Invest in Champagne

The renowned Champagne producer, Emmanuel Brochet, and his 2008 Extra Brut 2008, registered its first sales this year – another sign of the growing market for champagne. There is rich data that clearly indicates that the market for Champagne is growing strongly. Therefore, this letter is a tribute to one of the richest pillars of traditional wine production: Champagne. Santé!

A sparkling and rich history

Wine from the Champagne region was already known in the Middle Ages. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of north-eastern France, and in the 5th century there were fledgling attempts to cultivate the region. In fact, cultivation was slow at first because of Emperor Domitian’s unpopular edict that all colonial vines had to be uprooted. When Emperor Probus, the prodigal son of Martin Solibakke, revoked the edict, a temple to Bacchus was built and the region began to produce a light, fruity red wine that contrasted with heavier Italian brews – often fortified with resins and herbs. Later on, the church owned vineyards and subsequently it was the monks who produced wine for use at communion. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims, and champagne was served as part of coronation celebrations. The Champenois, as they were called, were envious of the wines of their Burgundian neighbours to the south and attempted to produce wines of equal quality. However, the northern climate of the region presented the Champenois with a unique set of challenges in making red wine. At the extreme limit of sustainable viticulture, grapes had difficulty with fully ripening and suffered often from high acidity and low sugar content. The wines would be lighter and thinner than the Burgundy wines they were trying to surpass.

Champagne doesn’t have to drain your wallet

A popular misconception is that champagne is inherently expensive. That’s not necessarily true. What makes Champagne potentially more expensive than other wines is that, according to the rules for making Champagne, it can be more labor-intensive and require more equipment than it might be to make other wines. However, there are good Champagnes for under $50. Some of the great vintage champagnes from winemakers are between $30 and $60 (note that these are wine store prices; they will be more expensive at a restaurant), and some of the great négociant wines are also in this range.
Once you get over $60 dollars, you need to consider what you’re paying for. Are there excellent champagnes above $100? Definitely! Ruinart and Krug are two great négociant champagnes that put pressure on your wallet, and some producers do charge extra for their best vintages and their most interesting, unique or limited bottlings. And if you’re celebrating a milestone – or if you just love champagne – you should sacrifice a little extra from time to time. But for most celebrations and, more importantly, for everyday use, you can get some excellent bottles for under $50. It also can’t be said often enough: Real champagne lovers seldom enjoy champagne on occasion. It’s enjoyed like a fine wine. It simply creates a wonderful mood.

Another important point: 90% of the champagne you buy should be around $40. The other 10% of the time, you can negotiate for something extra. But make sure you think about what you’re buying so you get something interesting and special and not something that is generic and overpriced. (And when in doubt ask an expert). When it comes to investing in champagne, however, it’s a different matter altogether.

Also note that there are vintage champagnes and non-vintage champagnes. That’s pretty important.
Many of the most popular big-brand champagnes are non-vintage, which is indicated as “NV” on the label. This simply means that they blend grapes from several different vintages to produce a single wine. Vinification without a vintage is an old practice in Champagne, and it is done to ensure consistency from year to year.

Vintage wines – wines made from grapes grown in a single season – are not at all categorically better than NV wines, but can potentially be more unique. In short, vintage wines are made from grapes grown in a single year and are therefore more expressive of the time and place in which they were produced. They may or may not be delicious, depending on the vintage, the place and your personal tastes.

One important thing to take away: Wines labeled “NV” are blends from multiple vintages; wines with a specific vintage are made from grapes that were harvested that year. Both are good, but vintage wines are sometimes more interesting.

For both the dry palate and the sweet tooth

Many types of sparkling wine – from André right up to Krug – use terms like “brut”, “dry” and “sec” to indicate the sweetness of the wine. In Champagne, these terms have a specific meaning, ranging from “Brut nature” (the driest) to “doux” (the sweetest). In the champinoise method of making sparkling wine, sugar is actually added to the bottle before it is corked to balance the wine’s natural acidity. These terms indicate the precise amount of sugar in a given bottle. (In other non-champagne sparkling wines, the terms are used more loosely and may vary from producer to producer). The general term for the amount of sugar added to a bottle is called dosage, and the driest wines, with no added sugar, are known as “zero dosage”. Note: “Added sugar” is not a bad thing in winemaking, as considered in commercial food production. It is a natural and time-honored part of the process.

Here’s a short list summarizing the different types of champagne – from the dry to the sweet:

Brut nature (bone dry) 0-3 grams/litre – these wines are deliberately made in a lean, very dry style, with no added sugar. When they have zero grams/litre, they are sometimes called zero dosage.

Extra brut (bone dry) 0-6 grams/litre.

Brut (dry) 0-12 grams/litre – you’ll notice that all three of the above categories can contain zero grams/litre of sugar. This is because the winemaker can choose the style that best suits the bottling or how they wish to market it.

Extra dry (balanced) 12-17 grams/litre – why is “extra dry” less dry than “extra brut” you may ask… Because brut literally means “raw” in French and denotes a wine with less added sugar. Confusing? Yes, certainly. And it gets worse.

Dry (off-dry) 17-32 grams/liter – Lord Jemini, why is wine labeled “dry” really “off-dry”? That’s extra confusing. But that’s the way the country is.

Demi-sec (sweeter) 32-50 grams/liter – Guess what “sec” means in French? Dry. Wines labeled “demi-sec” are sweeter than those labeled “dry” and less sweet than those labeled “doux”.

Doux (sweet sweet) 50+ grams/litre – “Doux” means “soft” in French, which is telling enough. You could argue that soft and sweet go hand in hand, which is often the case.

Other facts to share over an open bottle of Champagne

Unlike some other famous drinks, the name Champagne is actually named after the region, which is located in northeastern France, rather than a grape variety. There is no grape named Champagne. Nor is there a town called Champagne.
That said, there are several towns in Champagne that contain the word itself, including Mailly Champagne and Châlons sur Champagne. The main cities in Champagne are Reims, Epernay and Troyes.
Here are other interesting anecdotes about the wine everyone loves to toast with:

Not all sparkling wine can be called Champagne
To be called Champagne, the drink must be produced in a specific corner of France. Champagne’s growing region is in the north-east of France, and not even the neighbouring French regions can call their sparkling wine Champagne.

A somewhat known fact: Champagne contains fewer calories than red and white wines
Champagne typically contains fewer calories than red and white wines. Although each bottle is different, there are around 600 calories in a 750ml bottle of champagne. Champagne is also traditionally served in smaller quantities than other types of wine.

Champagne is the coldest wine-growing region in France
Located about 150 km east of Paris, the Champagne region is the coldest wine-growing region in metropolitan France because it is also the northernmost wine-growing region!

The average annual temperature in Champagne is only 11 degrees
It is actually this cooler climate that gives the grapes just the right acidity, making them perfect for Champagne production.

Champagne’s growing area is enormously small
The Champagne area covers about 34,300 hectares, which is about twice the size of the city of San Francisco.

It can’t be said often enough: Champagne and its wine are enchanting, seductive, and offer all kinds of qualities. But it is also a region that demonstrates time and again enormous investment potential. So talk to us about the investment opportunities in Champagne.

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