Stock markets plunge, house values slide, but top Champagne prices and consumption rates go from strength to strength. The greatest, the prestige cuvées, are immensely exciting. These include mythic names such as Dom Pérignon, Cristal, Krug, the exclusive Salon, Bollinger RD, Clicquot's La Grande Dame, Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne, Laurent Perrier's Grand Siècle Alexandra Rosé and Pol Roger's Sir Winston Churchill and they are all both delicious and aspirational. Demand has risen, but supply remains more or less static.
Champagne winemaking is a magnificent blending of grape varieties, villages and vineyards. The end result is marketed with skill, and the taste is magical. Nowhere is this more true than with Dom Pérignon, the iconic prestige cuvée. The style goes right back to the first Dom Pérignon, launched for New Year's Eve 1936 on the French luxury liner Le Normandie. Ask anyone be it a small grower, a nightclub regular, a fine wine collector or a tired supermarket shopper to name a top Champagne and Dom Pérignon will be on their lips.
Dom Pérignon, which is produced by Moët & Chandon, is the most profitable of all the brands owned by luxury-goods group LVMH quite a feat when you consider that it is an agricultural product, not a Louis Vuitton or Chanel bag. The production of Dom Pérignon, as with any wine, is subject to the weather and supply of the raw material. While the former is extraterrestrial, the latter draws on an astounding 1,480 acres (600 ha) of Champagne Grands Crus. This produces the consistency of quality, the DNA of the wine, which has been brilliantly managed since 1996 by cellar master Richard Geoffroy. He is the first to admit that Dom Pérignon has the advantage, too, of bearing the name of the indefatigable Benedictine monk who is credited with creating Champagne. However, the success of a name is all about visibility, and here the volume of Dom Pérignon, with an average vintage production of 6 million bottles (at a guess, for this is never divulged), is a significant factor. Demand for Dom Pérignon is unusually global; from Vegas to Hong Kong, Moscow to Macau, it's an impressive gift and an instant hit at parties and restaurants.
The paradox of Dom Pérignon is that the very sound of its name induces a frisson, while at the same time it is a serious wine with enormous éclat and depth, and the ability to age with grace for those who love mature Champagne. And their numbers are growing, with devotees comparing vintages as they would with Bordeaux crus classés. Dom Pérignon 2000 was launched in 2008, and if one could taste a garden in a glass, this would be it. Dom Pérignon Rosé, made in relatively tiny quantities, leaves a more marked trace of the Pinot Noir grape. The just-launched 1998 is ethereal, while the 1996 is pure concentrated intensity. And Dom Pérignon Oenothèque gives the connoisseur a chance to rediscover vintages that have matured even further.
All in all, Dom Pérignon is the champion of Champagne.
Serena Sutcliffe is head of the International Wine Department at Sotheby's
A Toast to Champagne's Top Five
Dom Pérignon 1961
One of the greatest wines ever made. Complex, toasty and full of coffee flavors like breakfast in a glass.
Dom Pérignon 1978
At 30 years old, this has a wonderful nutty, floral concentration round, bready, honied and multidimensional.
Dom Pérignon Rosé 1996
Its bouquet of peat and malt, turning to wild strawberries and honey, accompanies a taste of vanilla and rosewater.
Dom Pérignon Rosé 1998
This wine really dances on the palate, its flavor all flowers and red fruits totally entrancing.
Dom Pérignon 2000
Pure May blossom on the nose, with an aroma of the flower in full bloom and it simply caresses the palate.