The wine business continues to do things no one expects, and the latest Champagne sales numbers are a striking indication of what ?s going ?s on.
This French wine service story is stunning in its conclusions: ?Champagne was dominant 10 to 15 years ago, but the world has changed. ?
The story, though written for the European market, is well worth reading because it documents the trend we ?re been talking about here for several years (and not just because I ?m trying to put together The Cheap Wine Book). Today, when consumers have a choice between two quality products, they ?re more likely than ever to buy on price. Champagne exports declined 2.8 percent last year, while non-Champagne sparkling wine accounts for 70 percent of the European market.
In other words, we ?re buying more cava and prosecco and so are the Europeans — and that it ?s not Champagne doesn ?t seem to bother us.This is shocking news, and especially for the Europeans. Their market never, ever worked that way.
This also demonstrates the continuing evolution of the wine market into two tiers ? everyday wine drinkers, who are mostly ignored by the Winestream Media, and a much smaller, score-driven minority that still buys wine the old-fashioned way and is doted on by most of the wine world.
And how cheap are these wines? Cava costs ?8 (US$11) or less in most European retailers, while prosecco ranges from ?5 to ?15 (about US$7-$20). Those of you who buy either in the States will note that ?s pretty much what we pay for it. Call it the pricing power of the biggest multi-national wine companies (cava giant Freixenet ?s annual production is about two-thirds of the entire Champagne region), and they ?re more than willing to trade margin for market share ? another theme we ?ve discussed in detail here.
Recommendations from around the Internet for sparkling wine for tonight. My suggestions are here.
? Same old wines: The AskMen.com website has a thorough look at Champagne history, the differences between the various kinds of bubblies, and even serving suggestions. What it doesn ?t have? Many interesting wines. It recommends Veuve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouet, which are usually two of the top five brands in the U.S. You don ?t need to know much about Champagne to pick those.
? If you don ?t want Champagne: NorthJersey.com does an excellent job with cava, cremant and the like, including a New York state bubbly, Brotherhood Winery Blanc de Blancs Brut for $10. These are all (save the Brotherhood) widely available.
? And if you don ?t like bubbly? Which the Wine Curmudgeon can ?t imagine, given how much sparkling wine I drink even when it isn ?t New Year ?s. But the Today.com website has more beer suggestions than I would have thought possible, complete with beer-speak ( ?[I]t packs a hearty 10 percent ABV that ?s very well hidden within an ambrosia of earthy fruits and dark caramel flavor notes. ?) I ?m sure they ?re all fine beers; I just wish the author hadn ?t intimated those of us who like sparkling are less than manly. Should I challenge him to a spitting contest?
Which means sparkling wine, plus a couple of other ideas — whether for dinner on Dec. 31 or brunch on Jan. 1.
Our Champagne and sparkling wine glossary is here. This is also the place for my annual plea to drink more sparkling wine during the year. Bubbly deserves deserves more than just one post in the Wine Curmudgeon top 100 (90th place in 2012).
More, after the jump:
? Red or white? Does your lifestyle determine whether which color wine you prefer? A study that looked at British wine drinkers says that may be the case, though the Wine Curmudgeon has his doubts. It found that red wine drinkers are better educated and drink more frequently than those who have a preference for white or rose, while white wine drinkers are home-lovers who aren ?t ambitious for their careers. What the study doesn ?t seem to have taken into account is wine price, because white and rose tends to be less expensive than red, which would account for some of the differences.
? Get a lawyer: One must admire the gumption of a group of Idaho prison inmates, as reported by Courthouse News. They are suing five liquor producers, including E&J Gallo, because ?alcohol contributed to their downfall, and that companies that make beer, wine and booze should be obligated to warn consumers of the dangers of their products, ? says the report. The companies, says the suit, knew their product was habit forming, but did nothing to warn the public. The other interesting bit about the story? It has a quote from an unnamed member of Alcoholics Anonymous, who holds AA sessions at the prison. That kind of quote is almost unheard of, given AA ?s mania for secrecy.
? Too much expensive Champagne: What would we do without the Internet? Otherwise we would not know, as reported by thedrinksbusiness.com, that someone named Dexter Koh spent 105,000 (about US$170,000) on bubbly at a British nightclub. Koh, a self-described bon vivant, tweeted that he celebrated a winning gambling night drinking Champagne that most people not only can ?t afford, but haven ?t heard of. And yes, there was a model along for the party, as well as a picture of the bill.
Still not sure what do about Champagne or sparkling wine for New Year's? Don't worry — the Wine Curmudgeon has you covered:
? The annual sparkling wine and Champagne post (which includes links to posts from previous years).
? New Year's wine suggestions from around the Internet.
? Wednesday's wine of the week, a sparkler from Spain — Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut NV.
? The sparkling wine category, which includes reviews of every bubbly in the blog's four-year history.
Some thoughts on bubbly for the New Year from around the Internet (and not a Veuve Clicquot recommendation among them):
? Sparkling wine advice: One of the best — perhaps the best — primers on bubbly comes from Tim McNally at New Orleans magazine. It's so good, in fact, that I'm going to steal much of it for use here. Writes Tim: "Never allow the wine to flow out of the bottle after opening. It ?s a terrible waste." Is it any wonder I think so much of the post? Tim includes Champagne history, advice on opening a bottle, some recommendations, and even his analysis concerning the number of bubbles in a bottle of bubbly.
? Value-oriented Champagne: Yes, the real stuff — sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France — is expensive, but that has not deterred my pal Dave McIntyre from looking for bottles that offer the most for your dollar. Dave's finds are here and here; availability may be a problem away from the East Coast, but these are wines worth looking for. The Jose Michel (the second link) sounds especially good.
? Price-conscious selections: Fred Tasker in the Miami Herald offers 11 bubblies to try, and only one costs more than $27. Which, for sparkling, is impressive — even by the Wine Curmudgeon's standards. The Woodbridge extra dry, which is only $10, is an intriguing choice, and should please anyone who wants something sweeter but is intimidated by the whole sparkling wine thing.
How confused are Americans about sparkling wine? Very. The Wine Curmudgeon was in line at one of Dallas' upscale grocers last week, and the woman ahead of me in line had all sorts of expensive produce and meat — and six bottles of $9 Freixenet black bottle cava. That almost certainly never would have happened if she had been buying regular, or still, wine; then her cart would have had the required 92-point bottles.
Or, to take it to the other extreme, a very well-known TV chef advised her viewers a couple of weeks ago to make mimosas — the 20-somethings' favorite hangover remedy — with $40 sparkling wine. Which would be the equivalent of making sangria with one of the $40 reds I review in the monthly expensive wine post. Which would seem certainly seem like overkill.
What's the reason for all this confusion? Because sparkling wine is seen as even more confusing than still wine, and still wine confuses us enough. Sparkling wine is more difficult to open. We're only supposed to drink it on special occasions, and never for dinner in the middle of the week. And it has bubbles!
But sparkling wine doesn't have to be this way. In fact, other than opening it, bubbly is not much different from still wine. It's made with the same grapes, it's made in much the same way, and it pairs with food just like regular red and white wine. Best yet, quality labels are available at all prices, even for less than $10.
After the jump, what you need to know about bubbly and my suggestions for the New Year's holiday.