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Champagne Best for Celebrations

Champagne Best for Celebrations

Richard Esling - Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Champagne the best for Celebrations.

 A headline in the Wine Trade Press caught my eye recently, concerning the plight, or otherwise, of champagne. Latest import figures for the UK showed that the quantity was down by some 3 million bottles, a ‘not insignificant quantity’ as John Major would have said. The reasons behind the drop are complicated, involving issues such as Brexit (uncertainty), changing fashions, competition from other sparkling wines and marketing. However, since we normally import some 30 million bottles per year, I don’t think the ‘champenois’ should be too worried.
Indeed, some of the smaller champagne houses have posted record sales last year, such as Champagne Drappier in the southern champagne region of the Aube. Drappier produces high quality, characterful champagnes and have now designed their own unique bottle shape to reinforce their market position and differentiate themselves. This small house alone shipped 1.7 million bottles, although not all to the UK. We now, of course, produce our own English sparkling wine made by the champagne method, which can compete on the same quality level as champagne itself. Recent figures showed total production of around 5 million bottles, but this is set to grow rapidly in the next 15 years, with some experts predicting 30 million bottles by 2030 – only 13 years away.
This undoubtedly has some effect on sales of champagne in the UK. But other factors can also upset the market. Last Christmas, a major supermarket was selling champagne at £8 per bottle. Once you deduct Vat and excise duty from this price, you are left with £3.90 per bottle. Production costs are far greater than this, so this ‘loss leader’ has an overall detrimental effect on the market as a whole. At this low price, champagne tends to then be categorised by many as being the same as Prosecco, which it definitely is not. The champagne in question was actually very good, but the ultra-low price at which it was marketed, reflected neither its quality nor value.
Unfortunately, there is still some champagne around which is not great quality, or is sold too young when it is ‘green’ and acidic. But this is becoming less and less available, with overall quality now reflecting its premium position in the world of sparkling wine. The champagne region received recognition in 2015 as a UNESCO world heritage site and deservedly so. The recognition is not simply for the quality of the wines produced, but involves the expertise, history, terroir and particularly its massive influence at global level. A region in Italy producing Prosecco has recently submitted a bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I cannot help having visions of ‘band wagons’ popping into my head.
I am a huge fan and supporter of our fledgling sparkling wine industry, love the sparkling wines from Franciacorta in Italy, together with champagne method sparklers from many different countries around the world, but for me, certain occasions still need to be celebrated with champagne. The champagne houses, or brands, I prefer are the smaller ones, such as Drappier, making elegant, interesting wines of real character and interest. Another of these is Champagne Barfontarc also in the Aube region, which uses a high percentage of Pinot Noir in its blend. I happen to be the UK agent for this company and am always pleased to see the positive reaction of consumers whenever it is tasted, in comparison to many much more expensive brands.
So, for Samuel my Grandson’s Christening last Sunday, the choice of wine to ‘wet the baby’s head’ was simple Champagne de Barfontarc Brut Tradition, to accompany the traditional French ‘Pièce Montée’

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