I started my wine journey many years before I could afford to buy anything that was famous. I think I had one bottle of Champagne my entire life before age 25 (it was Moet, needless to say). Champagne is probably the most famous wine on the planet, but it is running into a little difficulty. The problem with being on top of the tree is that there is only one way to go from there. The last import figures for the UK for Champagne show a 5% decline in volume and a 2% decline in value. In the same period Prosecco grew by 33% and 24% respectively.
These figures may account for the fact that Champagne producers are no longer going to be declaring their volume figures but are going to concentrate on value figures instead. There is only a finite amount of land in Champagne and hence a finite amount of grapes, so volumes are never going to rise anyway. We may be drinking more fizz in the world, but sure as heck it isn’t going to be more Champagne.
The UK is the second biggest market after France itself. We buy about 27 million bottles a year. Enough to give every one of us about 2 glasses (I’ll have yours if you don’t want it, thanks). We drink slightly more than the Americans (no news there) in total, and way more per head. They only drink about half a glass a head per year (hardly worth bothering, I would say).
“Cheap Champagne anyone?” is not something you shout across the room to your guests. I just wonder where all the 2nd pressed juice goes in Champagne wineries. The 2nd pressed grapes produce quite a bitter, rough, tannic juice best suited to having lots of sugar added to it before bottling. This is how you find “discount supermarket” bargains. Only, in this case, they aren’t really bargains. I wonder sometimes who these people are that gave them the awards when they refer to “our award-winning Champagne”! The inexorable rise of Prosecco is a thorn in the side of humble priced Champagne as it shows it up for what it is – cheap and often nasty.
The big brands in Champagne are trying hard to get us to spend more money on their product. Moet have brought out Imperial Ice which is a Champagne to be served on, you guessed it, ice. Because it is on ice it has to have more flavour and body so that you can taste it and hence they have released it in a sweeter style (40 g of sugar per litre). An ideal style if you want to break into new markets such as Asia. Indeed, this is where all the value growth is. Call me a cynic, but £45 for a sweeter version of Moet in a fancier bottle doesn’t really appeal, even to a younger version of myself. But then again, maybe it would, as I too was an emerging drinker back then, were I to have had the cash, obviously.
There is a third way between cheap and the branded options, and that is growers-own labels. Strange that Great Grog sells Thierry Gobillard’s Champagne isn’t it! Competent chaps and chapesses like Thierry are the future of growth in the region, because they are worth it. They concentrate on quality and that is where the future lies.
There you go, the optimism of youth again.