As I sip the latest release of Krug Grande Cuvee and chew some salty nuts at Eleven Madison Park, company director Olivier Krug compares making the Champagne to his grandmother’s ratatouille.
“Champagne is more complex when you blend many ingredients,” he says.
Entering the new label ID code on the Krug website, I find out what those are. This accesses more backstory, like the fact that this particular release of Grande Cuvee ($150) contains wine from 121 vineyard plots and 12 vintages from 1990 to 2004, and information on when it was disgorged.
Revealing numbers like these is a big change. Until recently, most of the region’s grandes marques kept information about their non-vintage-dated blends secret.
Major Champagne house Roederer is touting its 10-year relationship with biodynamics, a risky uber-organic form of viticulture increasingly popular among small grower producers.
“When you don’t take risks, wine becomes standardized,” cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon says. That’s tiny grower-producer talk. We are at a July tasting of seven vintages of Roederer’s prestige cuvees Cristal and Cristal Rose.
Biodynamics, Lecaillon says, give the wines more finesse and fruit, even in difficult vintages like 2005. I guess so.
That just-released vintage of Cristal ($200) is rich and full, with plenty of chalky tang and none of the earthy taint I’ve found in some producers’ 2005 bottlings. Lecaillon calls his 2005 fizz “a blue sky without any clouds.”
The 1996 Cristal Rose is just about perfect, creamy and silky and supremely complex. It should be, at $700 per.
Of course, no big Champagne house is abandoning image consciousness. Based on this summer’s launches, pairing your bubbly with an avant-garde designer or celeb is definitely de rigueur.
Dom Perignon tapped film director David Lynch, creator of the weird, addictive TV series “Twin Peaks” and 2001 thriller “Mulholland Drive,” to package 2003 D.P. ($169) and 2000 D.P. Rose ($309) “The Power of Creation” limited editions. (They go on sale next month, though the regular bottlings of the same wines are already on retail shelves for less.)
Lynch’s surrealistic D.P. bottle and box have a glowing, almost creepy, hallucinatory look. The exotic 2003 Dom Perignon, from a vintage so hot that 15,000 people died in France, is rich and powerful, but I much prefer the creamy, glamorous 2002 ($140).
James Bond and Bollinger are still a classic pairing -- he’s been ordering the brand on screen since the 1973 film “Live and Let Die.” I’m not a fan of the specially designed of the special 2002 “James Bond 007” La Grande Annee bottling ($200) being released next month for the opening of the new Bond movie “Skyfall.”
The box is intended to evoke the silencer on Bond’s Walther PPK handgun. Unless you’re a Bond collector, go for the sexy, rich, elegant wine in the regular bottle ($100).
A huge global survey released in August by research company TNS revealed a worldwide appetite for indulging in Champagne and sparkling wine more regularly. What’s holding people back, said chief researcher Jan Hofmeyr, is cost.
Champagne has always been pitched and priced as an elitist drink, which is why sales slipped during the recession and sparklers like prosecco and Spanish cava are booming.
Yet this summer, Liv-Ex reported global demand for Champagne is thriving, at least for investment-grade names like Cristal, Krug, D.P. and hot seller 2002 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ($185).
For the 1 percent, Acker Merrall & Condit offers a Hong Kong sale of U.S.real estate entrepreneur Robert Rosania’s extraordinary Champagne collection on Sept 21 and 22.
It includes plenty of top bottles, like the super rare 1966 Krug Blanc de Blancs (estimate $12,000 to $18,000). The auction house forecasts that the sale will pull in HK$50 million.
Master sommelier Laura Maniec, owner of one of my favorite New York wine bars, Corkbuzz, is trying to give the 99 percent a shot at top bubbles. This summer she began selling every bottle of Champagne on her list at 50 percent off every night from 10 p.m. until the bar closes.
The offer is still on, with a fascinating grower fizz like the classy 2002 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut for $98 instead of $195, or a delicious standard like non-vintage Ruinart Rose Brut for $75 rather than $150.
Maniec advocated pairing all these champagnes with everyday food, like French fries (try one with Corkbuzz’s spicy potatas bravas). The bubbles cut through the salt and oil and inspire you to eat more fries, which then requires drinking more Champagne, and so on.
That same taste principle is at work in the latest non-elitist kooky wine match: Champagne and hot dogs.
London’s Bubbledogs wine bar, which opened Aug. 29, offers 13 savory, spicy hot dogs (cost: 6 to 8 pounds each) with refreshing grower Champagnes (from 6 pounds a glass; bottles 32 pounds and up).
I’m not surprised. I’ve always known top French bubbly goes with just about everything.
(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Richard Vines on food and Farah Nayeri on the Venice Film Festival.