Vintage champagne is an investment that has developed well in recent years. Especially compared to red wine, champagne offers new investors a lower entry point and experienced investors a good price-performance ratio when diversifying their portfolios.
Champagne is a unique product among its fine wine peers. Its distribution network is unparalleled, the environments that it exists in are diverse – restaurants, nightclubs, royal weddings – and brand recognition is stronger than in any other part of the market. Mentions of Dom Perignon will likely spark far more excitement than the top names of Burgundy and Bordeaux among non-wine experts. Champagne therefore touches drinkers not typically engaged with fine wine, and on a global scale.
Champagne has long been an on-trade favourite, but in recent years, it has also established itself as a key secondary market player. Since 2010, its trade share has risen from 1% to 18% by value, and the number of unique Champagnes trading has multiplied.
It was a brilliant idea for investors to invest in Bordeaux First Growths and Burgundy 10 years ago. Attention has now moved somewhat away into regions with increasing popularity and better production capacities. Champagne houses like Salon and Krug are gaining momentum as volatility decreases. Many champagne houses (famous and relatively unknown) have impressive long-term benchmarks and have the potential to reach a fan base of consumers with great purchasing power. A largely undeveloped market remains for the world's leading champagne houses, leaving plenty of scope for creative investment ideas.
In the 19th century, champagne production saw explosive growth from 300,000 bottles in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850. Today, around 349 million bottles are enjoyed worldwide each year, with the United Kingdom dominating the export market, followed by the United States and Germany.
The best and most expensive types of champagne are one-year prestige cuvées, which include Krugs Clos du Mesnil, Krugs Clos d'Ambonnay, Louis Roederers Cristal, Dom Pérignon and Salon Le Mesnil. In the past five to ten years, smaller producers have also become increasingly popular - especially among renowned champagne experts. Specialised retailers and auction houses sell bottles from these independent producers, including Jacques Selosse, who is at the forefront of the movement.
A Prestige Cuvée is only produced after an exceptional harvest and is therefore available in much smaller quantities and at much higher prices. Although top champagne is only produced in exceptional years, some vintages are better than others. In 2003, for example, atypical hot weather meant that only a few houses exhibited a vintage. In 2002, however, almost every house published a year - a clear indicator of an exceptional year. 1996 was also a great year for vintage champagne. The Salon Le Mesnil, for example, has only published 39 years since its first production in 1905. The 1988 Blanc de Blancs Clos du Mesnil from the revered champagne house Krug, for example, has a coveted 100 point rating from critic Robert Parker, while the 1996 vintage offers an almost perfect tasting at 99.
The prestige cuvée of a champagne house often has its own name: Louis Roederer calls his prestige cuvée Cristal, while Pol Roger produces Sir Winston Churchill - a vintage champagne that is supposed to imitate the robust form of the famous politician. Vintage champagnes have the potential to develop in the bottle and exude the complexity of honey and creme brulee.
For champagne, the amount of residual sugar, which is called dosage, is an important taste criterion, with the lowest zero dosage, up to Extra-Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux. The most common styles, however, are Extra Brut, Brut and Demi-Sec.
Zero Dosage has no added sugar, and is stricter and leaner - perfect to accompany sashimi. At the opposite end are Demi-Sec, with between 32 and 50 grams of residual sugar per liter, or Doux, with more than 50 grams. Both are ideal for those who prefer sweeter champagne and are perfect to accompany dessert or at the end of a meal.
Champagne is sometimes referred to as Blanc de Noirs or Blanc de Blancs, which indicates the color and variety of the grapes used. Blanc de Noirs is made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, while Blanc de Blancs is made exclusively from Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs are typically more solidly structured wines with red fruit aromas. Blanc de Blancs shows finesse, elegance and citrus aromas.
Good vintage champagne can be stored for a long time and will develop a lot of character with the bottle development. Magnum bottles age significantly significantly slower. Champagne should be stored like wine: in cool, dark and damp cellars. While it has a shorter lifespan than, say, tannin-red Bordeaux, good champagne can age for a long time, and will develop a lot of character with bottle development - although it will start to lose some of its fizz.
At 1.5 liters, a magnum bottle is twice the size of a standard 75cl bottle and half the size of the 3 liter Jeroboam. Although larger bottles are more expensive, they have the advantage of ageing more slowly, with less oxidation and more freshness. One reason for this is that the "ullage" (the distance between the bottom of the cork and the champagne liquid) is proportionately smaller in a larger bottle - which means that less oxygen gets into the bottle; about half compared to a standard bottle.