Top 10 Champagnes at auction
Champagne does not, as a rule, command the prices or attention at auction that we have come to expect of Bordeaux and certain Burgundies.
That said, the lavish care and attention to detail that marks Champagne out, makes it extremely collectible and highly desirable as a wine.
The appearance of its rarer vintages or cuvées can be a headline event and Champagne has broken more than a few of its own records before.
Even shipwrecked bottles have been auctioned to great interest and demand. The wines in this list offer the usual array of prestige cuvées and big names but not all and it may be surprising to see some places taken by certain houses rather than others.
The figures detailing the performance of each entry cover the period 2006 to 2011 and the order is determined by overall value.
Total value: £179,663
Total bottles sold: 610
Number of lots: 135
Average bottle price: £295
Lily Bollinger – perhaps alongside Moët’s Comte Robert de Vogüe – was to Champagne what Baron Philip de Rothschild was to Bordeaux: its chief personality and source of some of the wine world’s best quotes and anecdotes.
Her pithy remark to a visiting journalist about how often she drank Champagne still stands the test of time – if often imperfectly rendered.
The Champagne of James Bond, Bollinger has a solid reputation for producing delicious wines.
Bollinger is well known for its recently disgorged wines or “RD”, which are vintages that have been kept to age on the lees a little longer in the cellar. Bollinger is also famous for its Vieilles Vignes Françaises, made from two vineyard sites in Aÿ of pre-Phylloxera vines.
Bollinger used to have three such sites but Croix Rouge in Bouzy was struck by Phylloxera in 2004, leaving only the sites in Aÿ – Chaudes Terres and Clos St-Jacques, the former growing in Bollinger’s back garden.
9. Pol Roger
Total value: £236,787
Total bottles sold: 1,214
Number of lots: 182
Average bottle price: £195
Everyone likes Pol Roger. Be it for the wines, the style, its attitude or the fact that it was famously Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne; whatever the reason, Pol seems to engender immediate warmth and high regard.
And with good reason as the cuvées are universally excellent. It’s not a gimmicky house or one that seeks to follow fashions nor is it big and flashy, rather it is personable and quietly understated and perhaps this is what made it popular with the British – that and very focused marketing.
To this day, the walls of Pol Roger’s base in Epernay are festooned with shields bearing the insignia of various Commonwealth military and social institutions that all rank Pol Roger as “their” Champagne.
8. Dom Pérignon Rosé
Total value: £273,567
Total bottles sold: 768
Number of lots: 133
Average bottle price: £356
Dom Pérignon was one of the first prestige cuvées to produce a rosé and its first vintage, 1959, is one of the Champagnes to watch for at auction – and buy if you can afford it.
Only 304 bottles of the 1959 rosé were produced and auction house Acker Merrall & Condit was responsible for selling two bottles for $84,700 in New York.
A vertical of rosé Oenothèque including 30 bottles and magnums of 1966, 1978, 1982, 1985, 1988 and 1990 was auctioned in Hong Kong by Sotheby’s in May 2010 and fetched HK$1,331,000. It was a world record for Champagne at auction and the first million dollar lot Sotheby’s made in Hong Kong.
7. Krug Clos du Mesnil
Total value: £361,916
Total bottles sold: 494
Number of lots: 157
Average bottle price: £733
Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is extremely rare as a Champagne both in terms of quantity and the fact that it is produced from a single vineyard.
A blanc de blancs wine from one small plot in the Côte des Blancs grand cru of Le Mesnil, the 1.9 hectare vineyard was purchased by Krug in 1971 and was first released under its current guise in 1979.
The Clos du Mesnil was possibly the single vineyard wine that renewed interest in the category, although it was not the first. Upon its release, it was one of the most expensive Champagnes on the market and continues to be so, as well as one of the most sought after, although its newer sister wine Clos d’Ambonnay – a blanc de noirs made from Pinot Noir in the Montagne de Reims grand cru of Ambonnay – is more expensive but has yet to make an impact.
6. Louis Roederer
Total value: £456,108
Total bottles sold: 1,239
Number of lots: 265
Average bottle price: £368
Cristal’s creator and a consistent grande marque with exceptionally strong vintage and non-vintage offerings.
Founded as Dubois Père & Fils in 1776, the house was inherited and renamed by the eponymous Louis in 1833.
Focused attention on export markets was repaid with the demand for Cristal from the Russian Tsar. Roederer owns most of its own vineyards, buying in roughly a third of what it needs every year.
Numerous acquisitions means that Roederer owns the Bordeaux estates of Château de Pez and Haut-Beauséjour in Saint Estèphe and a majority share in second-growth Pauillac estate Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Champagne Deutz is also part of the Roederer Group.
5. Krug Collection
Total value: £487,671
Total bottles sold: 424
Number of lots: 168
Average bottle price: £1,150
Krug returns with its ‘Collection” range, a selection of recently disgorged vintages that have been quietly biding their time in the house’s cellars.
The current release is still only 1989, which perhaps gives some indication of how often these wines are released. The 1989 is presented as being part of the three “exceptional years” of 1988, 1989 and 1990. The forwardness of the 1989 made Krug release it before the 1988 and is described as “expressive, opulent, charming and sensual as the vintages of 1982, 1976, 1964 and 1947.”
All bottles released as part of the Collection range are numbered in descending order according to their rarity. Each is guaranteed with a certificate of authenticity from Olivier Krug.
4. Salon Le Mesnil
Total value: £884,949
Total bottles sold: 2,940
Number of lots: 425
Average bottle price: £301
A very unique proposition indeed. Now owned by Laurent-Perrier, Salon is in a way the antithesis of a Champagne house being mono-cru and always vintage.
Based in the grand cru of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Salon was founded in the early 20th century by Eugène Aimé Salon who was apparently convinced that the Chardonnay wines of Le Mesnil had enough finesse and complexity to warrant the exclusion of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
As with Krug, Salon is renowned for keeping its Champagnes for a long time in the cellar but Salon arguably takes this philosophy even further coupled with the vintage only concept.
For example, between the first vintage in 1905 and today – in little over a hundred years – the house has released a mere 37 vintages. The current vintage in 1997, with 1999, 2002 and 2004 still maturing in the cellars.
Undeclared vintages are put into the production of Delamotte, which is also based in Le Mesnil and part of the Laurent-Perrier group.
3. Cristal Louis Roederer
Total value: £1,131,07
Total bottles sold: 2,948
Number of lots: 524
Average bottle price: £384
The original “bling” Champagne, staple of hip hop artists, rap references and conspicuous consumption before “P-Diddy” had a public falling out with Louis Roederer’s managing director, Frédéric Rouzaud, after comments made by the latter to The Economist in 2006 made the former feel “disrespected”.
Cristal’s association with some of the trashier side of money was entirely unfair and rather clouded its position as one of the original prestige cuvées. Originally created for the Russian tsar Alexander II in the 19th century, Cristal derived its name from the crystal bottle that was made especially for the brand by Flemish glassmakers.
This request was apparently made so that Alexander could be sure that no bomb or other nefarious device had been placed inside to do him in, so wary was he of assassination at the hands of Russian nihilists. The Champagne was not made commercially available until 1945.
2. Dom Pérignon
Total value: £2,274,295
Total bottles sold: 9,337
Number of lots: 1,373
Average bottle price: £243
Not in fact the blind monk’s original brew (and he wasn’t blind either) and sadly not produced in Hautvilliers. Despite a lot of the marketing and myths surrounding Dom Pérignon, there is no doubt that it is a superb wine that fully deserves its place as one of the top prestige cuvées on the market.
Created and produced by Moët & Chandon, the blend is straight Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from selected grand cru sites with a little wine from the premier cru of Hautvilliers added every year to pay some kind of homage to the wine’s namesake.
Between the wine’s creation in 1921 and 2002, only 36 vintages have been produced. Three vintages in a row have only occurred twice, 1969, 1970 and 1971 and 1998, 1999 and 2000. However, with 2004 being produced as a vintage by many houses (Cristal’s is already out) and with cellar master Richard Geoffroy hinting at 2003 having been produced, perhaps a third (’02, ’03 and ’04) is yet to emerge.
Dom Pérignon also has an Oenothèque line, made up of wines that have been kept behind until the cellar master sees fit to release them. 1995 and 1996 are the current Oenothèque releases. Three bottles of 1921 were auctioned by Christie’s in New York in 2004 for US$24,675.
Total value: £2,501,436
Total bottles sold: 7,450
Number of lots: 1,120
Average bottle price: £336
“Aristocratic”, “The Rolls Royce of Champagnes”, as the house has been variously described. Certainly individualistic – and still family-owned, Krug is unusual in that ferments its wine in oak rather than stainless steel before blending, which gives it a distinctive often oxidative flavour not to everyone’s taste – so perhaps think twice before slavishly spending so willingly in the name of perceived sophistication.
Although the barrels are not new by any means, they are small – 205 litres – meaning that they do have a considerable impact on the wine’s flavour and development.
However, this slightly heavier, complex style makes it a food Champagne par excellence, capable of even taking on the strong flavours of smaller roasted game birds.
Krug also goes against much of the accepted wisdom in Champagne by including generous amounts of Pinot Meunier in its blends, even for vintages, despite most houses arguing that this workhorse Champagne variety does not have the capacity to age.
On the subject of age, the house also usually keeps its wines far longer in the cellar than required by AOC law and longer than a great many other houses too, with six years being about average.
As with its white wines, Krug’s rosé is built on power and complexity with a small amount of the Pinot Noir in the blend being allowed to ferment on its skins for a short period to draw out more colour, tannins and intensity of fruit.