How Good is Jay-Z’s Ace of Spades Champagne?
In 2006, Jay- Z incited a boycott of the famous Cristal Champagne, after negative comments made by the director Frederic Rouzaud with regards to its popularity within Rap culture. In his song and music video Show me what you got (2006), Jay-Z makes the point of rejecting Cristal and instead selects a new and mysterious golden plated bottle, embossed with the ace of spades. This was the beginning of his endorsement of the newly created Armand de Brignac Champagne, which coincided with its debut in the United States. The Champagne, as a result of its ornate emblem, is colloquially named the Ace of Spades Champagne. It was a project conceived by the well-established Cattier domain, and was to be their flashy off-shoot tête-de-cuvée range. The Dom Perignon to their Möet one might say…
However, the Champagne soon became synonymous with the music mogul, and it was therefore unsurprising when Jay-Z later purchased the domain in 2014. Growing grapes since 1763, Cattier remains strongly linked with the Armand de Brignac name, as they continue to lend their 13 generations of knowledge to the production of the Champagne. Like other celebrity owned vineyards, their owners tend to limit themselves as marketing figureheads. We have yet to see Jay-Z himself pressing grapes!
A Symbol of Luxury or a bunch of grapes?
Named as the “Champagne-of-choice” for Jay-Z, these pewter-covered, embossed and hand-finished bottles have become a symbol of luxury and extravagance. Costing around 300$ retail price, it begs the question as to whether the consumer is buying good marketing or a quality Champagne. The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle.
The Champagne is produced in the village of Rilly-la-Montagne, in the Montagne de Reims region. Although only released in 2006, Cattier had been setting aside special plots of vines since the 50’s. All the grapes are diligently hand-selected from the 30-or-so Cattier hectares, as well as sourced from other growers across the Champagne region. Within the AOC Champagne there are 7 grape varietals allowed, the most popular being Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. This is the trio of choice for the Armand de Brignac House. The different grape varietals thrive within different areas of the Champagne region, providing distinct and characterful tasting profiles.
- Pinot Noir: Makes up 38% of the Champagne vines, and is principally planted in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar areas. The powerful Pinot Noir gives an aromatic, red berry nose, as well a rich and fruity structure to a Champagne.
- Pinot Meunier: Constitutes 32% of the vineyard and predominantly grows well in the area of the Marne Valley. The modest Meunier brings a silky roundness to a blend, with delicate fruits and smoky hints.
- Chardonnay: takes up 30% of the Champagne vineyard, with the lion’s share planted within the Côte des Blancs. The graceful Chardonnay adds a delicate crisp fragrance to champagne, with notes of citrus and white flower, emphasizing fresh hints of minerals.
5 is better than 1
When the Armand de Brignac House launched in 2006, they released their first non-vintage cuvée named Gold Brut. A vibrant expression of exotic fruits, orange blossom and brioche, it continues to be their most coveted cuvée and is always a blend of three vintages of the three main varietals. However, since their debut, Armand de Brignac has launched an additional 4 cuvées. It is easy to think that all Champagnes are identical in flavour profile and are merely reserved for rare moments of celebration. However, different cuvées within a house are often significantly varied and suited to different occasions. When you are Jay-Z you need champagne for every mood!
- The Gold Brut: great for the club, a flashy aperitif, ready for any moment!
- The Rosé: dominated by Pinot Noir and Meunier, with its aromatic berry explosion, gives a fun twist to a Friday afternoon.
- The Demi-Sec: if you are looking for sweetness and notes of candied grapefruit, this is the time to indulge. To be paired with the richness of foie gras and spicy delicacies.
- The Blanc de Blancs: this 100% Chardonnay cuvée is an elegant and crisp expression of buttery pastries, and aromas of pear and gooseberry. Perfect for an extravagant Jay-Z champagne breakfast!
- The Blanc de Noirs: 100% Pinot Noir and full of aromatic honeysuckle, red fruits and cinnamon. Structured and rich, this is gastronomic champagne. Calls for roasted duck or spring lamb.
A cuvée for every occasion!
Blanc de Noirs vs. Blanc de Blancs!
The majority of champagnes are blends of different white and red varietals. However, some houses like to make a cuvée which is 100% Pinot Noir (Blanc de Noirs) or 100% Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs). Generally, neither one is superior to the other quality-wise, although Blanc de Blancs has been marketed to seem more refined. Blanc de Noirs use the white juice from the red grapes, and are usually more fruity and aromatic, pairing well with food. On the other hand, Blanc de Blancs take the white juice from the white grapes, and tend to be more crisp and citrusy.
If Pinot Noir is a red grape, then how can we make a white Champagne?
Well, if you look at the flesh of grape, it is pretty clear and, if you squeeze it, so is the juice. The colour in red wine comes from the skin, so if you press the grapes quickly enough after harvest, you will finish with white champagne.
So is the Ace of Spades Champagne any good?
The Armand de Brignac Champagne has certainly got the air of exclusivity, and while marketing and Jay-Z have played a big part in this, it seems the critics do in fact rate their wines. In 2010 Gold Brut was awarded best champagne in the world, and Jancis Robinson rated the Blanc de Noirs and Demi Sec cuvées as 18/20. Whether or not it has surpassed the quality of Cristal is yet to be seen, but in any case, the combination of Cattier savoir-faire and Jay-Z’s entrepreneurial attitude have made for a worthy competitor!