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Champagne loses title as world’s favourite fizzy

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-01-01

According to Italian wine experts, 2010 will mark the first year that Italian sparkling wine outsells France’s treasured Champagne. And it’s not the only wine-producing country snapping at the heels of the king of fizz – Britain’s on the scene too.

As the clock strikes twelve this New Year’s Eve, it will be Italian and English wine-makers cheering the loudest, as they pour Prosecco, Spumante and Sussex’s finest sparkling into their champagne flutes.

The Italian winemakers’ association Assoenologi has estimated that by the end of 2010, “bollicine”, or Italian bubbly, will have sold some 380 million bottles worldwide – around ten million more than sparkling wine from France’s Champagne region.

Meanwhile in the UK, winemakers in the south of England are exporting their bubbly as far afield as Japan after winning an array of awards just 15 years into production.

Has the bubble burst for Champagne?

All is not sparkling for Champagne. The famed region was forced to cut production by 30% last year due to a bad harvest and sale volumes still remain lower than in 2008, though a recovery does now appear to be on the horizon.

“English wines are really very good,” Beppe Juliano, editor of Italian wine magazine Euopisa, told The magazine carries out a yearly blind-test of 140 wines to find the world’s best sparkling. This year, it was an English wine from West Sussex that won first place. “I see so many international sparkling wines. And many of them are just as good quality as Champagne. The difference is that small producers from Italy or England are not charging you for a brand.”

Indeed. The shift away from the world’s most famous bubbly really gained momentum at the offset of the financial crisis in 2008, when expensive tastes became unfeasible for some and embarrassingly frivolous for others. While a bottle of decent Champagne fetches around 40 euros (outside of France) prices for English sparklings come in at between 20 and 30 euros, and their Italian counterparts at just ten. For a special reserve, Champagne is at least double the price of other bubblies.

And although the world economy is looking a little healthier this year, the global appetite for affordable fizzy wine continues to grow. Exports of Spumante and Prosecco – Italy’s bestsellers – rose 17 per cent in the first nine months of 2010, according to the Italian farmer association Coldiretti.

UK winemakers confound expectations

In the UK, sparkling wine producers are enjoying the locally-grown trend currently sweeping the food and beverage industry. “There’s an increasingly popular attitude to buying locally,” Michael Roberts told, whose family runs the Ridgeview farm in Sussex, producer of one of England’s most popular sparkling wines. Roberts also reports year-on-year sales increases of 33% for his wine.

And it’s not only popular on home turf. Ridgeview bubblies are imported by Finland, Japan and surprisingly, they even sell to one business in France. “This is not just a flash in the pan,” explains Roberts. “Our farm has increased production tenfold since our first vintage in 2000, and it’s been profitable every year.”

Does this spell the end for the world’s most famous sparkling wine? “It’s a free challenge,” says Juliano. “But it’s also a bit of a joke. No matter how good other sparkling wines are, Champagne remains Champagne”.

Date created : 2010-12-31