Where is Champagne being drunk most and why… conversely in which areas might the bubble have popped? Robin Lynam reports.

Is Champagne still the wine of celebration in the face of the growing popularity of prosecco from Italy, cava from Spain, and even sparkling wine from the UK? It seems so.

The UK

The UK, odd though it may seem, actually can mount a challenge on quality, at least at the non-vintage (NV) level – as blind tastings have demonstrated. However, it can’t produce serious volumes, yet.

Quantities for cava and prosecco are much larger, but with a tiny number of high-end exceptions they remain essentially the budget option.

Asia first choice remains Champagne

In Asia, as elsewhere, for significant celebrations Champagne remains the first choice. Many decades of relentless marketing have ensured that anybody ordering any sparkling alternative feels cheap.

The downside of this market positioning of course is that when extravagance is officially frowned upon, as it is on the Chinese mainland at the moment, there isn’t much incentive to pop corks.

The market for Champagne in China fell in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and although the figures for 2016 are not yet available, nobody expects them to have gone up.

The Champenois had high hopes for their wines in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, which remain the main centres of China’s Champagne consumption, so this has been something of a blow.

But consumption has at least not entirely ceased, and elsewhere the picture is brighter.

Numbers and figures of Asia

According to figures from the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the region’s wine trade organisation, Japan is the fourth largest export market for Champagne, after the UK, the US and Germany in that order.

  • In 2015, sales in Japan rose by 4.5 per cent to 11.8 million bottles. Japan is only just behind Germany which is worth 11.9 million bottles, but which shrank by 5.5 per cent last year.
  • Hong Kong with a more modest 1.7 million bottles was up by 1.3 per cent.
  • Taiwan took delivery of only about 0.5 million bottles but was up by 15.8 per cent. It is France’s 30th largest market, and all others in Asia are significantly lower.
  • Malaysia and India with less than 400,000 bottles each are the closest to making the top 30.
  • Of the other key Asian markets China with 1.3 million bottles was down by a depressing 19.3 per cent, and Singapore with 1.29 million bottles down 1.1 per cent.

Partner up

The Champagne houses are, as ever still active in their marketing, and the region’s hotels are particularly important partners.

“Quite a lot of guests will order Champagne in our restaurants and bars,” says Andy Au, chief sommelier, InterContinental Hong Kong.

“In the past few years, we have organised several different Champagne dinners in our various restaurants, including Yan Toh Heen, Nobu InterContinental Hong Kong, and Spoon by Alain Ducasse. All of them have been fully booked.”

Food Matching

Food matching has become an important area in which to promote Champagne, particularly for the cuvees de prestige of the major Champagne houses, and for the ‘grower’ Champagnes keen to carve out a share of the market, albeit at a niche level.

“Instead of the conventional red and white wine, guests now want to try matching Champagne with dinner,” says the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Champagne Bar’s assistant manager Joyce Chan.

“For example, we recently had a joint-promotion with Veuve Clicquot at The Grill – our outdoor poolside restaurant – to match our new concept barbeque dinner with their new VC Rich, which is specially created to be enjoyed with fresh ingredients on ice. This two-month promotion has now ended, but we still see guests ordering Champagne while enjoying our BBQ dinner at The Grill.”

The Hong Kong Market

After Japan, Hong Kong is Asia’s most sophisticated market for Champagne, according to Berry Bros & Rudd private sales manager José Lau.

“Hong Kong is a mature market for Champagne. Every price point of its segment is well penetrated by a wide range of styles within the category – everything from large powerhouses such as Moet and Veuve Cliquot, to boutique brands like Thienot, and stylist expressions from ‘growers’,” says Lau.

He notes, however, increasing interest in producers of sparkling wines from outside France.

“Champagne is still growing strongly, but other styles of sparkling wine have become popular also, including Cava and Prosecco.

“Depending on the price point, these are now being drunk through the week as a little slice of affordable luxury, while Champagne is still used more for occasion dining and celebration.”

Upcoming Holidays

As another period of festivities gets into gear (Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day) with the new vintages from large and small producers alike, there is no shortage of authentic Champagne bubbles sloshing around.

“We are gearing up our Christmas and New Year offers with the best product and price points for our clients,” says Lau.

“At this time of year there’s always a great deal of interest of newly released vintage Champagne – for laying down and investment purposes as well as drinking.”