The end of the year calls for a big celebration, and what better way to ring in 2022 than with a glass of Champagne in hand? In this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe chat all about the bubbly booze just in time for the holidays.
Despite a shortage in production due to supply chain issues, consumers are drinking Champagne more than ever. But what’s behind this trend? For their last Friday tasting of 2021, our hosts try a collection of Champagnes from popular producers and weigh in on their bubbly preferences.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino,
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And it’s the end-of-the-year Friday podcast from VinePair.
Z: It’s the Christmas Eve one.
A: It’s the Christmas Eve one. We’re not going to do a New Year’s Eve one, or one next week. So you’re not going to hear back from us until Jan. 3, 2022.
Z: ‘Till I’m a year older.
A: When’s your birthday?
Z: New Year’s Eve.
A: Oh, wow. Keith is early in January, he’s the 5th. Do you guys have the same sign?
Z: A couple of Capricorns. It’s no wonder that we’re both equally good friends with you.
Z: But it has also had a couple of chaotic years.
J: Let’s talk about that. Why is there a shortage this year, Adam?
A: There’s a lot of reasons, a lot of supply chain-related reasons. There’s also harvest-related reasons. They also didn’t produce a lot because the demand was low, and then it was high again. Everything combined to just be like, “You’re f*cked.”
J: But then it had a banner year.
A: It has just been out of control. I think Champagne has been out of control in the same way that Cognac and things have been out of control. These are luxury spirits, wines, etc. that people realized were much more affordable, much lower in price off-premise because they had been spending for them on-premise. So they’re like, “OK, so I go out and I get Veuve at a restaurant or whatever, and it’s $150.” Then you wait and it’s $50. Oh, f*ck. So a lot of people are going to buy a case, buy three bottles for the price of one. That happened a lot this year, and it’s just continuing. I think we’re going to see a lot of Champagne popped to end the year. It’s going to continue to be something that’s on fire. Joanna, do you love Champagne?
J: I do like Champagne. I like sparkling wine. I probably reserve it for celebratory occasions. I’m not just poppin’ bottles every weekend.
A: Tim is.
J: We know some people who do.
A: He’s British, though. The Brits love Champagne. It’s like your birthright. Champagne, port, storing wine on the heater, and now Prosecco. They’re the largest consumers of Prosecco in the world, basically.
J: Wow. Really?
A: Yeah. It’s on fire in Great Britain. It has been for a long time. Per capita, obviously, because we’re a bigger country. But yeah, I love Champagne. Zach, you’re a somm, so you have to. When they educate you, are they like, “Welcome to service young sommelier, Zach. By the way, you must love Champagne.” Is that required?
Z: I came into being a sommelier already really enjoying Champagne, so I can’t say that.
A: How old were you when you became a somm?
Z: Adam, a whole other podcast could be dedicated to what exactly defines that. But I started working and doing things with the Court of Master Sommeliers when I was 27. So I already had years and years of enjoying Champagne and sparkling wine. I love it. I’m sitting here in my basement office. As we like to point out, there is a great book about Champagne.
A: I just put it out on Monday.
Z: Oh, it’s come up before. I take note: I edit all of these, I listen. There’s a great book by Peter Liem called “Champagne” that’s all about the region and the producers. The reason that Champagne is so popular with sommeliers, besides the celebratory nature of it and the cost of it — somms like to sell expensive wine, no surprise there — is that there is a tremendous amount of variety. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen that the availability of a lot of different types of Champagnes from a lot of different producers really explodes onto the market. As we talked about recently with amari, that gives people a chance to grab onto something, to specialize, to understand and to offer service to their guests. And maybe in a less good way, to show off. Champagne, as Joanna was talking about, has this incredible association with celebration and conviviality and this idea of having a good time. Champagne has struggled as a category at times since people are reserving it for those special occasions. You mentioned Prosecco, which is kind of a dirty word in Champagne these days. People might open a bottle of Prosecco on any night of the week. They still tend to reserve Champagne for special occasions. There’s good and bad to that. If you’re a Champagne producer, people spend a lot more on special occasions, so they’ll spend $300 or $400 on bottles from time to time. The other thing that’s really interesting about what’s been going on in Champagne over this last year because of this incredible demand is that you are seeing producers recognize that there is an audience for Champagne as a year-round any-occasion beverage. That’s what we’ve seen. It’s not like all the sales have been Q4 like they usually are. Traditionally for Champagne, October, November, and especially December is where all the sales happen and that was not the case so much this year.
J: Sure, you’re not using Champagne in your spritz.
A: No, but I really like to entertain. I like to have people over for dinner. If I’m not going to do a cocktail, which I don’t normally like to do because I’ve realized when you do a cocktail to start a dinner party, everyone gets drunk pretty quickly. A good dinner party lasts all night, so you don’t want people to be swaying in their seats, eating some of your little hors d’oeuvres while you’re eating your truffle pasta. So I like starting with a bottle of Champagne. It’s a really nice way to welcome people in. It’s a 12.5 percent alcohol beverage, and it feels very special to most people. I could serve other bubbles, but at the end of the day, everybody knows Champagne is a really nice thing to be able to share with people. It’s very different from if I were to share Cava. It just is. There are great Cavas; I like Cavas. When I go to restaurants and there’s a glass of Cava offered to me, I very much enjoy it. But it’s just different. Hey, welcome to my home, I’d love to share this bottle of Champagne with you. It’s gonna be a really fun night, this feels really special. That’s why I probably drink it more. And I don’t drink a lot of sparkling wine when I’m not entertaining. Naomi and I won’t just pop a bottle of bubbles. I drink still whites, still reds, róses, etc., so when I’m entertaining, it’s always Champagne. There’s just something really fun about it when it has complexity and there’s some acidity, but then there’s also amazing brioche and some of the oxidation. It’s unlike anything else. That’s why I love it.
J: Do we think that it’s had such an amazing year in terms of sales this year because people are just like, “F*ck it.” I’m wondering if people are buying Champagne to just drink at home more casually and less celebratory.
Z: Adam got out a really important point. When you think about Champagne pricing and you think about it in the way that a lot of people encounter it in restaurants, it comes across as being very pricey. But when you go to buy it in a wine shop or a grocery store or whatever and you realize, what I see on a list at a restaurant for $150 is really only $50 or $60 at retail. Well, wait a second, that’s not so much money. Maybe I’m not going to drink a bottle of Champagne every night, but maybe I’m willing to drink one a week. As we’ve talked about so many times on the podcast, there are so many people for whom two things have happened over this long Covid experience. On one hand, they have been deprived of many of the opportunities they had to celebrate. If we’re looking at the year as a whole, it was a while until people were able to get vaccinated and get back into the world in the first half of the year in particular. Of course, we’ve had several waves of variants since then that have caused at least a segment of the population to stop going out and doing things. So you have all these reasons why people aren’t going to get the experience they want. But a bottle of Champagne is, in the end, a very affordable luxury. That’s why people have gravitated towards it because you can feel special, whether you’re entertaining a small group of people or whether you are just at home by yourself or with a partner or with a friend or a roommate or whoever. You can open that bottle of Champagne, you can have any food from popcorn to truffle pasta and feel like it’s a celebration. But Champagne does have that ability, and it’s not unique to Champagne. But Adam makes an excellent point, which is that for all those people who love to say there is other great stuff, other great sparkling wines, that is 100 percent true. There are great sparkling wines from all over the world. In the end, there is some piece of the experience that is lost when you are trying to explain, “This is like Champagne.” You’re not that good of a friend of mine. This is like Champagne. I like you, but I don’t like you. Do you know what I mean?
A: Champagne for my real friends, pain for my fake friends.
A: That’s a good one.
Z: We got bars, and we’re not just talking about the pressure inside the bottle.
A: There’s something really fun and special about it. It’s funny because I agree on almost everything with my good friend Keith in terms of wine taste. Keith appreciates it, but he’s not busting one out of every dinner party. He’ll give you Barolo or something. I’m also a sucker for the brand.
J: I wanted to bring that up as well. There’s extreme brand loyalty in Champagne. I think that’s super interesting.
A: It’s a luxury product, and there is something that is fun about that affordable, accessible luxury. The other thing that is worth mentioning in terms of Champagne’s boom is that for the majority of the pandemic, people are fine. They’re working from home, they’re continuing to make money, they’re saving on other expenses. This might have gone towards a vacation to Europe this summer or something. But we’re not doing that because the requirements to get in the country and the uncertainty are too crazy. So let’s buy a few cases of Champagne.
J: Or just how a bottle of Champagne is less than going out to dinner.
A: Exactly right. When you start thinking about it that way, when I go out to dinner, I’m normally looking at the list at around $60 to $80. That’s the kind of wine I feel comfortable buying out. But in the bottle shop, that’s where Champagne sits. So I can have Champagne at home, and I can make a good steak.
Z: It’s not even just your well-known, base-level cuvee Champagnes. That’s where you start to see vintage Champagne and single-vineyard Champagne and stuff like that. You’re getting into some really cool stuff with Champagne that retails for $60 to $80. That’s exactly the point, right? In some restaurants, you’d be paying that for a bottle of Crémant or a bottle of Cava. Getting something that feels much more special at that price point, again, is that dichotomy between an on-premise and off-premise experience. We’ve talked about that in the podcast a number of times. But it impacts how people have related to Champagne this year.
A: Well, let’s drink some Champagne.
Z: What do you guys have? I’m very curious.
A: We have three, because we couldn’t choose. We have Champagne Telmont, which I had never had until today. The label is actually very technical, which is interesting. They have when it was disgorged, what the dosage is, as the design in the label. I don’t think it’s a grower. On the back it says it’s imported by Rémy Cointreau. But it’s definitely trying to fit in that world. Then, we have Bollinger La Grande Annee 2012, which I’m pretty excited about. We also have Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Grand Crus Blanc de Blancs 2011.
Z: That is a wine right there.
A: I’m going to just chug that.
Z: Caitlin and I spent one day in Champagne on a trip. I was very young, and we stopped at Taittinger and tasted there. They are one of the four big producers there that have these incredible underground ancient Roman limestone caves where they mature the wine. We did the whole tour and all that, and we get up and Caitlin asks if there’s somewhere she can go to nurse my child. And he’s like, “Oh, yes, yes, yes, we have a room for you,” and we go in, and it’s this enormous grand dinner hall. It’s just the three of us.
J: A pumping room.
Z: Basically. They brought us a bottle of Champagne and they’re like, “Here, enjoy yourselves.” And I was like, “Oh my God, I have to drive to Paris after this, so we can’t drink too much of this.” But it was a very special experience. So I’m always fond of that one.
A: Zach, are you blanc de blancs person?
Z: That’s exactly what I have here. I have a smaller producer, Voirin Jumel, and this is their bottling of some wine from that grand cru village. I opened a blanc de blancs because some very nice friends of ours just returned from Maine with some fresh lobster that they’re bringing over for us to have for dinner tonight. So I asked myself, what Champagne shall I pair with the lobster? This was the choice. We’re doing it up here, no truffles, but a luxury meal to go with our luxury wine.
A: I love that. What about you Joanna, do you like more traditional Champagne? Do you like blanc de blancs or blanc de noirs?
J: I like blanc de noirs.
A: That’s more Pinot Noir-forward.
J: But I like it all.
A: I mean, you reached for blanc de blancs.
J: That’s what we have here.
A: No, these aren’t. The Telmont is Chardonnay forward, but it’s 43 percent. Then Mounié is 37 percent, and Pinot Noir is 20 percent. I have no idea about the Bollinger. I don’t know if they’re a house that’s known to be more Pinot Noir or Chardonnay forward. I’m a blanc de blancs guy; I like the decadence.
Z: That would make me think that the Bollinger would be your preferred one, because they tend to go for that yeasty style.
J: We’re going to drink that next.
A: These are open, Zach, because today we’re also ranking all the Champagnes for the list that’s come out. I want to say it’s been a real privilege to do this podcast with you in this year, 2021. Joanna, especially you. It’s been so awesome having you as a voice on the podcast. It’s a true privilege to have you join VinePair. So thank you so much for being with us every single week.
J: Thank you, Adam.
A: Zach, come on, man. It’s like an old hat at this point. We know each other. I’m wishing you nothing but the best as well in 2022.
Z: Thank you.
A: I will talk to you both next year.
J: Happy New Year!
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.