© Perrier-Jouët |
There’s an undeniable magic to Champagne, and it isn’t just about the bubbles.
The fizz is crucial to Champagne‘s success, but it is just one factor in a trinity of reasons why the cold, frequently unforgiving region became the ne plus ultra of sparkling wine: perceived value and seriously slick marketing.
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|Champagne: What’s in a Name?|
Perceived value is an interesting one. For many years, people thought the sparkling wines of Champagne were better purely because they were reassuringly expensive. If something cost that much it must be good, the argument went. And that outlook was vindicated by Champagne houses slickly packaging and marketing their product to an entirely willing and receptive audience.
For more than two centuries, the words Méthode Champenoise have disappeared from non-Champagne labels as the region’s representative body, the CIVC, have aggressively targeted any sparkling wine producer with the temerity to use the C-word on their labels.
For all the palaver the CIVC makes about protecting its members, it’s undeniable that there is something rather special about the cold, wet chalk of Champagne that produces some astonishing wines from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. And boy, do we like drinking them. Despite the availability of similarly constructed wines from pretty much every other wine-producing nation – not to mention other sparkling wine styles like the enormously popular Prosecco – Champagne remains the standard by which all other sparkling wines are judged.
Even the various styles of Champagne – brut, zero dosage, blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs, rosé, vintage or non-vintage – have been emulated to some extent by other sparkling wines, but Champagne is still a literal byword for excellent sparkling wine.
The names of the great Champagne houses themselves are all familiar and famous due to the continuous marketing of the Champagne brand as being the epitome of quality. It’s interesting, then, to see how many different names there are in the top 10 list of most searched-for wines so far this year; only one label appears twice. However, if you look a little more closely, it becomes apparent that the diversity isn’t quite as broad – half the names on the list belong to the luxury goods juggernaut LVMH.
In many ways this is the epitome of Champagne – named after the purported inventor of sparkling wine, focused entirely on vintage cuvées and so reassuringly expensive that it can cost as much as $4000 a bottle for older vintages – so it’s no surprise that it’s the most sought-after Champagne on the list. It is also currently the fifth most popular wine overall with Wine-Searcher users, reflecting its impressive consistency – it’s average critic scores range from 92 to 100 points.
This wine has been a winner since it was launched in 1876 to satisfy the thirst of Russian Czar Alexander II. A 60-40 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it hasn’t suffered too much from he fall of the Russian royals; it has become something of a status symbol among the hip-hop community, who frequently reference it in their musical stylings. Despite this, it remains a favorite with Wine-Searcher users, no doubt aided by its $234 average price and its average critic score of 94.
3. Krug Brut
One of the most prestigious houses in Champagne, Krug is a byword for expensive excellence and it doesn’t really do «entry-level». This cuvée is a blend of 120 wines from more than 10 vintages and definitely falls into the «reassuringly expensive» category at $214 and it is the most affordable to Krug’s eminently collectible wines – a bottle of the Clos d’Ambonnay will set you back a positively trustworthy $2264.
© LVMH | 4. Moët & Chandon Brut
If Krug is the Champagne every collector wants, Moët is the one everyone knows; and with a production capacity of some 60 million bottles annually, it’s virtually ubiquitous and is what many people automatically think of when they hear the world «Champagne». With an average global price of $50, this is the bargain of the bunch.
Aime Salon wasn’t a fan of Pinot Noir so, when he opened his Champagne house in 1911, he decided to make his wines only from Chardonnay. Let’s be fair, he did a pretty good job; the wine has an average score of 95 to go with its $465 price tag, reflecting its vintage status and grand cru origin in the small Clos du Mesnil vineyard.
Dom’s second entry on the list is a tribute to the quality of this blushing pink wine. Long-lived, full-bodied, the critics reach for words like «opulent» and «substantial» to describe this vintage expression that is – perhaps surprisingly – the only rosé on the list.
The house’s own vineyards might be planted half to Pinot Noir, but it is best known for its Chardonnay-based wines. And this is the top of the tree for Taittinger; first made in 1952, the grapes predominantly come from grand cru vineyards and the wine is aged for 10 years before release. The average score of 90 makes the $152 price tag look a little on the cheap side.
Another familiar face on wine store shelves, this consistently good wine is named for the widowed Barbe-Nicole Cliquot Ponsardin, the eponymous «veuve» , who did so much to make Champagne what it is today, including developing the riddling process by which the wines are separated from their lees. With an average score of 90, the price tag of $56 looks very good value indeed.
One of the first houses to put a year on the label and also one of the pioneers of the brut style, Belle Époque is Perrier-Jouët’s top tier and famous for its Art Nouveau livery, which makes it one of the most instantly recognized Champagnes of them all. The consistency of the quality – average score of 92 – might have something to do with Perrier-Jouët’s record of just seven cellarmasters in 200 years.
Another famous name, this proudly independent Champagne house has been a fixture on connoisseurs’ lists since the early 19th Century. A muscular wine, thanks to the heavy levels of Pinot Noir in the blend, it scores between 90 and 100 points with the critics, and will set you back a tidy, but not off-putting, $132. And it’s James Bond’s «official» Champagne, to boot.