2004 DP is an excellent reflection.
2003 — Very high heat across Europe produced wines with excellent fruit, good for immediate drinking not much potential for long-term cellaring.
*2002 — This vintage was dry and warm– an exceptional vintage; potentially a classic.
2001 — The worst vintage on record.
2000 — Good quality for blending; not many vintages produced.
*considered exceptional years

Vintage champagne is an investment opportunity

Champagne is relatively affordable when compared to similarly evaluated Bordeaux or Burgundy. Champagne offers first time investors a lower entry point and seasoned investors value for money when diversifying their portfolios. When Champagne is released it is ready for drinking, and rarely stored for long periods, vintages then become scarce and prices rise.

Sebastian Woolf of Woolf Sung reports that vintage Champagne currently presents the most value for money in the fine wine investment market, with a further 10% growth expected over the next 12 months. He states: “I set up Woolf Sung in 2012 to bring fine wine investment to the younger generations by focusing on under-the-radar brands and vintages. Champagne epitomizes this ambition and as investors across the board are seeking alternatives to Bordeaux, these brands and vintages are gaining traction in the market as investors and drinkers are looking for value.”

Woolf Sung is currently focusing on sourcing and procuring these old, scarce vintages which present a 3-5 year investment; these bottles are being drunk now therefore scarcity and, in turn, prices are ever increasing.

“The world’s top Champagne vintages, 1988, 1996, and 2002 have consistently shown great appreciation and continued steady growth over the years. Over a two year period to August 2014, these vintages have collectively risen 10.2%. With the investment market looking for alternatives to Bordeaux, vintage Champagne offers volume production, worldwide distribution and prestige that Burgundy and Italy struggle to compete with. According to Liv-Ex, between 2011 and 2013 the Champagne index increased 11.9% and its share of trade increase from 1% to 2.3%.” says Sebastian Woolf.

– Our Five Top Vintage Champagne Picks – Continue reading “WHAT MAKES VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE SO SPECIAL?”

Champagne Sales Set for Record Year

Champagne sales are set for a record year, driven by solid demand from export markets, favorable currencies and stabilizing sales in France, the fizzy drink’s home market.

Industry estimates gathered by Reuters showed that about 312 million bottles of the prestige sparkling wine will have been dispatched in 2015, a rise of between 2 and 3 percent from 2014.

Revenue has risen 4.4 percent to 4.7 billion euros ($5.1 billion) in 2015.

In 2007, the record year so far, revenues reached 4.56 billion euros, before the global economic and financial crisis began weighing on the market a year later.

The 2015 sales estimates reflected efforts to promote higher-priced products such as special blends and fine vintages, as well as growing demand for Rose Champagnes in Japan and the United States, Champagne’s second export market after Britain.

In Britain, a solid economy underpinned buoyant demand while austerity-hit Italy and Spain were starting to see signs of an upturn.

Economic woes in Champagne’s home market of France have taken the fizz out of global sales since 2010, but sales were stabilizing in volume and value this year and could even show a slight rise.

“France is on a recovery path. Consumption stabilised,” said Bruno Paillard, CEO of Lanson BCC, the number two Champagne house behind luxury group LVMH.

Sales were improving in French hypermarkets as well as in specialized stores.

“Consumers need to enjoy life,” said Paillard, adding lower energy prices and interest rates may have helped improve consumer purchasing power.

The Champagne market is dominated by LVMH, which owns the Dom Perignon, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart and Krug brands. Specialist makers include Lanson-BCC, Vranken or Laurent Perrier as well as drinks group Pernod Ricard with its Mumm and Perrier-Jouet brands.

Official figures for 2015 will be published next month.

Champagne, which can be produced only in the region of the same name, is facing tougher competition from Spain’s cava and Italy’s prosecco, sold for as little as a third of the price.

Industry professionals say the Champagne sector is fighting back by stepping up efforts to enhance the quality of its own product.

Reuters

KRUG RELEASES 2002 VINTAGE IN LONDON, UK

Champagne house Krug launched its 2002 vintage in London, UK this week, with cellar master Eric Lebel dubbing it “a purebred stallion” that needed to be reined in due to its “assertive” and “muscular” nature.

Lebel revealed that the wines produced in 2002 had a clear identity from the outset. “From the very first tastings, we saw nature’s generosity in every parcel. The wines announced themselves as round, rich, robust, dominated by fruit and particularly aromatic. As they have continued to develop, we have seen in this blend a remarkable finesse and finish too. It is almost as if each of the 2002 wines that we have chosen to compose Krug 2002 could be their own assemblage.”

Crafted from 40% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay and and, as always in Krug cuvées, there is a high percentage of Pinot Meunier – 21 %; Olivier Krug was equally enthusiastic about the fizz, calling it “an ode to nature” due to its “abundance of pure fruit” and “audacious elegance”.

Cellar master Eric Lebel describes “when making the blend, each individual wine seemed as if it was a blend as the vins clairs were so generous and expressive – the wines had everything, from exotic fruit and citrus fruit to candied fruit, liquorice and honey – everything was in abundance.

Krug 2002 be released on February 1 and each bottle will bear a six-digit code on the back label. This number can be used to find out details on the harvest, Lebel’s tasting notes, food pairing ideas, and recommendations for optimum storage and serving. The price is yet to be revealed.

CHAMPAGNE SALES SET FOR RECORD YEAR

0000067c3-French_supermarket_ChampagneChampagne sales reached a record high in 2015. Sales were driven by a strong demand from export markets, favorable exchange rates and sales in France.

According to estimates from news service Reuters, 312 million bottles were sold last year, up 2-3% on 2014, while value sales were up 4.4% to €4.7 billion.

A flurry of prestige cuvée releases such as Dom Pérignon 2006 helped drive sales last year, along with a growing demand for rosé Champagne in Japan and the US.

A return to pre-recession decadence boosted Champagne sales in the UK, while Spain and Italy both showed a slight growth. Champagne sales are also creeping up at hypermarkets and specialist stores in its homeland after years of being on the slide.

“France is on a recovery path. Consumers need to enjoy life,” Bruno Paillard, CEO of Lanson BCC, told Reuters.
Official figures for 2015 will be published February 2016 by the CIVC.

Dom Pérignon 2006

dom-perignon-2006_2The release of the 2006 marks the first time in the grand cuvée’s nearly-90 year history that five consecutive vintages have been made.

Richard Geoffroy, Chef de Cave says –

“I am a lucky man! The first decade of the new millenium has been prodigious for Dom Pérignon. I feel it might attain the golden eras of the 1920’s or 1960’s. This is why I am blessed to introduce Dom Pérignon Vintage 2006. The ambition of Dom Pérignon has always been to witness the vintages in Champagne. The reward of our commitment and dedication to the vintage is to be able to celebrate the release of our fifth vintage in a row, for the first time in the history of Dom Pérignon.

Out of these five vintages, four have been harvested at a stage of intense ripeness. Such frequency has never been seen in 300 years of Champagne harvests… yet each of these Vintages is unique. It is almost impossible to characterize full ripeness, as it can stem from a variety of weather conditions. I observed that there are two ways for the associated richness to express itself in the wine: either solemn, such as 2003 or 2005; or generous, such as 2002 or 2006.”

Dom Pérignon 2006 is best typified by its superlative generosity: a pure, airy and bright bouquet on the nose; a distinctive opulence, contained and succulent, on the palate. In essence, a luminous and glorious Champagne.