We’ve got news for you. Bubbly is not just for Christmas. All too often, we forget that the delicious sparkling wine is an anytime drink, from pre to post-dinner. Champagne breakfasts are more than a la mode these days, adding a little bit of ooh la la to birthdays, hen weekends, or wedding days. “Champagne is intrinsically associated with celebration,” says Max Merkulovs, head sommelier at the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows restaurant on Park Lane. “It’s bubbly, light, and wonderfully whatever the occasion. It’s also a nuanced, subtle drink with an almost overwhelming range of varieties”. Fair enough, but it’s also lovely to drink, whatever the occasion.
That might be true, but is it investable? Traditionally, the bubbly stuff is usually left on the table when it comes to diversifying your portfolio, with classic investors usually opting for big, bold Bordeauxs and Burgundies. However, don’t overlook Champers just yet. Some vintages – we are thinking particularly of the 1996 and 2000 Dom Perignons which grew by a massive 600% and 400% since their release – are undoubtedly good deals. But for every Cristal or Krug (available on our wine trading app), there are many, many cheap varieties that are only just good enough for mimosas and bellinis. Which begs the question: which are the best Champagne vintages for investors?
What makes Champagne vintages special?
There are basically two different types of Champagne; vintage and Non-vintage. Non-vintage Champagne is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages and makes up for more than 80% of production. Non-vintage doesn’t mean sub-par – it simply means the bottles only mature in the cellars for 2 to 3 years (or less) before going to the market. Ideally, they should stay in your own cellar for one to two years after purchase before you enjoy drinking them.
The real liquid gold is in the remaining 20%, ergo the vintage bottles. These bottles wear a vintage year on the label and are only produced in years with a good harvest and from a single year. Under Champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage’s harvest for the production of vintage Champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from each vintage to be reserved for use in non-vintage Champagne.
Traditionally, vintage Champagne is only produced every thrice a decade and makes up just 5% of an estate’s production. Because the supply is so low, naturally demand is high, with rare and exceptional vintages commanding astronomical prices at auctions. With growing demand and limited production, vintage champagne can be an excellent diversification move supplementing your existing portfolio.
Top best Champagne vintages for investors
Investors take note. Since 2004, Champagne has been the second-best performing region of the Liv-ex 1000 index, with a total return of +291.5% or CAGR of +8.9% (Compound Annual Growth Rate), behind only Burgundy. That’s quite a lot of bang for your bubbles.
But all that fizzes is not gold.
Some vintages can prove to be horrifically bleak. Low yields, frost and hail plus disease and flowering issues make some vintages almost undrinkable, let alone investable. Extremes in temperature – from the very high to the very low – affect the region, along with the generally high rainfall. Then there are potential storage problems: Bubbly is notoriously fragile and requires a gentle hand during cellaring. For example, if the bottle is not laid down correctly, the cork could become dehydrated and allow air into the bottle, causing oxidation. Another potential issue is if the Champagne is exposed to light, heat, and vibration, it could lose its quality and age prematurely.
Thankfully that is not the case everywhere. Recent years have given us a fair few good Champagne vintages, and even a few great ones. vintages such as 2018, 2015, 2012, and 2008 have proved lucrative for investors, with recognised brands such as Cristal – the current leader on Liv-Ex’s Champagne 50 (and available on Vindome.net’s Live Market) – far outstripping their competition. If the year has been blessed with optimal conditions such as a long growing season and warm, clear skies during harvesting, then investors should be aware. Chances are you’re in for a good year.
Champagne vintages guide
To make things easy for our Vindome investor family, we have compiled a short list of the best vintages from this century. If you want to go further back for some old-school bubbly then the 1990s had some wonderful years – notably 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 all of which scored well with the 1996 vintage offering outstanding results. Further back was trickier – but investors should do their homework on vintages from 1982, 1985, 1988, and 1989.
Best Champagne vintages since 2000
- 2018: A good year to store. This vintage is the “vintage of the century” according to critics. A warm summer gave a great early harvest, perfect for vintage Champagne.
- 2017: Good Chardonnay but poor Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier plus a cold winter and several heatwaves saw this year give mixed results.
- 2016: A very poor year, considered one of the worst on record. Inclement weather conditions resulted in many producers losing much of their crops, leading to high prices for low quality.
- 2015: Some producers, notably the big brands, produced remarkable vintage Champagne this year. An excellent year to buy and store.
- 2014: Despite good results, two major producers (Krug and Dom Perignon) did not declare a vintage. A cool and wet summer gave healthy grapes, but globally this vintage was a mitigated success at best.
- 2013: A very hot June and July led to early, uneven ripening, which producers tried to combat by a late harvest. Results were not universal, with only Pierre Péters Cuvee Spéciale Le Mesnil, Krug vintage Clos du Mesnil, and Roger Brun La Pelle Ay Grand Cru declaring they had produced a vintage.
- 2012: A good but not excellent year. Bad weather early in the season led to disease, but this was remedied prior to a healthy harvest. The base wine was good, with Cristal producing exceptional results – one to add to the portfolio.
- 2011: A tricky year for investors due to a hot early summer followed by heavy rains. Good for the fridge, not for the cellar!
- 2010: Another good year for drinkers, not investors. Heavy rains in August damaged grapes so no vintages were declared, but non-vintage was prolific and good.
- 2009: After a shaky start, a few houses produced “pleasurable and approachable” wine, although we would avoid adding any of this year to your portfolio. Rose Champagne fared particularly well.
- 2008: This vintage proved that Champagne is a wonderful if fickle, thing. The growing season was initially uninspired, but it all came together in time with a cool and overcast August followed by perfect harvest conditions in September. An excellent vintage for investors.
- 2007: A warm spring and record-breakingly hot summer meant early flowering. Regrettably not a good year for investors but delicious to drink, although we feel it might be past its prime now.
- 2006: Good conditions despite erratic temperatures. September brought more sun and heat, so the harvest unfolded under ideal conditions. A good vintage wine to keep.
- 2005: Regardless of less than optimal conditions, 2005 produced some wonderful vintages, so look out for big brands on the Live Market.
- 2004: High quality, high quantity, 2004 was the perfect storm for investors. A rainy first half of August followed by a sunny second half produced outstanding quality with an excellent balance of fruit and acidity. The Blanc de Blancs from this vintage year were particularly remarkable. Keep.
- 2003: A great year for drinkers – less for investors. Cellar it if you like Champagne with good aromas and fruit concentration, but the year 2003 will not keep well.
- 2002: The first excellent Champagne of the decade. Perfect weather (dry and warm with bursts of rain. An excellent year.
- 2001: This growing season is considered the worst vintage year for Champagne. Many crops were ruined because of heavy rain, resulting in the remainder tasting very mediocre and weak.
- 2000: The start of the 21st century did not bode well for investors. A problematic summer was marked by rain and thunderstorms, but thankfully good weather in September led to a quality harvest that produced some memorable vintage wine.
Before making any decisions on whether to invest in vintage Champagne or not, don’t forget to read our in-depth article on the Champagne region!