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…
In the ongoing debate about whether champagnes should have disgorgement dates on the labels, discussion has mostly been in favor of the practice. Some critics refuse to review a nonvintage wine without a disgorgement date. (What is disgorgement?)
At the portfolio tasting of Pas Mal Selections in New York last month, Peter Wasserman expressed hesitations about the sole focus on disgorgement dates. Peter works for Becky Wasserman Selection aka Le Serbet (his business card reds “head of anti-marketing and sales prevention”), the Burgundy-based exporter that represents almost 20 Champagnes. He said that the disgorgement date alone doesn’t reveal anything about the base wine, which vintage it is or how long the wine has been on the lees. Nor does it say whether the wine has been aged in the bottle with a cork closure or a bottle cap. He estimates some of his growers disgorge 20 times per wine, so if a critic reviewed only one disgorgement date and consumers sought out only that one, he would be at a “commercial disadvantage.” Thus he has invited critics interested in including disgorgement dates to review a wine from each disgorgement date. “They do it for Jacques Selosse,” he says.
For nonvintage cuvées, Wasserman favors the vintage of the base wine as the most important information for consumers. Thus the champagnes of Le Serbet will have the base wine and the year of disgorgement on the label (though not all of his US distributors were on board with this at the time we spoke). More information will be available about each wine on the Le Serbet web site, a good move to engage the tiny percentage of consumers who care to find out more.
While he prefers more information on the label, he feels that the focus on disgorgement dates can lead consumers to seek out the freshest. That’s unfortunate, since, in his view, many retailers have excellent storage and nonvintage cuvées are complex, often tasting better with one or two years on the cork.
Forget the debates over terroir, dosage and disgorgement dates–Champagne Lanson is advertising their “white label” Champagne as going great with lemon. (photo thanks to David Lebovitz.)
Well, at least they don’t put the lemon in the drink for you: Courvoisier took the inconvenience out of mixing cognac and Moscato blending 18% abv “Courvoisier Gold” (I’ll take a pass on that Courvoisier, thanks).
Oh, and if you do want to talk about dosage, the “White Label” has 32g of residual sugar. Might want more than a lemon peel to cut that sweetness…
A couple of weeks ago, a 7′ 1″ 325(+)-lb. graduate donned a cap and gown: Shaquille O’Neal earned a doctorate in education. The former NBA star, who left LSU early but finished his bachelor’s degree nearly a decade later because he wanted to make his mom proud, just completed four and a half years of courses and study at Barry University. His thesis studied the role of humor in the workplace and leadership.
Dr. Vino gives a doff of the academic cap to Dr. Shaq Diesel. Now all I have to do to keep up is score 28,596 points in the NBA. Well, what the heck: I raise a glass of wine in his honor and I’ll rate the 28,596 points! To Dr. Shaqtus, Dr. Shamroq, here’s a glass of grower Champagne from Bereche et Fils, their Beaux Regards, a stony, zero-dosage all-chardonnay bubbly. It’s laser-like, which is the kind of focus you need to do a doctorate while also playing in the NBA, doing commercials, offering commentary on TNT, serving as a reserve police officer, being a dad five times over. Nice going Big Daddy! Read more…
Ack–I winced with each strike!