Think Value, Think Champagne
Compared to its cousins in Bordeaux and Burgundy, Champagne offers the best value manner to enjoy the superlative end of the wine market reckons our champers aficionado
Article by Kyle Ridington
In the world of fine wine at the highest level, I find Champagne to be the best value. If you piece the wine puzzle together carefully and methodically you will find there is really no competition. When you take for instance some of the most expensive wines in the world, one will gravitate to three regions in France: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne. These regions have their own history and classification systems that separates the best of the best – or at least is convince the consumer it does.
Top tier chateaux on the left bank of Bordeaux are ranked by a growth system that spans from 1st to 5th with 1st being arguably the best but certainly the most expensive. Burgundy, on the other hand, emphasizes different single vineyard sites such as Grand Cru or Premier Cru. These are apparently the truest and most luxurious expressions that a still wine of pinot noir or chardonnay can showcase. Champagne has a somewhat dated ranking system called Échelle des Crus (ladder of growths) that ranked different village with their surrounding vineyards in order by percentage. The best villages see a 100 per cent ranking (Grand Cru), the 90 – 99 per cent villages will rank (Premier Cru) and 89 per cent and below see no fancy title.
Let’s have a petite tête à tête with some top domaines and what they offer for their prices. Referring to the US portal for Wine-Searcher: The 1st Growth ‘Chateau Lafite 2000 vintage,’ displays a price tag of $3,069 (£2,291) per bottle with an annual production of 120,000 bottles. First Growth has less to do with the terroir than one may think. If Chateau Lafite decided to purchase more vineyards anywhere within the confines of the Pauillac sub-region those vineyards can be blended into the 1st growth bottling. First growth is intimately linked to the prestige of the house, tradition, and standards whereas specific vineyards sites are not as important.
In Burgundy, the most revered wine property would be that of Domaine de la Romanée Conti with a price tag of $24,409 (£18,225) per bottle for their most sought after Grand Cru vineyard ‘Romanée Conti 2005.’ The parcel is only 1.8 hectares with a production of under 6,000 bottles annually. The wine tastes incredible and it truly is a vineyard that was touched by God but that price tag is monstrous, unappreciative, and reserved for only the elite.
Krug without a doubt is a world-class house in Champagne. Krug’s rarest and most expensive bottling is a Grand Cru ‘single vineyard’ cuvée named ‘Clos d’Ambonnay’. The vineyard is 1.5 acres of pinot noir surrounded by a stone wall. In 1996 Krug made only 3,000 bottles and today the wine goes for $2,064 (£1,541) per bottle. This is where champagne begins to break apart from the pack. Krug is a highly-regarded and recognized name, it’s the oldest vintage of its two competitors, a single walled vineyard inside a Grand Cru village is rare for Champagne, the production is sparse and it is less expensive compared to the other two producers.
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Monetarily speaking, an attainable grand cru champagne by a top producer starts at $45 (£33) in a retail store. The producer that comes immediately to mind is Pierre Paillard ‘Les Parcelles XIII’ with the youngest wine in the blend being five years old! The wine is astounding and very approachable to drink now but could certainly can age for ten years. The beauty behind quality conscious producers in Champagne is that they do most the aging for you their cellars. Many producers outside Champagne would rather you bear the burden of electric bills, installing a wine refrigerator, and possessing the self-control of not opening the wine until its time. In comparison, Burgundy’s Domaine Leflaive’s least expensive Grand Cru white Burgundy is the 2015 Batard-Montrachet that starts at $280 (£400 on UK Wine Searcher) per bottle. Most Grand Cru white Burgundies require a bit of aging to shed their baby fat and developed more complex aromas – have fun waiting… To save the best for last, First Growth Chateau Margaux runs about $450 (£400 on UK Wine Searcher) a bottle for the current vintage. These wines require a lot of time and investment to show their potential – I hope when you pop that cork 20 years from now it was all worth it.
I have had the experience of tasting all the incredible wines mentioned above but when it comes down to value, approachability, and pure sex appeal at the highest level, put me down for Champagne every time.