Sunday, 6 December 2009

Armand de Brignac: the Jay-Z effect

On Wednesday night I was invited to a party at the Park Lane Hilton hosted by Armand de Brignac Champagne, better known as Ace of Spades, to celebrate their Brut Gold being voted the number one Champagne in the world.

The prestige cuvée, which sells for £250 a bottle, scored 96 points out of 100 in a blind tasting of over 1,000 brands organised by FINE Champagne magazine, beating the likes of Krug, Bollinger and Dom Pérignon to the top spot. Milling about the bar in a sharp suit was Armand de Brignac CEO Jean-Jaques Cattier, a diminutive man in his mid-sixties with Martin Scorsese glasses.

I couldn't resist asking him about the Jay-Z connection, and how he felt it has affected the brand. Jay-Z after all, is Armand de Brignac's biggest supporter. Since boycotting Cristal in 2006, Jay has got behind Ace of Spades in a big way, featuring it in his 2006 music video Show Me What You Got and introducing his high profile homies, including P. Diddy and Kanye West to the brand.

'I don't mind the association with the hip-hop world at all', Cattier tells me. 'I'm happy for the exposure Jay-Z's endorsement has given the brand. He's helped get our name recognized.'

So how did a small Champagne house in Chigny-les-Roses manage to catch the hip-hop mogul's eye and in three years command £450 a bottle (for the blanc-de-blancs) and have a demand that cannot match its supply? The story goes that Jay-Z spotted Armand de Brignac in a liquor store in New York three years ago and was so taken with the bottle design that he ordered three cases from the estate to be featured in his Monaco-based music video Show Me What You Got.

Cattier upholds the story that the two had never previously met, meeting for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival last year. But it all seems too convenient that the same year Jay boycotts Cristal, a new and suitably 'bling' Champagne comes onto the market. You've only got to look at the design - the flashy gold and silver bottles with pewter ace of spades labels to realise this could only have been thought up by someone in the hip-hop industry. It's got Jay-Z's stamp all over it, and I am far from convinced that the Champagne was conceived without his involvement. Perhaps with Ace of Spades, Jay-Z is being the ultimate magician, leading us to believe the illusion that he stumbled across a brand he actually created.

Champange Cattier are adamant that Jay-Z had nothing to do with the conception of Ace of Spades, but I wouldn't be surprised if the whole enterprise was his idea; a way of expanding his ever-growing empire and sticking two fingers up at Cristal while he's at it.

But what of the Brut Gold? Did it merit its 'best Champagne in the world' status? In a word, no. Sorry Jay. The nose was closed and I struggled to get much from it. It was better in the mouth, with detectable autolytic notes along with lemon zest and crunchy apples. Clean, clear and crisp, it had a rich mouthfeel and good mousse, but in comparison with Krug, DP and Cristal, it was big and clumsy, lacking the elegance and finesse of a world-class Champagne. It was more masculine, more in-your-face, more... bling.

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