I really hate to bring this up, but it's only 10 weeks until Christmas.
That means the holiday season is almost upon us and there isn't really that much time left to start planning the various festive occasions. After all, this end of the year is the one where we like to pamper ourselves a little, indulging in sumptuous meals and cracking open the good stuff once the visitors have left.
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It's a time when wine lovers tend to aim for the top end of the spectrum and that's why we run our "World's Best" series of articles at this time. You don't want to be stinting on quality when the moment comes to kiss goodbye to this particular year, do you?
Which brings us rather neatly to Champagne. If ever there was a wine synonymous with celebration, it is Champagne and there's a very good reason for that: the Champagne houses have been telling us so for the past 250 years or so. It's not a party without Champagne, they have insisted, and consumers have happily bought into that particular fiction.
The problem for the Champenois is that celebratory occasions don't happen every day, so associating themselves so closely with festivity in general, they have somewhat missed a trick in the more prosaic – and infinitely more frequent – occasions when people just want to drink a glass of wine.
So then came the idea of Champagne as an everyday wine; a parallel campaign that the Champenois also launched, inviting us all to enjoy their wines on an everyday basis, while still believing the opposite to be true – that it is a celebration wine. This sort of cognitive dissonance is all too common in the wine world; marketing has never felt the need to defer to reality.
It's the least of Champagne's worries, however. The region has been hit hard in recent years with growing yields, lower prices and reduced exports. Covid has put paid to the restaurant market, while international pressures like tariffs and Brexit are still looming. And that's not even touching on the possible natural impacts of climate change, poisoned soil and pesticide addiction.
Of course, another challenge facing Champagne is the one few people talk about: the growing hegemony of a single group. LVMH's sheer size and the number of big-name houses within its stable makes some in the region a little uncomfortable. The volume of grapes it buys and the volume of wines it produces gives it a singular level of clout among both buyers and the various professional boards administering the appellation.
Wine critics don't seem too worried by the LVMH-ification of Champagne, given the kind of scores they are lavishing on the luxury goods giant's brands. More and more of them seem to be swayed by the charms of Krug and Dom Pérignon, as we shall see when we look at the 10 highest-scoring Champagnes on Wine-Searcher.
And let's talk quickly about the scores. Wine-Searcher collates scores from a wide range of critics, from influential single palates like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson to publications like Wine Spectator, all adjusted for the 100-point scale. To generate a wine's aggregate score, Wine-Searcher uses a Bayesian methodology to calculate a weighted average, since not all critics are equal. This score is calculated for specific vintages of a wine, as well as across all vintages.The World's Best Champagnes on Wine-Searcher:
|Wine Name||Score||Ave Price|
|Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut||96||$1265|
|Krug Clos d'Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Brut||96||$2743|
|Krug Vintage Brut||96||$353|
|Jacques Selosse Grand Cru Millésime||95||$804|
|Salon Cuvée S Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut||95||$821|
|Dom Pérignon P2 Plénitude Brut||95||$402|
|Krug Collection Brut||95||$1224|
|Dom Pérignon P3 Plénitude Brut||95||$2558|
|Dom Pérignon Oenothéque Brut Millésime||95||$1202|
|Jacquesson Vauzelle Terme Extra Brut||95||$209|
That's effectively a roll of honor for LVMH. Seven of the wines are from two of the company's stablemates and the squeeze is definitely on: last year, LVMH held five spots on the list from three brands.
Gone from that list are Bollinger's RD and Vieilles Vignes as well as – perhaps most surprising of all – Louis Roederer's Cristal, which has dropped a point from last year. They've been replaced by Dom and Krug cuvées and the Selosse. All of the additions have increased their scores since last year, too – the 2019 list had five scores of 95 and five of 94; 95 is the bare minimum this year.
The increase in quality at the top of the Champagne tree couldn't come at a better time. It's International Champagne Day tomorrow, and it's a good time to start thinking seriously about end-of-year bubbles.
And about how good a wine will it have to be to celebrate the end of the year from hell?