Mar 29, 2023
Champagne Is Outperforming Gold and the S&P 500. Here’s What to Buy
(Bloomberg) -- To celebrate romance or toast a great performance, pop open the Champagne, of course. That’s why the 95th Academy Awards featured Brad Pitt’s pink bubbly Fleur de Miraval. But today, along with their sex appeal, the finest bottles also pour out heady investment returns. And as the market bubbled ever higher in 2021 and 2022, speculators pounced.
Here are the kinds of numbers that stirred them up: From January to September 2022, a case of all-Chardonnay 2012 Salon Le Mesnil soared 232%, from £3,800 to £12,600 ($4,670 to $15,485), according to Liv-Ex, the London International Vintners Exchange. The Liv-Ex Champagne 50 Index, which tracks the price performance for recent vintages of a dozen top brands, was a runaway star, outperforming gold, the FTSE, and the S&P 500, as well as the Bordeaux First Growths and even Burgundy.
Keep in mind that a decade ago the world’s finest bubbly accounted for a mere 2% of secondary market trades on Liv-Ex. That share climbed to make it the third most-traded region behind Bordeaux and Burgundy (at 18.7%) in Nov. 2022, and remained in third position until US wines spiked during the week of March 17-23.
When prices started cooling late last November and trended downward in early 2023, my big question was: Is Champagne’s bull run over?
No, insists Tom Gearing, chief executive officer of Cult Wines, a UK-based fine wine investment company. He’s positive but cautious about the Champagne market for 2023, citing continued strong global demand, as well as the region’s serious brand power and wide distribution. Vintage bottlings offer rarity, exclusivity, aging potential and a good track record during economic downturns. Lower production in 2021 and 2022 tightened supply, with some top houses running out last fall.
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And prices remain high at auction, as Charles Curtis, founder of wine advisory service WineAlpha and author of Vintage Champagne: 1899–2019, reminded me at lunch over glasses of Burgundy’s great Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Several of Curtis’s clients bid the high estimates listed in recent auction catalogs and still lost out because the bottles sold for much more.
Jamie Ritchie, worldwide chairman of wine and spirits for Sotheby’s, says interest in Champagne has been escalating over the past decade, including in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. The amount of Champagne lots in their sales, he says, is growing big-time. Its “Ethereal Cellar” auction in Hong Kong on April 2 will include 82 lots of rare Krug vintages and 60 of Dom Perignon. White Plains, New York-based Zachys’ March auction featured 156 lots of champagne.
This kind of auction fever wasn’t always so.
According to Liv-Ex’s Robbie Stevens, broad interest in Champagne investing started a few years ago when buyers began to realize how undervalued great examples were compared with the best Bordeaux and Burgundy. “One catalyst was the release of the extraordinary 2008 vintage,” he says, “and then the slew of great vintages that have followed—2012, 2013 and 2014.” Investors got excited, then looked back to stock up on earlier vintages.
Another driver of demand may be anxiety over how global warming will affect the quality and style of future vintages. In other words, better buy now, just in case.
Gearing adds in yet another reason to have faith in Champagne’s continued investment potential: It remains an icon of luxury in a world where there’s been an explosion of wealth. Despite Covid, the war in Ukraine, inflation and looming recession, luxury goods boomed last year and the 2022 edition of the Bain & Company-Altagamma Luxury study predicted even further growth in 2023.
What to invest in
Most Champagnes are blends of wine from several vintages, but for the best ROI go for more limited vintage Champagnes. Produced only in the best years, they’re aged longer before release, and prices consistently go up with age. After all, supply dwindles as drinkers celebrate.
It used to be that only a handful of famous grands marques, such as Louis Roederer Cristal and Dom Perignon, were investment-grade brands. Now the pool has widened to include grower champagnes with high-profile reputations. (These are made by small estates who grow their own grapes.) The cult label Jacques Selosse, for example, is smoking. The cost of the 2008 has more than doubled since it was released only a few years ago.
While Curtis still advises his clients to focus on major grands marques like Krug, Cult Wines includes both categories in its portfolio. Gearing says prices for super-premium names such as Salon could be leveling out. He sees increasing interest in better-value grands marques such as Rare Brut (see below) and in the undervalued but excellent 2006 vintage (15% to 40% cheaper than the stunning 2008), as well as “an upward trajectory” for grower labels that have “phenomenal quality and brand momentum.” Cult Wines’ best performer among grower picks last year was 2012 Cedric Bouchard Les Ursules Blanc de Noir, up 332% over the past five years.
Rosé Champagne, which is rarer than white cuvées, commands a premium. Liv-Ex reports that prices for examples from the superlative 2008 vintage on average are 96% higher for the six most-traded houses. Rarity also drives higher prices for extra-large formats like jeroboams and methuselahs.
Not surprisingly, companies such as Francois Pinault’s Artemis Group, owners of Bordeaux first growth Chateau Latour, have started investing in the region. In 2022, Artemis acquired Jacquesson. Expect it to gain more visibility and prominence in the future.
Based on recommendations from Cult Wines, Charles Curtis and Vinovest, here are eight Champagnes to consider buying. As you can see by my tasting notes, none will disappoint.
2008 Dom Perignon ($375)This pick may seem too obvious, but there’s always demand for a top vintage of the most famous luxury fizz brand in the world. That’s especially true in Asia, where interest in Champagne is growing. Japan is already on trend. This is a brilliant wine, ripe and racy.
2006 Krug Vintage Brut ($400)A super classic, beloved by connoisseurs for its rich, toasty elegance. Over the past five years the price of 2006 has climbed 57% yet still costs half the price of the only slightly better rated 2008.
2012 Louis Roederer Cristal ($345)Citrusy pure Cristal usually appreciates quickly, which is why demand is consistently high. This price of this vintage, the first one to be certified biodynamic, increased 80.1% from April 2021 to Feb. 2023.
2008 Vintage Rare Brut Millesime ($175)This well-priced, less well-known fizz has extreme rarity on its side: It debuted in 1976 and only 12 vintages have been made. Prices of older vintages have been climbing.
2017 Cédric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Les Ursules Blanc de Noirs ($320)A star in the grower world, Bouchard makes single vineyard, single variety, single vintage, zero dosage champagnes in tiny quantities. This classic cuvée has a following. The brand was one of the top 10 performers for Cult Wines last year.
2016 Dhondt-Grellet Le Bateau Vieilles Vignes Extra Brut ($250)This grower is gaining traction for phenomenal quality, says Gearing, and its dazzling wines still offer “stellar relative value.”
2013 Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Millesime Brut ($800)A rising investment star among grower Champagnes, its 2009 increased 257% in value in 2022. This recent vintage is supremely elegant.
2009 Jacques Selosse Grand Cru Extra Brut Millesime ($1,800)Micro-production (4,000 cases a vintage), high quality and a cult reputation have propelled this brand into the region’s elite. It had the best average price performance on Liv-Ex last year and is No. 11 on the Power 100 list. The 2006 is the cheapest recent vintage on the market.
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