Credit crunch? What credit crunch? The Champagne Bar at St Pancras — at 90 metres, reputedly the longest in Europe — is doing a brisk trade in champagne breakfasts today. With almost 120 different champagnes on the list — including 15 or so by the glass — the lawyers, stockbrokers and giggling hen parties heading to Paris, Brussels or another day at the City coalface have plenty to choose from.
I am here to meet Olivier Krug, in London on a fleeting visit to promote the latest vintage of his champagne — the 1998 Krug. Surely now is not the time to be launching a fancy fizz such as this, I say, tucking into Krug ’n’ scrambled eggs. Aren’t we all meant to be trading down to Cava?
‘There will always be a market for deluxe champagnes,’ replies Krug. ‘Opening a bottle of champagne is very different from opening a bottle of sparkling wine. Champagne is special, just 10 per cent of total sparkling wine production, and Krug is extra special, just 0.2 per cent of total champagne production. People value quality and rarity.’
Krug is right. However much the doomsayers might warn us of a savage recession ahead and however much the government killjoys try to tax us into teetotalism, sales of top-notch champagnes continue to rocket.
‘They are going through the roof,’ confirms Chris Orr, MD of Quintessentially Wine. ‘Most of the super-rich have their money well-protected, and frankly the £20 million yacht is more likely to go before the Krug or DP does. Don’t forget, many people feel pressured into reassuring their peers of their continued success during a financially unstable period, and nothing says that more clearly than pouring them magnums of Dom Pérignon or Belle Epoque.’
When my alma mater, Berry Bros & Rudd, launched the current (2000) Dom Pérignon the other week they sold their entire stock of 675 cases in just two days, netting a cool £500,000 in the process. They managed to scrounge another 75 cases and these too were gone in a flash. That certainly is a lot of peer pressure. ‘We were blown away by the response and have now completely sold out,’ says Berrys’ Simon Staples. ‘Customers are buying it not just because it tastes so great, but also because it’s such a good investment.’
In 1998, a case of 1990 DP (an equally fine vintage) cost just £400. Today, the same case is worth £2,000. Do the math, as they say (the added attraction being that when you sell it on, you won’t be liable to capital gains tax).
For lunch I join wine merchant Jason Yapp, of Yapp Bros. He treats his impecunious journo friend to a splendiferous bottle of fizz, the 1998 Gosset Celebris. ‘I reckon that in belt-tightening times it’s vital to treat yourself and to remind yourself how good the good things in life are,’ he says expansively. ‘This is my favourite prestige cuvée. I admit that it does have a slight Footballers’ Wives appeal, but it tastes luxurious enough for me.’ And for me too, old chum, what a treat.
And so, if anyone else out there is buying and is anxious to reassure me of their continued success, here in price order, are my current top ten Swanky-Dan champagnes:
•1998 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut, £75. The Nicolas Feuillatte co-operative makes one of my favourite standby NVs (£17.99 if you buy two at Majestic) and this Pinot Noir-dominant blend, aged for eight years, is a cracker, full-flavoured and supple.
•2000 Dom Pérignon Brut, £95. Named after the monk who supposedly ‘invented’ champagne (he didn’t, he spent most of his time trying to stop the bubbles appearing), this not only looks the business, it is the business, full of creamy brioche, buttery toast and peaches.