For years and years the word “Champagne” was used as a synonym for sparkling wine in the UK. Any sparkling wine, and that was testament to the fame and marketing prowess of the Champagne producers. It’s an aspirational product that everyone wanted to be drinking. Then Prosecco kicked open the doors with its shiny Italian leather size 9s and gave the UK public what they wanted; fresh, easy going bubbles for half the price.
For nearly a decade now, the sales figures of sparkling wine have soared over 10% per year on the back of the Venetian juggernaut. But this year that growth slowed up a touch, leading a few wine industry commentators to question whether this is the year the bubble will burst.
I’d argue that’s been happening for a while now.
I think Martini’s Asti must be one of my first ever wine related memories. Not drinking, mind you, but I remember my parents buying a few bottles in the 1980s back when as a brand and as a wine it was flying high. As much as sentiment might have changed over the past few years as wine drinkers moved on to the next thing, brand manager Marco Mazzini is gearing this iconic Italian brand up for a revival.
What is it with me and horses? There’s a Peter Kay quote that says “you always feel slightly nervous when patting a horse”, well that’s me to a tee. But weirdly my time in the wine world has got me up close and personal with quite a few now, and my visit to Danebury Vineyards in Hampshire last week got me back on the saddle…as it were!
As I get to know more people in the wine trade, I feel like my luck is just booming up. The amazing ladies Bryony and Rachel, who invited me down to a great day at Hambledon a few weeks back, sorted me out with a ticket to the impressively sounding “Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Challenge” awards night last week. Would I like to come? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles??
So last one before we get onto the wine itself was something else that was obvious from our tours round both the vineyards and the winery. Hambledon, like a lot of wineries in the UK, has been so successful that expansion is now the aim of the game. But how do you do that when your winery is at capacity and the vineyards already produce what they can? The UK winery scene needs cash!
Before I start about the tasting session we had, there are a couple of things that struck me about the winery and vineyard tours we started the day with. English sparkling wine can’t escape the link with the most famous sparkling wine region the world, Champagne. The (English and Welsh) wine press love to crow when our wines win out in trophies against their better known cousins. I was to learn that this “us versus them” attitude doesn’t exist in the winery.
I’ve been impressed over the past few months about how often English and Welsh wine are in the headlines. Sparkling wine from these shores are scooping up countless international taste awards, and are now being exported round the world. It’s a huge success story in a UK that doesn’t always seem to be moving in the right direction. But up until last week, I’d never been to visit one. How bad is that?
I don’t think I went all that mad this Christmas just gone. When you work with wine all year round it’s not really a big release or anything. It’s your job, it’s your passion, and when it comes to celebration times I find myself picking other vices to go nuts with instead (chocolate!). Still had a couple though…
As I said yesterday, we have a thing in the family about Christmas morning. We get up, someone throws the bacon under the grill, we toast up then butter the breakfast muffins, and tuck in with a bottle of sparkling wine…well I say “a” bottle, obviously it’s not just the one. We’ve got a big family these days!
So for the second and final trip of the day we headed off to Champagne Demilly De Baere, owned and run by Bénédicte’s uncle, aunt, and cousins. This was strange in an incredibly good way. Here we were at a serious Champagne set up, but because you’re there with family the whole thing was just one big laugh from start to finish. Helps to laugh when you’re drinking champagne too!