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Delhi Wine Club
Move over Cristal- Ace of Spades Blanc de Noir is Here

Posted: Saturday, 03 October 2015 13:33


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Move over Cristal- Ace of Spades Blanc de Noir is Here

Oct 03: The reputation of Cristal may be unscathed by Armand de Brignac, the luxury Champagne label launched and popularised in 2006 by the ultra-rich rapper Jay Z who eventually bought the label from Champagne Cattier and Sovereign Brands last year, but the latter released last week a new Blanc de Noir cuvée ostensibly for daytime drinking and accompaniment with special dinners , for over US $ 1000 making it the most expensive Champagne in the world

Click For Large ViewFrédéric Rouzaud, Managing Director of Louis Roederer, owners of the well-known super premium brand Cristal perhaps rues in private his comments, denigrating the rappers’ love for the Champagne of the erstwhile Russian tsars. When asked by a magazine in 2006 about the uniquely different bling lifestyle of the rapping community which had been enamoured by the Tsar of Bubbles, with the famous rapper Jay Z even praising it in his lyrics, he had reportedly said,  ‘that's a good question. But what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it."

Although the company claimed later that the racism charges implied by him were not true, Jay Z was upset enough to boycott the brand openly and actively, resulting in sudden drop in the sales in the USA. He actively endorsed the golden Armand de Brignac from Champagne Cattier and started promoting it in his nightclubs, sports bars and even his music videos and asked his fraternity to boycott it because of racist remarks.

Last year a company floated by him purchased outright the celebrity brand from Sovereign Brands who owned the shares and Champagne Cattier who continued to produce the label for him. The luxury label sells for over $350 a bottle, with around 100,000 bottles sold every year. A 40 kg bottle containing the equivalent of 40 bottles reportedly went for $200,000 according to New York Times.

New Cuvee from Armand

Last week Champagne Cattier  announced the release of a new cuvee for Armand de Brignac, a Blanc de Noir costing over $1000 (£695) being sold exclusively at Harrods London for a month and then a few stores in the United States and Asia. The company says only 3,000 bottles have been produced. Its other wines, including brut, rosé and demi-sec styles are selling for $350-$500. The company hopes to soon announce a Vintage Champagne too since the 2015 crop of Pinot Noir has been exceptionally good.

The marketing director for Armand de Brignac, Gerald Loparco says that they were aiming at the high rollers, people who didn’t care what they spent and to attract a different class of customer. He added that they had seen a strong evolution in the night time market industry but the new strategy was to establish the brand for the daylight consumption as they had been present too much in the nightclubs.

Since the brand’s launch in 2006, some critics have lauded the wine. Champagne expert Tom Stevenson organises an annual international competition for sparkling wines in conjunction with the Finnish Essi Avellan MW specialising in sparkling wines label. Both if them attest that the wine is extraordinarily exceptional. Jancis Robinson MW says it made Pol Roger 1999 look “diffuse and ordinary”. But there are others who are less impressed and are critical. Incidentally, Champagne Roederer’s Cristal Rosé 2004 was named Supreme World Champion in this year’s competition (Ferrari Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year)

The brand’s new chief marketing officer Bernadette Knight who worked previously with LVMH, brushes off the criticism but admits “We’ve got a lot of work to do to reintroduce the brand.” A dedicated sales force has been deployed in the US, the biggest customer. Michelin-starred restaurants in the world’s capitals are being targeted for service at dinner time.’

Click For Large ViewIt may be a while before the Bollywood stars and other rich celebrities take to the $1000 Champagne bottle in India but she feels this label will eventually transcend the Champagne category, and become a bona fide luxury brand like Hermès and Chanel (which are quite popular as luxury brands in India). She also does not rule out buying other wine companies, according to Le Pan  

The stellar reputation of Cristal remains unsullied, however. Frederick Heidsieck, the International Sales Director who was in India in 2010 with Damien Motte, the Export Director, when members of the Delhi Wine Club and I had the pleasure of tasting 2004 and 2002 Cristal at a dinner at the Imperial Hotel  and on an earlier occasion in 2008 says that their marketing offices were reportedly inundated with e-mails and phone calls requesting any excess inventory not taken up by the U.S. market when Jay Z and the rapper community boycotted ‘Cris’ as it is popularly known as. They did suffer the pangs of recession like other luxury brands but have recovered most of the lost ground since.

Finally, is such a high price justified for the Blanc de Noir, even for the high rollers?  As an Article in Telegraph suggests, ‘There are far, far better wines to be had. Back to the Taittinger Comtes, everybody! It's a fraction of the price of the new Ace of Spades Blanc de Noirs and worlds classier as a drink.’

For me, and as our cricketing legend Kapil Dev would say, ‘Cristal da Jawab Nahin!’ (Cristal has no equal).

Subhash Arora

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