Feature

By Julie Baxter

Nothing says celebration and special occasion like sparkling wines and Champagnes you may think but increasingly traditions are being dumped and ideas that might once have seen sacrilegious are rising to the fore says Julie Baxter

For generations we’ve paired roast meats, steaks and rich meaty casseroles with a glass of red wine, but in a move which startled traditionalists, a team of innovative European chefs has now insisted that Champagne complements such meals just as well!
The chefs were working on a food and fizz collaboration involving no lesser Champagne aristocrat than Moët & Chandon, and their five course menus were each paired with a different champagne.

Dispelling the myth that only red wine should be drunk with beef, chef Damien Adams, explains: “A roast sirloin main dish produces an exciting and unexpected pairing, highlighting the Pinot Noir grape in the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2008. This Champagne has a longer time in the cellars, to develop more intense flavours and a fuller body which stands up to the richness of the dish, the same way we’re used to with a red wine.”
As well as beef, the chefs paired ham hock with Brut Imperial, trout with Rosé Imperial and meringue with Ice Imperial Rosé.
Perhaps that was all just a publicity stunt but it certainly made people think again about Champagne, and in other parts of the sparkling market other traditions are being abandoned fast too.

If you close your eyes and visualise the land where your glass of bubbly came from you’re probably thinking of rural France, but now a champion of independent wine, Vagabond, has begun making sparkling wine in the heart of London. Vagabond’s urban winery, is located at Battersea Power Station and is selling UK-grown Bacchus, Pinot Noir Rosé and a sparkling Pét-Not (its own take on Pétillant naturel). Grapes are sourced in the UK by winemaker Gavin Monery, who says: “We’re making wines with the same techniques and attention to detail as the best estates in the world. English wines are gaining in popularity and London has been at the centre of the global wine trade for 200 years, so it was a perfect fit for us to locate a winery in the city.”

Vagabond’s md, Stephen Finch, adds: “In the midst of an explosion of craft breweries and brewpubs we asked ourselves: ‘Why should breweries have all the fun?’ An urban winery can bring the excitement and education of a top-flight winery to the city.”

Breaking with tradition

UK startup, The Uncommon, is bringing another new twist to UK sparkling with its English sparkling in a can, produced in line with the highest EU quality rating, Protected Designation of Origin, the same grade given to Champagne.

The inaugural release is a lightly sparkling dry white, with notes of pear and elderflower. The wine is made from 100% Bacchusgrapes, harvested from vineyards at the forefront of new biodynamic techniques, reducing the need for pesticides and chemicals. Buoyed by global trends in favour of sparkling wine, founders Henry Connell and Alex Thraves wanted to create a contemporary wine brand designed to be unpretentious and fun, and also do their bit to raise the profile of English wine.

Cans can

Focused on convenience and cutting wine wastage, the brand looks at sustainability too, claiming single- serve aluminium cans can help reduce the billions of wine thrown away each year – fizz that’s gone flat. The cans chill in just 15 minutes; are infinately recyclable and lightweight with a carbon footprint 80% lighter than glass.

Euromonitor research suggests cans are certainly here to stay for wines although it recognises that it is taking the traditionally conservative sparkling industry time to come on board with the idea. Wine in a can is already spiking in the U.S. and is a hot topic of debate among purests. It has the benefit of portability, versatility and durability and clearly reflects the millennial inclination for making fizz less formal. The lower cost plays to this demographic too.

It’s a trend mirrored in the U.S., where year-on-year sales of canned wines is running up 43% as consumers become more open-minded to alternative formats for fizz. Oregon-based producer, Union Wine Company, led the charge, causing a stir when it released a Pinot Noir in a 12-ounce can to try and encourage the “beerification” of wine. Others such as Nomadica have followed with sparkling whites and rosés in a can and Tinto Amorio, a low-calorie sparkling red wine cocktail with lemon has been another U.S. success – inspired by the Spanish wine cocktail ‘Tinto de Verano’.

Processco passions

The classic style of Champagne also faces challenges from Italian and Spanish sparkling wine producers. Prosecco out sold Champagne last Christmas
by ten to one and by 2020 the worldwide consumption of Prosecco is expected to surpass 412m bottles. That’s an estimated increase of 36% over five years, compared to Champagne’s forecasted 1% growth.

Most Prosecco is made with the Charmat method, where fermented wine goes through a secondary fementation in big steel tanks rather than a bottle, which means it is quicker to produce than Champagne and hence producers are more able to respond quickly to increasing demand. It’s a trademarked wine that must be produced in certain areas of north east Italy if it is to be called Prosecco, and should carry DOCG (the most premium range) and DOC labels to confirm its Italian quality assurance. It offers degrees of perlage too, from fully sparkling spumante for those who prefer strong bubbles, to frizzante for a gentler, lighter sparkle.

Bottega has been at the forefront of this onboardhospitality.com growth, especially in the onboard sector, and it TGV rail contract surely marks something of a landmark moment. The renowned French high-speed train operator selected Bottega Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco
DOC, in the 20cl (mini bottle) version for its onboard service and the listing clearly had a special value for the Italian winery and distillery because usually the French are more inclined to select French wines, particularly when it comes to sparkling. Bottega Prosecco was chosen for its freshness,
versatility and ease of consumption, qualities said to be particularly appreciated during a train journey. Furthermore, the small bottle is a one-serve size which addes manageability and practicality, and lends itself particularly to onboard service.

The Bottega mini bottles are indeed already listed by over 20 clients worldwide, including British Airways, Air Canada, Easyjet, Virgin Atlantic and Swiss. Valentina Dalle Mule, export manager for airline business at Bottega, says: “Bottega mini bottles have become the undisputed best sellers in this niche for buy-on-board, offering choices from premium quality Prosecco to the increasingly popular sweet Moscato. They are unique, versatile and modern products, and bring a touch of quality and genuineness in an increasingly globalised business.”

Last year Bottega saw a 3.6% increase in duty free and travel retail sales and added new packaging sets: two-bottle set, a four-bottle set and an ice bag with four bottles. Dalle Mule adds: “The most impressive growth is coming from UK airlines for buy-on-board mini sparklers, and Asian airlines for inflight duty free”.

Andrew Brown, md at suppliers Ratcliffe and Brown, confirms the ongoing love affair with Prosecco saying: “Everyone wants Prosecco, it’s a global phenomenon! It’s easy to drink, not as alcoholic as cava or Champagne and has an attractive colour and flavour to suit a broad range of palates. Sales are going from strength to strength.”

Cava fight back

Spain’s largest Cava producer Freixenet is even jumping on the bandwagon with the launch of a DOC Prosecco, in a bid to emulate the popularity of the Italian fizz. Launched in May it is the first time the producer has offered an Italian sparkling and reflects the fact that Cava sales fell under the shadow of the more bouyant Prosecco.

Much of the growth in sparkling has been driven by the millennials for whom a bottle of fizz adds a dash of style and a sense of occasion to
foodie-focused lifestyles. Classic Champagnes are seen to be beyond their budgets and in the U.S. millennials have turned in part to the cheaper options
and Californian sparkling wines. The U.S. sparkling sector has grown by two million cases since 2010, according to Impact Databank. Increasingly it is being served for non-special occasions and as a drink with dinner or within cocktails. Calls for rosé sparklings are also on the rise. Delta has added a Processco to its complimentary options, loading mini bottles of Avissi Prosecco on international long-haul flights.

Champagne style

Despite the challenge from other choices, Champagne remains a mark of quality and style for those in the premium cabins and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. Prestige Cuvée Champagne is normally regarded the top Champagne and in the UK (the second biggest market after France) sales continue to rise – up 88% since 2010. Pink Champagne is also seeing good growth.

British Airways recently announced it was expanding its range of Champagnes and English sparkling wines to add Gusbourne English Sparkling Wine and Lanson Rosé Champagne in First, Canard-Duchêne Cuvee Léonie Brut Champagne and Champagne Besserat de Bellefon in Business.
And Malaysia Airlines has just unveiled new Champagnes – Duval Leroy Fleur du Champagne Premier Cru NV in Business and Joseph Perrier Cuvee Josephine 2004 in First.

Champagne, it seems, continues to have its own magic aura and is untroubled by the upstarts fizzing elsewhere in the market. And I guess if you’ve paid several thousand pounds for your long-haul flight in a premium cabin you’re going to expect to drink Champagne, whether you like it or not!