Food & Drink
The story of Champagne
If you blindfold a group of people and ask them to sip a variety of sparkling wines, each person will easily be able to pick out the glass of champagne from the rest.
Champagne comes from the Champagne region in northeast France. And there is simply no other place in the world whose conditions provide the perfect storm for sparkling wine-making as champagne.
First of all, there is the cool, steady climate that provides plenty of rain but also lots of sun during the summer. Then there is the soil whose well-drained limestone content is ideal for growing grapes with high acidity and freshness. And finally you have the strict laws that control every part of the wine-making process – from pruning to bottling and ageing.
All of these factors contribute to producing a wine that is exquisitely balanced between complexity, lush fruitiness, depth and a razor sharp acidity that is unmatched by any other sparkling wine.
And according to Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, winemaker and Vice President of champagne house Louis Roederer, the long history of the Champagne region is another important factor in the success of the wine.
“It is the culture and history that creates what we call knowhow,” says Lecaillon. “With its proper vineyard management and wine-making skills, Champagne as a place is simply unique. The reason champagne is more expensive than other sparkling wines is down to the combination of wine-making history, the cost of the land, the cost of the grapes and the huge amount of time it takes to produce one bottle. And of course the impressive and consistent quality that is produced.”
The production of one bottle of champagne does indeed take time. All of the grapes are picked by hand. The wine is then made using the “champagne method” where a second fermentation takes place inside the bottle, producing the unique lively mousse. A basic non-vintage brut is then matured for at least 15 months in the cellar and many houses keep their bottles, even at an entry level, for much longer than that.
“The particular style and quality has been developed for centuries by strong family houses with long traditions,” says Lecaillon. “I think that both for me and my colleagues the word champagne stands for something magical, and we’re very selective when it comes to production. We want every bottle that is released to be perfect.”
Another thing that sets champagne apart from other sparkling wines is the phenomenal ageing potential, which is also due to the meticulous production methods and general conditions in Champagne.
Richard Geoffroy, winemaker and cellar master at Dom Pérignon, says that the greatest champagnes are almost eternal. “We could easily open a bottle of Dom Pérignon in 100 or even 150 years and it would taste amazing,” he says. “It’s part of the magic of champagne.”
Champagne has long been considered one of the greatest wine styles in the world. But it is only recently that it stepped into the big league of wine investment and wine collecting.
Philippe Guittard is a dealer at BI Fine Wines & Spirits, an internationally acclaimed fine wine merchant. Champagne is his specialty. He says that the market has changed considerably in just the last five or six years. “It’s a change that’s been going on slowly for around 15 years or so, but which has really escalated in the last few years, especially when it comes to high-end champagne, which is mostly what we’re dealing with at BI. Value in general has been going up, and the investment potential has increased as well.”
Some years back, champagne was usually drunk soon after its release but today, many consumers have started building significant portfolios.
“If you compare vintages, most of the 1996 champagnes have already been consumed. The first vintage that has been mostly held on stock is from 2002,” says Guittard. “People have realized the potential of champagne as an investment, financially of course, but also because the taste of the wine will evolve over the years. And everything indicates that prices will go up in the future.”
Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, on the other hand, doesn’t think that prices will increase that much. “Champagne makers produce large quantities and look for consistency in pricing to make sure that the wines are present everywhere in the world,” he explains. “There will certainly be a price increase, especially when it comes to premium products, but overall it will stay moderate.”
But if you are interested in investing in champagne, what should you buy if you want to make a safe and solid deal? Not surprisingly, it’s the famous premium brands you should look for, especially great vintages or wines produced in small quantities.
“Krug, Roederer, Dom Pérignon, Salon and the like are definitely in the front row when it comes to pushing champagne as a prestigious wine and a luxury product,” says Guittard. “And they’re also the houses that pay the most on the second-hand market.”
Text: Andreas Grube
Published: December 8, 2016