UK champagne shipments fall 14% in value in 2016

Champagne shipments to the UK in 2016 were down 8.68% in volume, falling from 34.2m to 31.2m bottles and 14.03% in value, dropping from €512.2m to €440.4m, the detailed figures just released by the Comité Champagne reveal. This was the largest percentage drop in value among all the top ten export markets, only five of which showed any volume growth in 2016, with shipments to the USA rising the most, up 6.33%, although the value of the 21.8m bottles shipped to the USA only rose by 4.9%.

The fairly dramatic fall in the value of UK shipments, the Comité puts down to the depreciation in sterling and it says: “the reduction in sales of discounted Own Label champagne through the multiples [ie the supermarkets]), illustrates that aggressive discounting tactics are no longer effective to attract customers and boost the volume of champagne sales”.

While it is correct to say that supermarket Own label champagne sales fell in 2016, quite dramatically with volume down 20.6% and value down 20.1%, the average price of these supermarket Own Label champagnes sold by the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s was actually slightly up in 2016, from £17.50 to £17.80 a bottle. While this price may fall short of the £20 plus the Comite would like to see all champagne selling at in the important UK market, there is plenty of champagne being sold for less.

It is the ‘retailers’ exclusive’ brand champagnes, which make up a very large percentage of UK off trade sales, that are sold much more cheaply. Their average selling price in 2016 dropped from a pretty low £12.80 to £12.60 a bottle, according to Nielsen MAT figures to 31 December 2016. While supermarket Own Label champagne volume dropped from 210,800 to 165,400 9-litre cases or 1.98m bottles in 2016, ‘retailers’ exclusive’ volume rose by 8.8%, from a massive 524,100 to 570,900 9-litres cases, 6.85m bottles.

As these figures for ‘retailers’ exclusive’ brands don’t even include the 2m plus bottles sold by Lidl and Aldi, not within the Nielsen monitored universe, this low-price sector now accounts for close on half of all the champagne sold in the UK off trade – estimated at around 18.7m bottles — and it grew in volume and value in 2016. Read my feature in the just published Drinks Business Champagne supplement. Sadly, I’m not sure it is true to claim that UK consumers are no longer seduced by cut price champagne.

In praise of half bottles

Too few restaurants offer a decent selection of half bottles on their wine lists, though the trend towards listing a number of wines served in 25 and 50cl carafes, now seen in many more casual dining establishments, is to be applauded. Half bottles of champagne are particularly handy, especially if there’s two of you and you plan to have some wine too. Just a glass of good fizz is rarely enough.

While quite a few champagne houses now seem reluctant to produce half bottles, citing quality issues and the fact that they mature more quickly, I see that (speed of development) as an advantage in certain instances. A half bottle of Krug is a welcome treat, especially if it’s been cellared for a while, as you can now check via the Krug ID code on every bottle. Celebrating a milestone with friends last month we kicked off, before they arrived, with a half bottle of Bruno Paillard’s Première Cuvée Extra Brut, that helpfully also had a disgorgement date on the back label – December 2014 (see picture). A little more age and the format, helped soften this lovely champagne which in larger formats, certainly magnums, might seem quite austere without quite a bit of extra cellaring.

When I received some samples of Lidl’s champagne in half bottles to taste a couple of weeks ago, I was therefore quite hopeful. One of the MWs who tastes and gives marks to all their wines, had suggested the rosé was definitely worth trying. A cherry fruited fizz that pleasingly drinkable he was right about the Henri Delattre pink and at just £7.99 a half bottle (from 30 March), I wouldn’t expect it to hang around on the shelves. The Comte de Senneval Premium Brut half bottle, a different style from the regularly stocked Comte de Senneval that sells for £9.99, is even better than the pink. It may be only 50p cheaper than the 75cl bottle, but it’s in a different class, with a very attractive maturity and rich mid-palate, an affordable treat.

Curiously enough its supplied by BCC (as is the regular Comte line) which is the group that Paillard in chairman of, outside his own maison (the BCC group also includes Lanson, and smaller artisan producers like Philipponnat, Boizel and De Venoge). Maison Burtin, the remodelled Marne & Champagne part of the group is the specific supplier and often a source of very interesting ‘own and exclusive label’ champagnes like the Waitrose Blanc de Blancs.

One of my favourite pink champagnes, Philipponnat Réserve Rosée Brut, strangely seems to be more widely available in halves that in bottles. It comes up priced at £28.95 at the Whisky Exchange, though on closer investigation this turns out to be Bollinger Rosé, they only have it currently in bottles (at £42.65), but Harvey Nichols have the halves (£27.50). The Whisky Exchange site does however prove to be worth finding, with delights like Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, Billecart-Salmon Brut and Rosé, Veuve Fourny’s classy Blanc de Blancs, Louis Roederer’s Vintage 2011 Rosé and Krug Grande Cuvée, all in half bottle formats.

Half-bottle stockists: Bruno Paillard’s Première Cuvée Extra Brut (37.5cl), £19.75; £225.72 a case of 12.
Philipponnat Réserve Rosée Brut, £27.50 Harvey Nichols.
Krug Grande Cuvée, £69.95; Veuve Fourny 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs, £15.95; Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, £21.95; Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, £31.55; all available at .
Comte de Senneval Premium Brut, £9.49; Henri Delattre Brut Rosé £7.99 a half bottle (Lidl from 30 March).


Champagne market slows in 2016

Champagne shipments in 2016 were down 2.1% at 306,036,369 bottles, a little over 6.5m bottles below the level reached in 2015, according to the statistics released by the CIVC. This is just above the 304,994,000 bottles shipped in 2013, the poorest recent year, although immediately after the financial market meltdown only 293,331,000 bottles were shipped in 2009.

The French market declined further, accounting for nearly 4m bottles of Continue reading “Champagne market slows in 2016”

Pink Champagne for Valentine’s & Mothers’ Day

It’s not so long ago that pink champagne consumption moved up and down like a yoyo as it drifted in and out of fashion. After a couple of years of sales growth, consumer interest would fall away and this discouraged producers from taking the category seriously and making the necessary investment in pink production. Quality was distinctly variable. It’s hard to pin down the specific catalyst for change, but generally warmer summers in France’s most northerly vineyard certainly played an important part. You need ripe black fruit, Pinot Noir or Meunier, to make good rosé, the vast majority of which is elaborated by blending red wine with white champagne.

Good vintaged rosé champagne was possible in those one off sunny vintages, but few producers large or small were set up to make a consistently good non-vintage pink fizz, year after year. For at least a couple of decades Laurent-Perrier had the quality non-vintage rosé market all to itself.

It has changed radically now as nearly every producer in Champagne makes a non-vintage rosé style. Pol Roger and Louis Roederer are two of the very few recognised names that don’t. Most houses have invested heavily behind the category, designating specific high quality vineyard for red wine production, lowering yields and taking other steps to encourage higher ripeness levels. Red wine-making kit that in the past you’d only have seen some 200 kilometres further south in Burgundy, has been installed in many of Champagne’s wineries.

The general quality and consistency of non-vintage pink champagne has taken a huge step forward, since the early nineties, even since the start of the Millennium. But styles and the colour of pink champagne vary hugely from producer to producer, moving from barely coloured, aperitif style Chardonnay-led fizz to something more vinous, dominated by red-berry aromas and flavours, even black fruit. Hues varying from the barely coloured ‘partridge eye’, to a Beaujolais or Loire red.

With pink fizz in mind on Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday only just round the corner, we take a look at some stars of the rosé champagne scene, worthy of such a celebration. If you come home with a bottle of rosé champagne today, it needs to be something classy, not a bottle you can find on any supermarket shelf, however decent the quality of that may now be.

Happily there are now quite a few possibilities to fill this role, and prices, though generally high compared to their white counterparts, are not (mostly) financially crippling. I’ve picked some non-vintage pinks sure to impress and all the right side of £70 a bottle.

Philipponnat Brut Réserve Rosé, Selfridges £29.99 a half bottle.

Berry Bros & Rudd Grand Cru Rosé by Marguet, £33 a bottle.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, Fortnum & Mason, £63.50 down to £57.15 a bottle.

Bruno Paillard Brut Reserve Première Cru, Selfridges, £56.99 a bottle.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, £65, Selfridges, £62.99 a bottle.

Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008

In a previous interview with Benoït Gouez, the chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, when I asked about the, as yet unreleased Moët vintages in the Epernay cellars, he expressed a strong preference for 2009 over the much more acidic 2008. Two years on, at a time when many other major producers have released their 2008s, how does it compare with the previous ample and forward 2006 vintage?

Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez
Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez

It’s much tighter and fresher, as Gouez himself says, it very much majors on a bright, grapefruit-lifted, zestiness, more linear than either the 2006 or 2004 that preceded it. But with time in the glass a distinctive, almost exotic cinnamon spiciness appears. What is immediately appealing is the tang of refreshing acidity. However, this is a wine that really needs more time in bottle to reach anything like its true potential and at this Continue reading “Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008”

Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain

Waitrose has by some way the widest selection of sparkling wines and champagnes among the main UK grocers and has introduced some further exciting lines recently, mostly only available through its on-line Waitrose Cellar operation which runs to 63 different champagnes. While the current 25% off promotion is running — until next Tuesday 8 November — this is a great opportunity to try some of these at a bargain price. In addition, there are some attractive deals on some prestigious names, rarely Continue reading “Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain”

Gosset Celebris tasting: 1988 to 2004

Gosset glass launch pic BOver the years I’ve come to like the champagnes made by Gosset more and more. As Didier Gimonnet said to me on a recent visit to Cuis, producers should be judged on the quality of their whole range, not merely on one super-charged cuvée that they produce in minute quantities, as he suggested some commentators are apt to do. But as with the excellent Gimonnet wines, I’d be very happy drinking any Gosset champagnes, Continue reading “Gosset Celebris tasting: 1988 to 2004”