First published on the Daily Telegraph on October 26, 2012
By Nicki Bourlioufas
No longer regarded as a drink for the elite, Aussies are splurging on Champagne as prices tumble and the Global Champagne Day coming up in October, what better time to raise a toast to the good stuff?
While the rest of the world wails, Australians are drinking French bubbles like never before, with no excuse necessary for the splurge. Champagne sales have long been strong in Australia.
Whether it’s high tea or just time for tea, Champagne is gracing our tables or filling our flutes more often. And with the strong Australian dollar, a well-known brand of Champagne can now cost less than $50, well clear of $100 mark some bottles used to cross.
People no longer regard Champagne just as a celebration drink but people just want to drink a good wine on more occasions. The price has come down quite dramatically, so people who didn’t buy it before are doing so now and there’s no sign of any slowing down.
And the French champagne houses are meeting the demand.
What’s the most popular?
Australia’s highest-selling brands have long been Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, owned by the giant French luxuries group, LVMH. Other popular Champagne brands include Mumm, Laurent Perrier, Bollinger, Pol Roger and Piper-Heidsieck, which can now be found for $40-$50 a bottle.
Even little known Champagnes are gaining in popularity. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV, a Chardonnay-based sparkling, has been described by Wine Spectator as “the best Champagne you don’t know about.” The wine was a crowd favourite at a Champagne tasting at Sydney’s Hemmesphere bar the author attended, where bubbles from more than 20 Champagne houses were served.
“Ruinart Blanc de Blancs was the most popular Champagne by far! But also Louis Roederer NV and Pol Roger was in high demand,” said Franck Moreau MS, group sommelier for the Merivale group, which owns hemmesphere, as well as the Ivy Bar and The Establishment, where patrons regularly splash out on Champagne.
However, while we’re splurging on Champagne, we’re reluctant to spend on the more expensive Rosé styles or vintage Champagnes, which are known for their greater concentration of flavours and use of top-quality grapes. It’s only in years when fruit quality is high enough that Champagne houses declare vintages.
“Rose Champagne is growing in style and people have become educated that Rose is not sweet. However, the non-vintage Champagnes are still the most popular wines,” says Moreau.
It has been estimated that around 60 per cent of Bollinger’s annual sales in Australia come in the last three months of the year, with sales dominated by its non-vintage Special Cuvee blend, a fuller-bodied Champagne made from the traditional blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Meeting demand for the Melbourne Cup horse race and Christmas explain the heightened demand.
But sparkling consumers are finding more and more occasions to enjoy their wine with High Tea and the modern pub garden emerging as new daytime moments, adding to the more traditional night-time drinking occasions.