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We unravel the secrets to collecting champagne

Emilee Tombs
April 22, 2024
5 min

Vintage vs. non-vintage champagne

Known as the drink to toast celebrations since Dom Pérignon first declared he was ‘tasting the stars’ in 1693, champagne has always had a place in the collector’s cellar and vintage champagne is seen as the cream of the crop. Made only in years when the growing conditions are just right, vintage champagne accounts for just five percent of champagne production. The Grand Marques – Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon and the like – produce vintages just three or four times per decade. There are great vintages – those that winemakers agree are superior in taste and which, under the right conditions, can age exceptionally well. And there are only good years. Bad vintages simply don’t get made.

“In the past, cellars were very much focused on Bordeaux,” said Berry Brothers & Rudd Senior Fine Wine Account Manager Tatiana Humphreys in a recent interview for the Berry Brothers & Rudd podcast Drinking Well. “But champagne has really risen through the ranks and today, most decent cellars will have a decent chunk of champagne in them. [Primarily], to create a well-balanced cellar, but also, prices have increased, and so [champagne] now has that investment edge as well.”

The vintage challenge

The Champagne region’s marginal climate makes it tremendously difficult for grapes to reach their full phenolic ripeness. Cool, damp and frequently wet conditions are not ideal for grapes, which need warmth and sunshine to develop their unique flavours. With non-vintage champagnes, winemakers can blend hundreds of reserve wines to create champagne that meets the same quality standard each year. If the weather is unfavourable, they can balance out the year’s under-ripe grapes with more expressive reserve wines. In contrast, during years when a vintage is declared, winemakers are only able to use grapes from the current year and the margin for error is huge.

Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs

Single vineyard vintages

In recent years, vintages produced from single vineyards have gained popularity. A case of four bottles of Krug 2002 from its tiny walled plot Clos du Mesnil sold for £6,125 in December 2021 at Christie’s in London. Growing only Chardonnay grapes, Clos du Mesnil is a sort of garden vineyard, and the champagnes from this very specific spot taste unlike any other. Only 31 vineyards in the region are allowed to add ‘clos’ to their name, which in turn drives up the demand. Krug’s ultra-sought after Krug Clos d'Ambonnay (100% pinot noir), Bollinger’s Clos Saint Jacques and Billecart- Salmon’s Clos Saint-Hilaires are some of the better known clos.

The allure of limited edition

Celebrity-endorsed bottles might seem like marketing bumph, but it’s worth taking note of some. In 2022, the second most expensive bottle of champagne on the market was a 30-litre rosé made in 2013 by Armand de Brignac, the Champagne house owned by the rapper Jay-Z. Veuve Clicquot regularly sells out of their special editions, which include collaborations with artists, such as Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, while Dom Pérignon’s partnerships with Lenny Kravitz and Lady Gaga are also popular cellar pieces.

Make space for grower champagnes

While vintage champagnes from the Grand Marques will always be popular – Dom Pérignon sold vintage 1996 for an average of $117 in 2004 and $250 in 2013 – if you talk to one of the champagne buyers at Berry Brothers & Rudd and they’ll tell you to buy a case of Cedric Bouchard or Pierre Peters. These grower champagne houses (where the grower and maker are one in the same) are much smaller than the Grand Marques but can offer great value vintage champagnes. “Single site and single vintage are big trends for these grower champagne houses, said Davy Zyw, Berry Brothers & Rudd’s champagne buyer. “It’s worth buying cases so you can see how they develop and mature over time.”

Champagne enters the metaverse  

The most expensive bottle of champagne ever sold is a magnum of Champagne Avenue Foch 2017 decorated with an artwork by Mig, the artist being the Bored Ape Yacht Club designs. Sold in July 2022 for $2.5 million, the bottle accompanies a digital artwork that holds a separate value in Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs). While the wine inside the bottle is made from grapes grown in Premier Crus vineyards, and will no doubt taste incredible, the buyers do not intend to drink it but keep it as an investment. They’re not alone. BlockBar. com – the world’s first direct-to-consumer NFT marketplace for luxury wines & spirits – sells rare bottles accompanied by NFTs. The physical bottles are stored in a temperature-controlled storage facility in Singapore until the owner of the NFT decides to redeem their tokens and, after redemption, BlockBar will ship the bottles anywhere in the world for the owner to enjoy, solving not only the problem of authenticity in the world of fine and rare wines, but storage. For those just beginning their vintage champagne collection, NFTs could be the ideal entry point.

Today, a successful champagne collection might be made up of a few good years, but there are also single vineyard vintages to consider, as well as special edition bottles with collectable artwork emblazoned on the bottle. And, if you plan to future proof your collection, perhaps a vintage that comes with an NFT is in order? While vintages are still the bread and butter of any decent champagne collection, when it comes to building a collection, there is more to consider than ever before.  

A few good years

1996, 1998 and 2002 — Widely considered the greatest years in Champagne. Wines from these years are opulent and expressive with well-balanced acidity. These years are coming into their own in 2022.
2004 and 2006 — Underrated years that are highly sought-after by serious collectors.
2008 — There is currently huge demand for 2008 vintages. If you happen to have a bottle in your cellar, hold out for a couple of years before opening it as it is currently tasting a little taught. For Dom Pérignon 2008 the drinking window runs until 2050, demonstrating the age-ability of vintage champagnes.
2009 — Drinking beautifully now, 2009 was a warmer than average year for Champagne and the wines are more expressive as a result.