Follow The Bubbly Trend - Asia's Getting A Kick From Champagne

Posted: Aug 02, 2021

We Brits love to rib the French now and again. It’s in our culture, as the rivalry extends back over 1,000 years, sometimes violently. Thankfully, modern-day squabbles are generally of the “ours is better” variety and tend to be about food. England’s chocolate doesn’t contain enough cocoa, British chips are the wrong shape or size to be fries, and the contentious “emulsified high-fat offal tube”, known to the Brits as sausages, may one day lead to fisticuffs. The French know it riles the isles, just as we know that our award-winning bubbly from modern southeast England vineyards makes them rage.

My favourite dig at the French, preferably at a nice wine dinner, is to announce with the first glass of bubbly that “of course you know that champagne isn’t actually French—and it’s coming home!”. This is guaranteed to lower the temperature around the table to that of the chilled bottle, and quickly heat it up again. But I swear, it’s true! The double-fermentation method was invented in Britain. In the town of Winchcombe, deep in the Cotswolds, Christopher Merrett first documented his process for putting bubbles in vino and coined the first use of the phrase “sparkling wine” almost 360 years ago.

The way to make these delightful bubbles was the subject of his lecture at the Royal Society some 30 years earlier than the official “birth” of champagne, sometimes pinpointed to this very week in August of 1693, when French monk Dom Perignon at the abbey in Hautvillers created champagne as we know it and announced that he was “drinking stars”.

Well, it was considered French, or English, until two weeks ago when President Vladimir Putin declared that champagne was Russian and everything else was not. He was able to one-up my wine dinner stunt by passing a law about it. The French were hopping mad, pouring drinks and shouting “zut alors”, having jealously guarded the notion that champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France.

Under Putin’s new law, local Shampanskoye is the only fizz that can be branded as champagne for sale across Russia; everything else is sparking wine. French champagne producers, led by Moët Hennessy, part of the LVMH group, immediately threatened to cut exports and let them suffer. However, once the hangover wore off, the French white flag was dusted off and LVMH decided to re-label its bubbly for Russia. After all, business is business, and the business is selling wine to the well-heeled there who don’t skimp quaffing it.

Russian champagne is not a recent creation, it’s been around since 1917, but the penetration of wines, particularly bubbly, into the global mass market is. It’s the result of a successful push by the world’s major producers as wealth increased in Europe and the United States, driving the popularity and appeal of social wine drinking through the 1970s into the heady ’80s. Today, though, the world’s major wine producers – Italy, Spain and France – are largely focused on Asian growth, which means China in particular.

By Neil Newman
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