Vintage champagnes such as Dom Pérignon 2008 and Krug 2000 have popped in price this year, outperforming global stocks, as wealthy investors hunt for returns in previously overlooked asset classes.
Champagne prices surged 33.7 per cent in the first 11 months of this year, as measured by Liv-ex’s Champagne 50 index, its best ever year of performance. That compares with the FTSE All World stock index’s gain of about 15 per cent for the year to date. More than half of the champagne index’s gains this year came during a huge surge in October and November alone.
“It’s been remarkable,” said Justin Gibbs, co-founder of Liv-ex, an online exchange for wine. “The market is on a tear.”
“Champagne historically acts like an annuity. It never was the best performer, it was always up 8 to 10 per cent a year.”
Vintage champagne has for years been a relative investment backwater in the fine wine market. Wines are matured by the champagne houses and are released ready to drink. Because of their traditional role as a drink of celebration, they are often consumed within a few years of release.
That has made for a steady pattern of supply and, with demand fairly constant, unexciting price moves, unlike top-end Bordeaux or Burgundy wines, which are typically kept for years and have well-developed secondary markets.
But a surge in demand and restricted supply this year have combined to push champagne prices higher. Demand has been lifted by rising interest among traditional wine investors and drinkers, helped by the rise of so-called Grower Champagnes — artisan wines made by the same person who grows the grapes.
The recent arrival on to the market of the top-end 2008 and the “exceptional” 2012 vintages has attracted interest from buyers, according to Justin Knock, director of wine at Oeno Group. Demand has also grown strongly in the US, where many wine buyers have benefited from big profits in their stock portfolios during the coronavirus pandemic.
Supply, meanwhile, has been tight. A decision last year by the champagne trade association to reduce production during the pandemic, followed by a poor harvest this year because of frost and mildew, has made for smaller production, which can mean champagne houses hold on to more of their supply of older vintages.
Among the most sought-after brands this year has been Salon 2002, which is up 80 per cent in price to £10,000 for 12 bottles, according to Liv-ex. Louis Roederer’s Cristal Rose 2008 has risen 60 per cent, Dom Pérignon 2008 is up 46 per cent and Krug 2000 has jumped 62 per cent.
And despite a reputation for being expensive, vintage champagne has also benefited from bargain hunting by wine investors, say industry insiders. While an extremely rare bottle of Perrier Jouët 1874 may have sold for nearly £43,000 at auction at Christie’s this month, most vintage champagnes cost only a fraction of the price of a top-end Bordeaux or Burgundy, making them attractive to wine investors keen to diversify.
Tom Gearing, chief executive of £300m-in-assets investment firm Cult Wines, said champagne had previously worked as a “fantastic long-term hedge” for clients’ wine portfolios because it behaved differently to other wine regions.
Over the past two years Gearing, who was previously a finalist on the UK version of The Apprentice, has been increasing the proportion he advises clients to hold in champagne, recommending wines such as Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne and Dom Pérignon. But, as buyers come into the market and champagne houses hold back supply, getting hold of back vintages to buy has become increasingly difficult.
“We’ve loved Champagne as a region,” he said. “The problem is always getting enough volume of the right wines.”