In Asia’s buoyant sparkling wine market, there is plenty of room for old world champagnes to co exist harmoniously with new world bubbly, toasts Rebecca Lo.
Champagne has historically been associated with celebrating, whether it is a birthday, a deal hard won, or a very special event. It is a beverage that appeals due to its lower alcoholic content compared to other wines or spirits. For generations of people that grew up with fizzy drinks, champagne epitomises the summit of sparkle. Yet as true champagne featuring grapes grown, harvested and produced in the region of Champagne in France is gaining in popularity here, so are other types of sparkling wines from new and old world producers.
In 2016, VINEXPO released its IWSR research anticipating a 44 percent increase in global sparkling wine volume sales, from 1.53 million cases that year to nearly 2.2 million cases by 2020. Much of the surge is happening in Asia’s emerging markets; Stuart Barclay of Wine Australia predicts that by 2020, mainland China alone will be popping 26 million bottles. “Asia still is a significant luxury market when it comes to wine and spirits,” acknowledges Hong Kong based Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine and founder of Meiburg Wine Media. “The Asian market has two characteristics ripe for champagne: a strong brand focus and a penchant for French wines. Of the traditional labels, Veuve Clicquot is very strong in the Hong Kong market, as is Krug, Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, G.H. Mumm, Piper Heidsieck and Perrier-Jouët. We are seeing experimentation by the big houses, with millennial focused products like Moët’s Ice Imperial and similar products by Veuve.”
One of the brands gaining traction across Asia is Perrier-Jouët. With a lounge unveiled this past year at Paradise City Hotel & Casino near Incheon, South Korea, Perrier-Jouët provides an immersive experience for its products. Its parent company, Pernod Ricard, has an established reputation for quality cognac and champagne, and the brand has long been a favourite in Japan. “The most obvious translation of this attachment is the emblem of the house: the floral arabesque composed of white Japanese anemones,” notes Frantz Hotton, managing director of Pernod Ricard Hong Kong and Macau. “As one of France’s most historic champagne houses, we aim to maintain our legacy—our heritage linked to nature and Art Nouveau. Perrier-Jouët’s view is to above all add beauty to everyday life.”
The first and currently only Chinese Master Sommelier, Hong Kong based Yang Lu oversees all wine purchases for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts’ 100 global properties in his role as corporate group director of wine. Part of his duties includes overseeing sommeliers such as Bruce Li, lead sommelier with Shangri-La China World Summit Wing in Beijing. Situated within the China World Trade Center complex, it is a popular hotel for convention delegates and high ranking politicians in the Chinese capital.
“Champagne sales account for more than 20 per cent of total wine sales at China World Summit Wing on a monthly basis,” observes Li. “Wine sales are usually higher during Christmas and new year holidays. Some of our regular guests at the hotel’s signature Atmosphere and The Lounge only drink champagne; this is based on preference rather than price. Prosecco or Franciacorta would be the second choice if their favourite champagne is not available. With our fine collection of wines, the distinguished tradition of bartending is rejuvenated by exciting live musical entertainment. In addition to the venue, staff training and pricing strategy also matter to champagne sales. I provide wine training for the hotel’s 17 other sommeliers every afternoon, and welcome the chance to share wine knowledge, service skills, and market trends during the training.”
In line with VINEXPO’s forecasts, Li predicts growth for sparkling wine in mainland China. “As guest knowledge of champagne improves, champagne sales in Beijing and Shanghai will grow,” he believes. “Champagne is becoming part of guests’ lifestyle for dinner and entertainment. Chengdu is growing fast in wine consumption as well. Sparkling wine from Tasmania is currently giving champagne some stiff competition; they are more fruity and crisp, and more affordable. My favourite champagne is Blanc de Blancs; it is fresh, fruity, crisp and mineral. On our wine list, Deutz Blanc de Blancs offers the best value for money.”
Perrier-Jouët launched its own Blanc de Blancs last April in Tokyo. “It has been quite a success in Asia,” admits Hotton. “The champagne is a tribute to chardonnay, the house’s emblematic grape variety. The first new addition to the Perrier-Jouët collection for 20 years, it was created by cellar master Hervé Deschamps. For the cuvée, he chose elegant and floral chardonnays from the region’s best vineyards. The resulting wine epitomises the spirit of the house with its mineral freshness and floral vitality.”
Meiburg is seeing plenty of excellent sparkling wine, and some from unexpected places. “The UK is the most recent entrant to Hong Kong’s sparkling wine market,” she reveals. “There is low supply due to limited production, but we hope to see more over the next few years. With the obvious colonial links Hong Kong has to the UK, there’s no doubt English fizz will be well received, especially by the expat market here.
“There are some very excellent sparkling wines coming out of Tasmania. A recent highlight at a Hong Kong tasting was the Bay of Fires Arras 2002 EJ Carr Late Disgorged Cuvée. Pinot noir and chardonnay are varieties that thrive in Tasmania, offering freshness and purity to the sparkling wines from the region.
“Prosecco and cava are, of course, the big growth categories globally. The initial appeal of prosecco and cava over champagne was the price tag. But many people have since discovered the unique flavour profiles of these wines, and select more readily which is the best drink for each occasion. There is a good selection of prosecco in Hong Kong, but it’s less pervasive than in western markets. Cava also has less of a presence here, but it is considered a serious quality option rather than a cheap alternative to prosecco.
“There is certainly a cultural appeal to drinking locally produced sparkling—in California (my home state), Schramsberg is a fixture for celebrations. Americans have seen events toasted with this famous Californian sparkling for decades, ever since its Blanc de Blancs was used for President Nixon’s 1972 Toast to Peace with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai.
“I have always had a weakness for Krug; its richness means it is a wine that can easily be served at the dinner table rather than just as a reception wine. Having been in Champagne at the end of October with Maggie Henriquez, president and CEO of Krug, I personally saw that this luxurious champagne is gaining even more finesse with age. Serve Krug in a stylish white wine glass—skip the flute!”