Last Tuesday’s (or the one before's) Champagne Summit in association with Harpers Wine & Spirit was revealing in a number of ways. From the interesting panel discussions through to the on-site tastings themselves, ideas and trends were bounced around in twitter #champagnesummit conversation and in more formal audible exchange from all whom were in attendance.
Luxury vs Glamour
The day began with an introductory presentation from wineintelligence.com, informing us that 90% of the 41.9 million adults that live in the UK drink alcohol. Of those within that 90%, 24.7 million are sparkling wine drinkers, and 52% of these millions drink sparkling wine at least once a month. Sparkling wine in the UK, so we are told, is most commonly associated with and dominated by some heavy and successful branding. Dom Perignon, Krug, Moet and Chandon, and Laurent Perrier mark the most recognisable of these.
This was a two-fold subject – firstly aimed at those in the industry with a view to increasing the knowledge of those on-trade, but a greater emphasis was given to how to train consumers and the general public on what really makes the fizzy stuff that comes out of the bottle different – i.e why is champagne better than say a cava or prosecco and thus attracts a higher price (does the public know this, and more importantly perhaps, do they care?). The other facet of this repeated point throughout the day was on educating those who drink champagne about the different styles available.
In light of the above there was frequent reference made to the fact that the term ‘NV’ should be abolished because it comes across as pejorative. Using the word ‘non’ next to vintage perhaps encourages those who read the term in this way to think that what goes in to the bottle is of lesser value to that which goes into specific vintages. Not true of course, when NV could easily be changed to AV – all vintages or something that better describes the fact that these NVs are no less interesting or well made - often this is the opposite with grand crus being present in the blend. Vintage, Grande Cuvee and Cuvee Speciale may also undermine the NV status. All should all be synonymous with a superior quality wine
Luxury vs Glamour
Champagne has epitomised glamour for decades now – you only have to look at James Bond to see this (although we did discover from ‘Mr Taittinger’ in attendance that although the books faithfully stick to this one brand throughout the series, the films chop and change brands from the original Tattinger, to Dom Perignon and then to Bollinger – product placement perhaps?). However, what Richard Brierley from Vanquish Wines drew our attention to when talking about Champagne is that whilst Luxury is timeless, glamour is fleeting. It is luxury then that should be at the forefront of the seller’s and consumers’ minds when drinking. Glamour will work on a certain group of consumers but not all. The luxurious element of champagne should be better embraced, highlighting the quality, the precision, the heritage and the generations of savoire-faire that goes into this most desired drink. Brierley also re-iterated the point of the quality being the main part of a bottle of Champagne – and not merely the pretty box that it comes in (although of course this helps the overall top-end image). Unlike the major players that dominate the shelves, own brand champagne doesn’t induce this aspirational behaviour and loyalty. Brierely seeks to advise that there is a need to balance the glamour and the luxury with our own understanding of what it takes to make a great wine.
English Sparking Wine – a threat but an opportunity
Although total bubbles sales cross the board of those companies represented on the panels seem to be going up, wineintelligence.com reports that 36% of consumers have never drunk English sparkling wine before. But in light of a greater concern for provenance, a growing reputation and more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines being planted year on year here in the UK, and an added injection of patriotism with this year’s Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee it was suggested that in five to ten years English Sparkling wine will become a real threat to the current UK Champagne market. Andrew, from wineintelligence.com, in front of the Champagne representatives in the room, bravely announced that he had indeed chosen to supply English Sparkling Wine rather than Champagne at his wedding later on this year. Yet - this would also suggest is that there is a growing taste for sparkling wines, which in turn will provide further opportunities for Champagne. This was agreed with by many of the panel - inclusive of Lucy Clements from Sainsbury's, Brendan Stegmann from Kettner's, Dee Blackstock MW from Waitrose, Joan Torrents from M&B, Michelle Cartwright from Searcys and Chris Hambleton from Champagne Tuesdays.
Tarlant Brut Zero Champagne NV and the Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut blue label – which ordinarily commands a very high price per bottle. Tasting notes revealed it as delicate and limey with a continued citrus element of lemons on the palate. For me I think it was just a little too tart, but it was a good expression of this lower dosage style. The tarlant in comparison was still bone-dry but softer and more approachable – hinting at notes of honey on the nose. Both certainly showed good examples of the zero dosage style very well.