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The Don of Champagnes: Dom Pérignon in focus

LiveTrade Team

4 August 2022

One of the best known and most lusted after Champagnes on the planet, Dom Pérignon is named after a 17th century Benedictine monk credited with inventing sparkling wine.

While it makes for a great story, the tale of Dom Pierre Pérignon creating French fizz and tasting the stars is a myth, but the cellar master at Hautvillers Abbey certainly made his mark in Champagne, importing stronger glass bottles from England, reducing yields through pruning to improve concentration and advocating for gentle pressings to minimise skin contact.

The History of Dom Pérignon

The first vintage of Dom Pérignon was produced in 1921 and released in 1936. Initially owned by Champagne Mercier, the brand was gifted to Moët & Chandon in 1927. Serving as the house’s prestige cuvée, DP started life as vintage Moët with extended lees ageing housed in a narrow-necked bottle emblazoned with the brand’s signature shield. Part of the LVMH portfolio, from the 1947 vintage Dom Pérignon has been treated as a separate entity, with its own winery and winemaking team. A celebrity favourite, magnums of the 1961 vintage were poured at Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding in 1981 in a hat tip to Diana’s birth year.

A vintage Champagne made in standout years, Dom Pérignon is typically a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay from the Montagne de Reims, Aÿ and the Côte des Blancs. It isn’t labelled as a grand cru Champagne, despite the majority of the fruit hailing from grand cru parcels, as the fizz always contains a portion of fruit from the premier cru plot within Hautvillers Abbey. The house produced its first rosé in 1959 featuring a small percentage of still red from Aÿ and Bouzy, and its first commercial rosé release three years later. Made in smaller quantities, the rosé carries a higher release price than its blanc equivalent due to its rarity.

Dom Perignon Champagne Bordeaux Index

Pursuing perfection

Between 1921 and 2006, Dom Pérignon was made only 42 times, though since 2000 releases have been more frequent, with the 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages all making it to bottle. Production levels are kept top secret, though are thought to be in the region of 5 million bottles per vintage, a growing portion of which is being held back each year for future release.

In 2000 the house launched its library series, called Oenothèque, of late-disgorged releases of back vintages aged in the DP cellars. Oenothèque was rebranded as Plénitudes (“P2” and “P3” for short) in 2014 in a bid to highlight the three main stages of evolution DP goes through. The standard vintage release embodies the first plenitude, while P2 hits the market after around 15 years in bottle, and the ultra-rare P3 has at least 20 years of lees ageing and doesn’t see the light of day until it’s around 30.

The house’s cellar master, Vincent Chaperon, took the reins from longstanding chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, in 2019 after 13 vintages together. Like Geoffroy, Chaperon is perpetually seeking perfection from the wines he makes, and finds the house’s vintage approach freeing rather than a constraint. As an example, while 2021 was incredibly challenging climatically, Chaperon has bottled the vintage and is happy with the result.

“There are very few bad years in Champagne in which you’re not able to do something interesting. I’m lucky because I have a large diversity of sites, microclimates and terroirs to work with. We lost around 30-40% of the potential crop last year to rain and mildew, but low yields means concentration, so the result is a dense, vibrant wine,” he says.

One of Chaperon’s goals is to faithfully express the character of each vintage while staying true to Dom Pérignon’s identity. “In the past DP used to be about perfecting nature, but I want to enter deeper into the characteristics of the year. I want to express the vintage and pursue it through the creative work of blending. It’s an aesthetic commitment to tell the story of the year,” he says, adding, “We’re progressively putting a bit more wine aside each year so that we’re able to release every vintage as a P2 and P3.” As for DP’s signature taste, Chaperon believes it all hinges on harmony, texture, minerality and intensity, “which comes from the precision of the wine. I prefer the word ‘intensity’ to ‘power’; it’s high definition,” says Chaperon. “The truth of DP is in the palate – it’s the toastiness and iodine element, the saltiness on the finish.”

Dom Perignon Champagne Bordeaux Index

Surging demand

Dom Pérignon has been going great guns on LiveTradeBordeaux Index’s market-leading fine wine trading platform – recently, due to surging demand for the world’s finest fizz, with all cuvées currently up on their release prices.

Due to DP’s relatively large production within a prestige cuvée context, older vintages tend to enjoy the greatest ascent in price as supply diminishes, with the 2000, 2002 and 2004 vintages currently tracking ahead of more recent releases. Rosé releases follow the same pattern – the 2002 vintage is leading the way on LiveTrade, followed closely by 2004.

However, when it comes to the most traded vintages on LiveTrade, recent releases rule the roost, with the 2008 and 2012 Brut accounting for over 40% of all DP sales on the platform. “There used to be a clear pattern of outsized demand for the top vintages, but this has evolved quite interestingly of late. As Asia has become more focused on Champagne, there tends to be demand across young drinking vintages, and where one wine – even a weaker vintage – becomes cheaper than the rest by a material amount, strong demand ensues,” reveals LiveTrade’s CEO, Matthew O’Connell. “That said, demand for 2008 still remains very high, so for the absolute top vintages there is very significant differentiation.”

Dom Perignon Champagne Bordeaux Index

Averaging out all vintages, both the brut and the rosé are performing strongly on the platform at the moment, with P2 releases doing especially well due to their scarcity. In fact, Oenothèque 1996 – the final Oenothèque release before it became Plenitudes – is currently one of the very best-performing Champagne on LiveTrade, alongside Cristal 2008 and Krug 1998, with 12 month gains of a staggering 67%. With Champagne having enjoyed a recent run of stellar vintages, DP is facing ever-fiercer trading competition from the likes of Cristal, Bollinger, Krug and Taittinger, though still accounts for 19% of total Champagne trading on LiveTrade. According to O’Connell, DP’s latest rosé release ­– the 2008 vintage – is hot property. “The 2008 rosé remains highly in demand as one of the most compelling rosé Champagnes released in recent decades. Despite trading far above other rosé vintages, it likely has further still to run,” he says.

As for the optimum moment to enjoy Dom Pérignon, Chaperon feels the fizz is truest to its identity on release and shortly after.

“Up to around five years after release is when Dom Pérignon will be closest to the winemaker’s intention and the most intense expression of itself. After that it will be good, but it will be different due to the impact of ageing and oxidation,” he says.

His top three tips for under-rated vintages worth seeking out are DP 1995, which is “currently giving its all”; the “classy, refreshing and complete” P2 2000; and the “surprising and seductive” DP 2010, which boasts warming tropical notes of fresh pineapple.

Dom Perignon Champagne Bordeaux Index

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