The appeal of sweet, fizzy wine baffles Stephen Jardine but as Champers sales fall cava is on the up.
In the vineyards of northern France, all is not well. Thanks to a law passed almost a century ago, Champagne can only be grown in a designated zone covering 130 square miles. In recent years, the rising price of a bottle has helped elevate land values to the point where those outside the area have had enough.
Following a concerted campaign, the French Government has agreed to increase the size of the area allowed to make Champagne by 30 per cent. Experts are now deciding where the authorised fields will be. For some lucky farmers, a decision in their favour could be like winning the lottery. Fields outside the current Champagne-growing area sell for €12,000 per acre. Inside that figure rockets to €600,000 an acre.
However there is one problem. It’s come too late. It’s taken a decade to get agreement on the expansion of the Champagne region and, in that time, sales of the drink have actually been falling. At the start of this decade, Champagne sales topped 322 million bottles but now they are down to 300 million. With little for anyone to celebrate at the moment, there is no sign of the drop being reversed anytime soon.
In fact, industry insiders fear the expansion of the growing area will lead to over production and a glut of Champagne, driving down the price and with it the allure of the drink.
All of this is music to me because I’ve never got the appeal of Champagne. To me, it all tastes the same, too sweet, too warm and too fizzy. On top of that, it always leads to the worst hangovers. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it and I certainly don’t get why it is the go to drink for any celebration.
Given the choice, I’d always prefer a nice glass of white wine or a good beer but you rarely get a choice because fizz flows at every wedding or special party.
However it could be worse. It could be prosecco. In 2013, sales of the Italian fizz overtook Champagne for the first time and it now accounts for 62 per cent of sparkling wine sales in the UK. Incredibly, a quarter of all prosecco exported from Italy ends up in the UK.
Glasgow even has a Prosecco Festival this weekend. To me, that sounds about as attractive as a Tripe Festival but there is some good news on the horizon.
Maybe it was the appearance of prosecco-flavoured crisps or that person who called it Prosexy or just the fact that its cheapness made it ubiquitous, but whatever the reason, sales are now falling for the first time.
So is there a chance that we might be able to move on and focus on some decent drinks instead? Probably not.
With French and Italian sparkling both in decline, the ugly sister of the fizz world is enjoying a renaissance. Sold cheap and barely marketed, Spanish Cava was always the poor relation but that is now changing with investment and rebranding helping UK sales rise in the last year.
So it seems there really is no escape from the pop of the cork and the fizz of the bubbles. Even if Brexit restricts imports, English sparkling wine is on the rise with sales up eight per cent last year. Sometimes you just have to admit you are wrong.