Conspicuous consumption. This, according to some, is what drives the fine wine market in the Far East, which in turn is what is driving the fine wine market. Take Hong Kong and China out of the fine wine equation of supply and demand, and we’d have a very, very different picture and some very different prices. Maybe even different wines.
There is a level of sophistication in this sort of consumption: certain degrees of class, if you like. This is the argument made by those trying to sell (to speculators) the wines of Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild or Latour as opposed to those of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild: the argument being that, not only will other uber-brand Bordeaux catch on, but that consumers in the Far East will also become connoisseurs. So opening a case or so of Lafite to celebrate the seal on a business deal or a big trade will still have the kudos it always had, but maybe opening a case or two of Latour might just set you apart as a connoisseur as well. And this wine stuff, where so many live on the confident bluff, where so few of us really know what we’re talking about, where those that really DO know their onions are the only ones to admit that there is so much more to learn, is all about being the connoisseur, being one of the vinous intelligentsia.
So, enough of Bordeaux: it all tastes the same anyway. Champagne, and the top ones. The top four in Champagne, the Champions’ League qualifiers are: Dom Perignon (Moet & Chandon), Cristal (Louis Roederer), Krug (eponymous), with Salon (eponymous) and Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill (Pol Roger) battling for fourth spot. Yer serious connoisseur might well discount DP. And a few might discount Cristal too.
My first bottle of Dom Perignon was a 1990, and I drank it in a jacuzzi in the Caribbean. Apt. This is what DP is for. If you want something to spray off the back of a yacht in Cowes, Veuve Clicquot is probably your man, but for jacuzzis in the Caribbean it’s DP. There is nothing crass about a Caribbean Jacuzzi: it’s actually one of the very best things in life. As is a good bottle of DP. They do make rather a lot of it though and I have experienced bottle variation, particularly from 1996s. A couple have been quite, quite sublime, a couple quite dull. So, kudos-wise, DP is still all there, and still at the top if not the pinnacle. The Jacuzzi sums it up: yes, it was in the Caribbean but no, it wasn’t on a yacht…
Louis Roederer Cristal. Originally created for Tsar Alexander II in 1876, and not available to the proletariat until 1945. The first irony here is that this was perhaps the first Gangsta Cuvee. The second is that, whilst rapping about shipping Cristal by the case made this THE bling Champagne at our turn of the century, the makers of Cristal rather shot themselves in the foot by suggesting that these coloured music artists might prefer something different. From a taste point of view it’s not really for me. The richesse of it is just too much. My initial feeling when I first drank some (n.b. drank – you need to drink Champagne as opposed to just tasting it) was that it was not unsimilar to ice cream. Just not my bag. And, having once been the essential liquid for spraying over naked ladies whilst banging some tunes and, previously, impossibly regal, Cristal is maybe a bit lost. Footballers still buy Cristal. Jay-Z has switched to Krug.
I’ve never quite got Salon either. This is often very hard to find, and always expensive. I’ve had this in a jacuzzi too, though even then it didn’t quite do the trick. A little too light for me. And the branding. Salon is posh bling. You don’t spray it around. It’s like going to the Opera. Or telling people you do. It lends you class, or you might think it does. Salon is a Corney & Barrow exclusivity, which maybe sums it up. It’s quite posh….
The crossover is Krug. Krug is what I like. Krug is probably Rolex. I used to wear one. On selling it a friend commented: “well, at least you’re a bit less of a **** now”. Which makes sense, but it wasn’t about the bling, the conspicuousness of it. I liked it, loved it, because it worked. Despite the fact that most are worn by people whose only reason for wearing one is status, Rolex is king on account of quality. Sadly this quality has been nicked by those that think that being rich, and letting others know that one is rich, lends one some gravitas, some status.
Back to the Champagne: Krug has not only the slightly meaty, weighty style that I like (similar to Bollinger: it’s to do, I think, with the use of barrels – wood, instead of tanks – steel). Krug’s non-vintage (or, rather, a blend of vintages as they like to say, though I’m not sure I can divine the difference) is, for me, the benchmark. And it ages impossibly well. The best bottle I’ve had was bought from Oddbins, where I’m sure it had been slowly cooking for a year or so on the top shelf, thereby accelerating its ageing. The quality of Krug, and in particular the “N/V” or “Grande Cuvee”, is impeccable. It is the Rolex, the Rolls-Royce. It is for those that know, it is for connoisseurs, but they might just be, well, that word too.
The best, the real deal, and the only branded “prestige cuvee” Champagne that has not been hijacked by bankers or bling, is Winston. Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill. Apt again. The class of the Champagne commensurate with the class of the man. I have a framed letter on my desk confirming the despatch of twenty odd cases (or so) of 1923 (or so) Pol Roger to Sir Winston’s Oxfordshire address. Impeccable taste, but would you expect anything less?
Pol Roger’s wines always age well. Even the non-vintage develops something extra with a few years. The vintage, and the Blanc de Blancs more so and, if you’re looking for something to lay down for a couple of decades, then Winston is hard to beat. The 1996, at fifteen, is just beginning to stretch its legs and show its class (the 1998, from a more lush, more forward vintage, is very attractive right now). And there is nothing conspicuous about the consumption of a bottle of Winston. You might just be picked out by someone who knows the score, who spots your class. Your waiter or sommelier might just give you the nod. But this is not for spraying around, neither off the back of a boat or over the front of a lady. This is rather what it is all about.
Inconspicuous consumption is the way forward. And class cannot be bought.