Why Champagne is a Serious Collectible
After years of being relegated to l’apéro, champagne is fully coming into its own as a “serious” wine, with collectors jostling for coveted allocations, laying down bottles and—unfortunately—speculating, driving prices sharply upward over the last 5-7 years.
I spoke with collectors and industry insiders to try to better understand how and why this trend is unfolding, including OCC Hong Kong Consul Roland Müksch and Nellie Ming Lee; OCC Jakarta Consul Eva Iskandar; Sotheby’s Head of Wine and Spirits Auctions in Asia, Paul Wong, plus a major Hong Kong-based collector of mature champagne.
Is champagne collecting a growing trend in Asia?
Yes, but from a low base. Liv-Ex figures show Asia rising from 0 per cent of the tradeable champagne market before 2005 to about 10 per cent this year. Meanwhile, the US rose from the same base to nearly 50 per cent of the market.
Paul Wong (Sotheby’s) notes champagne has really taken off in Asia, especially China, since their biggest single-owner sale, in Spring 2019. Collector organisations like the Ordre de Coteaux de Champagne (OCC), the official fraternity of major Champagne brands, have also expanded their Asian footprint. OCC Japan is well-established and the Hong Kong chapter has grown to 500+ members since its 2010 inception (~100 of whom are highly active, according to Consul Roland Müksch). There are growing chapters in Macau, Taiwan, mainland China, Singapore and Jakarta. Southeast Asia is held back by high import taxes, but Eva Iskandar (OCC Jakarta) says there are wine lovers embracing champagne, particularly in Jakarta and Bali, but much room for growth remains.
Who is collecting champagne in Asia?
Nellie Ming Lee (OCC Hong Kong) says their members have recently grown more diverse—they are now 38 per cent female—and are principally wine lovers rather than wine professionals, unlike in Europe. The Consuls of mainland China and Jakarta are both women. Müksch agrees many new participants are young professionals and particularly women. He describes two distinct groups, both growing—one very educated and intensely wine-focused and one that still views champagne principally as celebratory—but sees no obvious demographic difference between them.
Why are they collecting?
Müksch (OCC Hong Kong) says the “educated” group seems to take pride in exploring obscure facets of Champagne, having previously collected Burgundy and/or Barolo, though some are only interested in champagne and weren’t interested in wine previously. He notes that many members now regularly drink champagne throughout their meals at home instead of switching to red, a fairly recent development.
The Hong Kong collector says he had lost interest in wine before a 1969 Canard Duchene Rosé transfixed him with its unique flavours. He bought the merchant’s entire 3-4 bottle supply but then struggled to source other mature bottles. He describes those you do find as “rolling stones” from “god knows where and in god knows what condition.” He has been pleasantly surprised at the percentage of good bottles despite shaky provenance “as long as you look at the label, foil and especially ullage.” He has always bought solely for access to wines he wants to drink, he says, not for price appreciation.
Ming Lee (OCC Hong Kong) says many members purchase champagne for laying down or investment but typically end up opening their bottles early. She likes to mature even non-vintage champagnes for 3-5 years before drinking to add complexity, smooth out acidity and allow the fruit to emerge.
What are they collecting?
Iskandar (OCC Jakarta) says in her region blended wines from big houses still lead, but members are starting to differentiate between styles like blanc de blancs and noirs. Dom Pérignon is king, followed by Krug and Cristal, but Salon is rising along with growers like Jacques Selosse and David Léclapart. Müksch (OCC Hong Kong) says that their post-event champagne offers almost always sell out, particularly vintage and especially mature bottles. Members are usually looking for something extra: longer time on lees, specific sites or large formats.
Paul Wong (Sotheby’s) says established houses still dominate. 59 per cent of Sotheby’s global 2020 champagne sales were Dom Pérignon, Krug and Salon. However, he predicts the market’s trajectory will mirror Burgundy’s 10-15 years ago with new and small producers rising to prominence quickly. For now, Asian collectors—like their US and UK counterparts—want well-stored, mature champagne.
The Hong Kong collector says he’s been “hugely remiss in not glomming on to the grower phenomenon,” but it is hard to find growers among wines from the mid-nineties or earlier, which he typically collects. Other than the usual suspects, he enjoys Jacques Selosse, Giraud’s Fût de Chêne and mature vintage Henriot. He follows Richard Juhlin—a Swedish champagne expert focused on mature champagne whose assessments the collector calls “spot on”—on whose recommendation he bought the “incredible” Veuve Clicquot millésime 1970.
Is there something different about Asia?
Müksch (OCC Hong Kong) says that the Hong Kong Chapter is among the most active globally, with fully subscribed events as often as weekly. The annual brunch for 96 persons sold out in 30 minutes. European OCC gatherings tend to be large, quarterly galas, while the Asian events – especially Hong Kong’s – have a strong educational angle. He says Asian collectors he has met are unusually focused; once they find something they like they will hunt down everything they can find from the producer. He sees this less in Europe where collections are typically less concentrated.
Is there something different now about champagne?
Wong (Sotheby’s) credits champagne’s versatility and growing diversity for its rise. Beyond quality, scarcity and price, longevity is vital: Dom Pérignon from the ‘60s and ‘70s has performed well for this reason, he says. The Hong Kong collector believes the houses segregating their wines into early and late releases to build scarcity and growers pulling out mature cuvées have both bolstered prices. Recent releases haven’t risen in price as much, he says, while mature vintages—not even just late disgorgements—have.
Müksch agrees that maturity is key—even for blended wines, more and older reserves and longer lees ageing have driven growth. A second factor has been more terroir-focused champagnes from individual Grand Crus or single vineyards. Other factors include an increased sustainability focus and greater transparency, with initiatives like the Krug ID and broader disclosure of disgorgement dates building more trust and greater scope for differentiating between champagnes.