Champagne: nothing to celebrate - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

Fewer champagne corks are flying thanks to the pandemic. With ceasations of weddings, parties, going out to restaurants and opportunities to celebrate the famous French sparkling wine has seen sales fall by a third this year - that's a loss of 1.7 billion euros - and an estimated 100 million bottles left unsold. 

Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, better known by its acronym the CIVC and the body that represents Champagne's 16,000 winemakers, is proposing to restrict the size of the grape harvest for this year to avoid adding to the already over-full cellars and to stop the price of champagne plummeting.

The CIVC has the powers to restrict the amount of grapes picked every year, and they often do, but this year's expected large harvest added to the lack of sales means much less champagne must be made this year.

But as the grapes are already growing on the vines there is little to stop the size of the harvest so any amount picked above the cap will have to be destroyed or sold to distilleries.

These restrictions are just another addition to the tale of woes for champagne producers. Sales have been falling steadily for the last few years (from 307.3 million bottles in 2017 to 297.5 million bottles in 2019) and the expected busy period of Christmas 2019 saw the amount of champagne sold down 4% on the previous year.

Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine that sells for around £8 a bottle, has also taken a massive slice out of champagne sales - why pay almost £25 for a bottle of champagne (the average price of bottle in the UK was £23.88 as of January 2020) when you can buy something that does the same job for less than a tenner?

But Prosecco hasn't had it all its own way. With 'peak Prosecco' now past (highest recorded UK sales were in 2017 with 217 million bottles) the sparkling wine market is now diversifying and the French Cremant de Loire is seeing a surge in sales.

This sparkling wine made with the white grapes Chenin Blanc is fruitier and creamier than many champagnes, which can taste rather sharp and lemony in comparison.

What has become of Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine that was all the rage 25 years ago? Sales of this fruity and economic sparkling have fallen dramatically while the standard bottle price of around £5 has remain unchanged. Continuing low prices has established Cava's reputation as cheap plonk even though the wine can be as complex and exciting in flavour as an aged champagne. But no-one believes them.

So who will win this battle of the sparklers? Champagne's marketing men already have plans to reposition their wine as drink for all occasions. But will we believe them?

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