Rapper Jay Z's latest venture, an all-pinot Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” Champagne, will be released in October. A few tastes were doled out at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in June, but alas, Shawn Corey Carter didn't drop by the booth as everyone hoped he would.
This blanc de noirs is the brand's most expensive and exclusive fizz yet, so when I finally sampled it last week, my first thought was: How much of the $760 price tag is for bling? Short answer: Much of it.
Don't get me wrong. This new Ace of Spades bubbly is full, rich and tangy — and way better and more elegant than it has to be for a wine that may end up more status symbol than collectible. The buxom fruit flavors hit you right upfront and then reverberate like an insistent rap beat.
And it's definitely too good to splash in a hot tub, as Beyoncï¿½ did with the brand's all-chardonnay blanc de blancs during "Feeling Myself," a video collaboration with Nicki Minaj that premiered in May. (By the way, that fizz is also too good to splash in a hot tub.)
THE ACE OF SPADES LINE
The blanc de noirs joins a lineup of five other Ace of Spades Champagnes, with similar flashy packaging that definitely exudes, well, excess.
Like the others, the new bottle is coated with a metallic finish and hand-embossed with an Ace of Spades symbol hammered out in pewter. (The original brut, which retails for $300, is gold. The blanc de blancs, shiny platinum; the rosï¿½, bright pink; the rare gold cuvï¿½e, bright green; and the slightly sweet demi-sec, dark pink.) I'm not sure why they chose a subdued gunmetal gray, like storm clouds, for the blanc de noirs. Maybe it signals the conquest of a category?
The bottle design, created by French fashion designer Andre Courreges, one of the inventors of the miniskirt, gives the entire Ace of Spades line the requisite luxe fashionista connection. And all of the bottles come in smooth, lacquered black boxes lined in black velvet.
So what's different about the blanc de noirs? The high price reflects its rarity: Fewer than 3,000 bottles will be released, according to Armand de Brignac Chief Executive Officer Sebastian Besson. He says the brand doesn't really plan to pour them in Jay Z's 40/40 Clubs — or create an ostentatious 30-liter Midas bottling weighing 100 pounds, as it did with the brut rosï¿½, which was uncorked in Las Vegas for $275,000.
Like Krug's Grande Cuvï¿½e, the blanc de noirs is “multi-vintage” (a more upscale way to say nonvintage), based on the years 2008, 2009 and 2010. The former, though, goes for a trifling $150 to $200.
DIRT OFF ITS SHOULDER
Jay Z now owns the Armand de Brignac brand, but its backstory is complicated, complete with a feud.
The wines are made by the Cattier Champagne house, in the village of Chigny-les-Roses in the Montagne de Reims area of Champagne. The family company has been growing grapes since 1763. The official tale says they registered the brand name back in the 1950s and revived it in 2006 with the help of U.S. distributor Sovereign Brands.
After “discovering” the brut gold cuvï¿½e, Jay Z hyped it in his lavish 2006 music video "Show Me What You Got." In the video, as Jay Z peruses his cards at a gaming table in Monte Carlo, a waiter presents a bottle of Cristal. The rapper waves it away, then accepts a shiny gold bottle of then-obscure Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades from the silvery briefcase he'd carried into the casino.
That was payback aimed at Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Louis Roederer, the maker of Jay Z's former favorite fizz, Cristal. Jay Z felt insulted by Mr. Rouzaud's response to a question about Cristal's popularity in the hip-hop community.
“What can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it,” Mr. Rouzaud told the Economist. “I'm sure Dom Pï¿½rignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”
So Jay Z banished Cristal from his 40/40 nightclubs, boycotted the brand and latched on to Armand de Brignac. What's never been clear is what kind of marketing or financial involvement he had at the beginning.
A BRAND OPPOSED
Think of his new blanc de noirs as the anti-Cristal. For one thing, it costs three times more.
Its opaque bottle is the antithesis of Cristal's clear one, which is wrapped in translucent yellow cellophane to protect the wine inside against ultraviolet rays and bright lights. It's a blend of vintages, while Cristal is vintage-dated and made only in top years. Ace is all pinot noir, while the latest vintage of Cristal is a subtle, complex blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay.
The Cristal is worth every penny of its $200 price tag, while at least $400 of the new Ace of Spades blanc de noirs is for reputation.
How to drink it? Despite his lyrics in the remix of 50 Cent's "I Get Money," in which he explains “Ace of Spade bubblin' / Drink it from the bottle, who the f--- need a bucket?” Jay Z prefers his Ace of Spades blanc de noirs in a tulip-shaped wine glass.
Elin McCoy is a columnist at Bloomberg News.