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How Victoria James Created the Largest Champagne List in the U.S.

After three years of searching for special bottles and cult favorites, the new fried chicken and bubbly joint Coqodaq has debuted with a 400-bottle Champagne library

A headshot of Victoria James
Coqodaq’s extensive Champagne selections pair with their fried chicken menu. Photo credit: Gary He.

The wine industry has been buzzing since Coqodaq, the new fried chicken and Champagne concept from Gracious Hospitality Management, opened in January in New York City—and for good reason. Victoria James, the group’s executive director of beverage, is well known for her award-winning beverage program at Cote, and Coqodaq’s new wine list boasts some remarkable stats.  

“We have the largest Champagne list in America,” says James, noting that the carefully curated selection includes over 400 bottles of Champagne. “[The list] celebrates blue chip specials like Selosse and Salon, but we also have a ‘100 under $100’ section with sparkling selections, the majority Champagne, so that provides more approachable options. Essentially, Champagne is the best pairing with fried chicken and our philosophy is simple: we want everyone to enjoy this pairing.” 

Curating a wine list of this depth and breadth—the list also includes 20 pages of still wines from around the world and numerous spirits—is a monumental task, and it took James and her team three years to compile. Part of what makes the list so remarkable, especially for a restaurant in New York City, is the mind-boggling logistics involved.

“As buyers, we don’t often get the opportunity to buy over 400 selections of Champagne,” says James. “We started by putting together this absolute wish list and went hunting for a few years to track down special bottles and cult favorites. The challenges of course are New York City space and storage, but we make it work.”

For James, a wine list of this size is about much more than the number of bottles; it offers countless opportunities for education and discovery. “The idea is that someone can really start to explore Champagne seriously at Coqodaq,” says James. “We have this oenotheque or library, so the first time you visit you can try a specific cuvée from a producer, and the next time maybe explore a different bottling or vintage. You can be a student of Champagne here if you want, or you can just have fun.” For the students of Champagne, James was careful to include horizontals, verticals, and multiple cuvées from select producers, but also affordable options, so you can get “good bubbly in any range and style,” she adds. 

With so many options, it’s hard not to wonder which bottles are selling. It turns out, Coqodaq diners are leaning into the fried chicken and Champagne concept in a big way. “We sell many incredible bottles nightly,” says James, but “Coqodaq is all about bubbles.” Based on James’ list of five standout bottles that have sold since the restaurant opened, guests are more than willing to invest in their Champagne education. (Listed are on-premise prices at Coqodaq.)

Leclerc-Briant ‘Abyss’ 2017. Photo credit: Evan Sung. Photo courtesy of Nike Communications.
Leclerc-Briant ‘Abyss’ 2017. Photo credit: Evan Sung. Photo courtesy of Nike Communications.

1. Leclerc-Briant ‘Abyss’ 2017, Champagne, France; $630

When this particular bottle sold, “the guests wanted something wholly unique and not found normally in the United States,” says James. Leclerc-Briant’s ‘Abyss’ definitely fits that description. The 2017 base wine, a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, was aged on its lees for three years before being submerged in the ocean for 10 months. The same bottle—barnacles and all—makes its way to the end consumer, providing a unique tasting and visual experience. With only 5,000 bottles produced, it’s definitely a rare find.

Marie-Nöelle Ledru Brut 2006. Photo courtesy of Marie-Nöelle Ledru.
Marie-Nöelle Ledru Brut 2006.

2. Marie-Nöelle Ledru Brut 2006, Champagne, France; $1,125

When Marie-Nöelle Ledru announced that she would stop producing Champagne after the 2016 vintage, many Champagne drinkers were devastated. Her wines were a benchmark in the grower Champagne category for over 30 years. While her production was always very small, since the announcement her wines have become even more sought after, and even more difficult to find. Whenever her wines appear on a wine list, guests are quick to snatch them up. “Sadly, this is one of the last bottles left,” says James. “The guest loved tasting a bit of history.”

Jacques Selosse Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésime. Photo courtesy of Champagne Jacques Selosse.
Jacques Selosse Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésime 1998.

3. Jacques Selosse Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésime 1998 (2007 disgorgment), Champagne, France; $4,125

Since taking the helm at Champagne Jacques Selosse in 1980, Anselme Selosse has revolutionized the world of Champagne. A pioneer in the grower movement, Selosse ushered in a focus on high-quality farming and terroir-diven winemaking. Many students of Champagne seek out his unique, meticulously crafted wines, especially from good, older vintages like 1998, to better understand Champagne’s terroirs. According to James, this bottle is one of her guests’ “top favorites.”

Dom Pérignon ‘Oenothèque’ Rosé. Photo courtesy of Dom Pérignon.
Dom Pérignon ‘Oenothèque’ Rosé 1990.

4. Dom Pérignon ‘Oenothèque’ Rosé 1990, Champagne, France; $1,800

Beyond growers, “Many of our guests love trying classic vintages from Grands Maisons,” says James, so it’s no surprise that an iconic producer like Dom Pérignon (or the Krug that follows) is on this list. The 1990 rosé was the first vintage released as part of Oenothèque line, a series of recently disgorged older vintages (the program is now known as Plénitude and different disgorgement dates are given numbers such as P1 or P2). The 1990 vintage is a standout in the region and is still drinking well today, making it highly sought after by many Champagne fans.

Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’ Blanc de Blancs. Photo courtesy of Krug.
Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’ Blanc de Blancs 1998.

5. Krug ‘Clos du Mesnil’ Blanc de Blancs 1998, Champagne, France; $2,900

Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is one of the most famous vineyards in Champagne. Located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the 1.84-hectare, 100-percent Chardonnay vineyard has been protected by a stone wall since 1698, making the 1998 vintage—the 300th anniversary of the Clos—all the more special. With so many unique attributes, this wine is particularly special to any student of Champagne.


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Caitlin A. Miller is a New York-based wine writer and the current associate editor for SevenFifty Daily. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Vinous, and Christie’s International Real Estate Magazine. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines and was the recipient of the 2020 Vinous Young Wine Writer Fellowship.

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