As I sip the latest release of Krug Grande Cuvee and chew some salty nuts at Eleven Madison Park in New York, company director Olivier Krug compares making the champagne to his grandmother's ratatouille.
"Champagne is more complex when you blend many ingredients," he says.
Entering the new label ID code on the Krug website, I find out what those are. This accesses more backstory, like the fact that this particular release of Grande Cuvee ($150) contains wine from 121 vineyard plots and 12 vintages from 1990 to 2004, and information on when it was disgorged.
Revealing numbers like these are a big change. Until recently, most of the region's grandes marques kept information about their nonvintage-dated blends secret.
Major champagne house Roederer is touting its 10-year relationship with biodynamics, a risky uber-organic form of viticulture increasingly popular among small grower producers.
"When you don't take risks, wine becomes standardized," cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon says. That's tiny grower-producer talk. We are at a summer tasting of seven vintages of Roederer's prestige cuvees Cristal and Cristal Rose.
Biodynamics, Lecaillon says, give the wines more finesse and fruit, even in difficult vintages like 2005. I guess so.
That just-released vintage of Cristal ($200) is rich and full, with plenty of chalky tang and none of the earthy taint I've found in some producers' 2005 bottlings. Lecaillon calls his 2005 fizz "a blue sky without any clouds."
The 1996 Cristal Rose is just about perfect, creamy and silky and supremely complex. It should be, at $700 per.
Of course, no big champagne house is abandoning image consciousness. Based on this summer's launches, pairing your bubbly with an avant-garde designer or celeb is definitely de rigueur.
Dom Perignon tapped film director David Lynch, creator of the weird, addictive TV series "Twin Peaks" and 2001 thriller "Mulholland Drive," to package 2003 D.P. ($169) and 2000 D.P. Rose ($309) "The Power of Creation" limited editions. (They go on sale this month, though the regular bottlings of the same wines already have been on retail shelves for less.)
Lynch's surrealistic D.P. bottle and box have a glowing, almost creepy, hallucinatory look. The exotic 2003 Dom Perignon, from a vintage so hot that 15,000 people died in France, is rich and powerful, but I much prefer the creamy, glamorous 2002 ($140).
James Bond and Bollinger are still a classic pairing - he's been ordering the brand on screen since the 1973 film "Live and Let Die." I'm not a fan of the specially designed 2002 "James Bond 007" La Grande Annee bottling ($200) being released soon for the opening of the new Bond movie "Skyfall."
The box is intended to evoke the silencer on Bond's Walther PPK handgun. Unless you're a Bond collector, go for the sexy, rich, elegant wine in the regular bottle ($100).
A huge global survey released in August by research company TNS revealed a worldwide appetite for indulging in champagne and sparkling wine more regularly. What's holding people back, said chief researcher Jan Hofmeyr, is cost.
Champagne has always been pitched and priced as an elitist drink, which is why sales slipped during the recession and sparklers like prosecco and Spanish cava are booming.
Yet this summer, Liv-Ex reported global demand for champagne is thriving, at least for investment-grade names like Cristal, Krug, D.P. and hot seller 2002 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne ($185).
Master sommelier Laura Maniec, owner of the New York wine bar Corkbuzz, began selling every bottle of champagne on her list at 50 percent off every night from 10 p.m. until the bar closes.
The offer is still on, with a fascinating grower fizz like the classy 2002 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut for $98 instead of $195, or a delicious standard like nonvintage Ruinart Rose Brut for $75 rather than $150.
Maniec advocated pairing all these champagnes with everyday food, like French fries (try one with Corkbuzz's spicy potatas bravas).
Meanwhile, London's new Bubbledogs wine bar offers 13 savory, spicy hot dogs with refreshing grower champagnes.
I'm not surprised. I've always known top French bubbly goes with just about everything.