"Champagne producers . . . arrrgggghh!" roars Michael Kapon, the usually jovial proprietor of Acker Merrall & Condit.
There are champagne shortages in New York City, one of the world's largest wine markets, and of some cuvées, there's nothing left or prices are rising fast. Whatever the Pollyannas of bubbly have said over the past few months, there's growing chaos in the wine trade, including cases from France that just don't show up.
"There is no shortage," purrs the suave and courtly Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger of the house of Taittinger, at a luncheon at Lutèce. "We have supplied our good friends." He doesn't specify who or where his good friends are. Could be here, could be Dubai.
"Of course there's a shortage!" scoffs Scott Abramson of Park Avenue Liquor Shop, who is used to getting all the fizzy wine he can sell, including White Star, Moët et Chandon's core bubbly, whose production is millions of cases and is normally available at every last mom-and-pop on Main Street. Now, cries Abramson, "it's on allocation!"
"The average vintage bottle," says Kapon, "has risen from the $40-to-$45 range to a $60-to-$65 range. Nonvintage brands have punched up from $20-to-$25 to $30-to-$35." The proprietors of the splendid new wine emporium Union Square Wines & Spirits agree: "We're looking at the third or fourth price increase. The big guys have taken tremendous advantage."
"We have been very wise about prices," continues Taittinger, with a smile worthy of Talleyrand. "Prices have gone up by a considerable factor, but not from us. It's not in our interest to profit on the millennium."
"I've never seen the French lower their prices. The increases will stick," Kapon observes wearily. "Gonna be very strong resentment."
Even though importers and distributors can lift prices on their own, many champagne houses, despite booming sales, have been looking to jack 'em. Also worth noting: This hasn't been a vintage year for U.S.-French relations. Several nasty trade skirmishes culminated with U.S. meat producers' demanding the French buy their hormone-riddled beef.
The French refused; the U.S. slapped punitive taxes on stinky cheese; French farmers released animals into a McDonald's. Could this be l'heure de payback? Yes, good friends, you have McDonald's, you have McRosoft, but we have the 1985 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé, one of the most delicious fluids on earth. You would like some? Sor-ree.
Whatever's going on and whoever's to blame, here's the skinny on what there is and what there isn't (vintages run $100-400; nonvintages are under $75, some under $50):
Harder to find than Rudy Giuliani's heart is any quantity of the best-known prestige cuvées in stellar vintages ('85, '88, '90): Roederer (Cristal), Moët et Chandon (Dom Pérignon), or Bollinger R.D. Single cases of 1990 Cristal are around, but they're going for up to $4,500. Available (going fast) in ditto vintages: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame, Pol Roger Winston Churchill, Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle, and, surprisingly, Krug. Some 1993's are available, but in many cases are too young to drink ('93 Cristal is at Park Avenue at $225 a bottle; that's 40 to 50 percent above normal).
Even nonvintages are running low. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Moët and Chandon White Star, Bollinger Special Cuvée, and Taittinger La Française are hard to get in quantity. Other best-sellers, like Mumm Cordon Rouge and Perrier-Jouët, are still okay. If you're particular, though, get it now.
The thing to be is particular but adventurous. A hugely underrated prestige cuvée is Dom Ruinart Blancs de Blancs from Ruinart. The 1990 is sublime. Equally so: Charles Heidsieck 1990 Millèsimè. Or try the dated nonvintages Charles Heidsieck calls Mise en Cave (the date indicates cellar age): gorgeous, elegant party animals.
Think about Philipponnat and its prestige cuvée Clos des Goisses ('85, '88) or the NV Royale Réserve; a personal fave is Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Brut ('88, '89), and its glorious NV Brut Rosé.
The Big Midnight is a great time to meet rosé champagnes if you haven't yet. Most top houses make vintage and NV rosés. They'll make you very happy if your favorite yellow stuff is out.
Have a great next 1,000 years, and for Pete's sake, point that damn bottle
at the wall, will ya?