Champagnes seem to have been getting drier in recent years. What’s driving the trend? I put the question of declining Champagne dosage levels to Peter Wasserman today. Wasserman, along with his mother Becky, exports several grower champagnes including Godmé Pere et fils, José D’hondt, Camille Savès, and Vazart-Coquart.
Wasserman said there are three main reasons. First, climate change. As harvest gets longer, the pick dates get later meaning that the fruit is riper, as he put it being harvested at “optimum maturity. So there’s less searing acidity that needs balancing with the addition of the liqueur d’expedition.
Second, the wines are seeing more time on the lees. A decade ago, it was common for grower champagnes to give the wines two and a half years on the lees, spent yeast cells that imbue the wine with more flavor as it remains in contact with them. Now, three or four years is not uncommon. This depth of flavor also reduces the need to add sugar.
Third, the global sommelier culture is driving dosage levels lower. Sommeliers, he said, taste a lot of wines and especially value light and bright champagnes. They wield an outside influence today.
On that last point, I asked him if people talk dry and drink sweet? Absolutely, he said, modifying it to “drink rounder.” Even if somms like the drier style, not all of their customers do.
“Our three best selling champagnes all have 8 or 9 grams of residual sugar,” he said.
Steering away from an outright amount residual sugar, he said, “The Holy Grail is balance.”
Kate Moss has launched a new line of champagne stemware taken from a mold of her breast. The model famously displayed her skin-and-bone frame (topless) in ads for Calvin Klein’s Obsession. Which might lead one to think the champagne coupe is called the A-cup? But apparently not.
The coupe was purportedly modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breast. But it fell out of fashion in favor of the stem, which favors a visual presentation of Champagne’s bubbles.
Why do Champagne prices often decrease during the holidays? Economic logic might hold that as demand increases–a huge amount of bubbly is put away during the last few weeks of the year–that prices should also increase.
A recent article in the Times mounts a parallel quest in understanding why turkey prices fall as Thanksgiving approaches and rose prices rise into Valentine’s Day.
As with frozen turkeys supermarkets, well-known champagne brands can be used as a loss-leader. Come for the Veuve Clicquot and leave with a few bottles of malbec and other full-priced items for your party. And as with frozen turkeys, there’s a vast supply of champagne brands ready to fill sales channels for this busy time of the year. Also, as with the article’s example of low-priced tuna contributing to price compression of canned tuna during Lent, the presence of perfectly serviceable other sorts of lower-priced bubbles may act to compress the prices of champagne brands. Finally, a supermarket probably doesn’t want to devote space to frozen turkey after Thanksgiving so they might be inclined to cut prices to clear out inventory. Similarly, a large wine shop might want to reduce their stock of bubbly post-New Year’s Eve.
The article points out the different market dynamic with the price of roses at Valentine’s Day: with more demand, rose prices surge. There’s a limited supply of fresh roses and flower shops can’t benefit from a loss leader as the Valentine shopper wants only roses. In the wine world, a small shop may not stock big-label champagne, so may not have loss-leaders to flog in newspaper ads. Also, if the shop focuses on grower champagne, the supply, while not as limited as fresh roses at Valentine’s Day, is more limited than the grandes marques, which could lead to price stability at a time of discounting.
When it comes to champagne shopping this holiday season, think about are you getting a frozen turkey or a rose and shop accordingly.
Not if you work at the CIVC, the Champagne trade bureau. Their representatives have taken a dim view of the use of their protected term publicly decrying the term. One told L’Union that as opposed the term Bordeaux, which has a color connotation, champagne is not associated with one hue, so Apple is freeriding on the goodwill of the term (my loose translation). Elsewhere, they have noted it is a protected term in the EU.
What say you: tempest in a tastevin?
Either way, maybe Apple will call the color chardonnay–I hear the grape’s lobby is not as well funded as Champagne. Stay tuned for the details from Apple on September 10.
What has one end go down a little while another end pops up? It’s not a seesaw; judging by recent data, the answer to this riddle is Champagne.
Champagne sales fell 4.4% last year to 308 million bottles but were flat by value according to data released by the CIVC last week. France and the rest of the EU popped fewer bottles of bubbly by 5.6% and 7.1% respectively; together, they comprise 80% of Champagne sales. The official press release highlighted strong sales in Japan and Australia as well as growth in emerging markets.
Sales in the US market were not released but Shanken Daily News reported, presumably from their own data, that sales of Champagne fell 16% by volume and 25% by value in the first half of 2012.
I spoke with a representative at a leading importer of grower champagne who said their sales surged 20% last year. In fact, their Champagne portfolio is what is drawing new accounts for them as buyers are attracted to champagne from small producers who have a link to the land. Wine shop managers have also told me about strong interest in grower champagne at the retail level. Grower champagnes clearly represent only a niche in the bubbly market but it is a growing niche. Will the big houses take heed and start focusing more on site-specific wines?
Maybe the sluggish economy is causing brand-oriented champagne consumers to switch some purchases to Prosecco. Or they are following instructions from hip-hop artists and dabbling with Moscato.
Best wishes to everyone for the holidays!
We uncorked a Pierre Moncuit, “Hugues de Coulmet” brut NV to kick things off. It’s always a terrific champagne that happens to be a great value. This importer’s page reveals that the blanc de blanc sees no time in wood but also has no reserve wine in the cuvée, each of which is a single (alas, unknown via the label) vintage. The house is located in Mesnil but the fruit for this wine comes from just outside of Mesnil in Sézanne. It’s really bright and fresh, with good fruit as well as yeasty complexity. I suppose it would be great with sushi, but we had it as an aperitif and it fit the bill perfectly. I bought it on sale for $32–should have loaded up on more to share with Santa and the reindeer (find this wine at retail).
A pair standout champagnes I tasted this fall were from Jacquesson, a small house in Dizy run by the brothers Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet (brothers of Gaston). Jacquesson has a number of interesting things going on as they drive toward distinction. First, they are making only one wine that is a blend of sites, their nonvintage “700” series cuvée. (No, this isn’t a BMW.) Each NV blend has a different base wine each year and thus gets a different number. The “735” that I tasted draws 72% of the wine from the 2007 vintage, with the remainder from reserve stocks. It has beautiful poise, a bready aroma balancing on a sprightly core of acidity.
Second, the 2002 is the end of the line for multi-site vintage wines at Jacquesson. From here on out, they will be doing only site-labeled vintage cuvées (there weren’t any of those at the walk-around tasting I attended), no multi-site vintage wines. As you might expect, given the vintage, the 2002 was serious stuff, with more depth and complexity than the sprightly “735,” but still tightly wound stoniness with many years ahead of it.
Third, the labels are terrific. The back label is possibly Read more…
Almost half of the sparkling wine sold in the US says champagne on the label. The only catch: that’s “California champagne,” usually with the “California” in 2-point font and the “Champagne” in 36-point bold.
So says the Champagne Bureau USA, the DC-based arm of the CIVC, the Champagne trade association. Although the term is banned in Mexico and Australia for domestic sparkling wine, and Canada will phase out the use of any domestic use of “Champagne” in 2014, the US–the third largest market for Champagne after France and the UK–has no such sunset. Six years ago, the EU and US agreed to allow no new labels to use the term thus limiting the term to existing labels (about 16 comprise almost all the volume). Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, thinks it’s time to tighten the laws and ban “California Champagne” on labels.
“US law agrees with protecting communal names such as Napa Valley,” he says. “Yet it permits duplicity with Champagne.” Read more…