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New World Wine Maker Blog - Champagne

Where on Earth Next for Sparkling Wine?

Article by Wine-Searcher

It is difficult for anyone accustomed to drinking good-quality Champagne to be satisfied with a sparkling wine from anywhere else. I suppose that is due to conditioning as much as terroir, but, as far as aficionados are concerned, Champagne has that special something that sets it apart from other sparkling wines. Yet the quality of sparkling wines made beyond Champagne’s borders has never been more exciting and that excitement is a very, very recent phenomenon.

The first world-class sparkling wine to be produced outside the confines of Champagne was the second release of Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, and that did not find its way onto the shelf until the early 1990s.

Today’s buzz of excitement about English sparkling wine was started by the two Americans who founded Nyetimber and made headlines when their 1992 vintage was served at the Queen’s Golden Anniversary Lunch in 1997. Just 15 years ago there were only two world-class sparkling wines you could buy. Now there are more serious quality sparkling wines than you can shake a swizzle stick at.

Why the sea change?

Although traditional method sparkling wines become effervescent through the same winemaking process, the key to creating classic sparkling wines literally lies in the soil. Not so much what that soil is, but what vines are planted in it and how they should be cultivated.

Chalk gives Champagne an advantage, but it cannot be responsible for more than, say, 10 percent of a wine’s potential (possibly much less), whereas climate must represent most of the remaining 90 percent.

However, what really drives sparkling wine producers towards greatness on this planet is the selection of clonal material that is best suited to sparkling rather than still wine production, and then pruning and cropping accordingly.

This has certainly been the strategy that has made English sparkling wine the overnight sensation it has become, although it should be stressed that this has been achieved by a small minority of English sparkling wine producers, with the rest basking in their reflected glory.

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I am drinking the stars! – Dom Perignon

I was recently reading an article that stated Prosecco sales at Tesco are up 50% year-on-year, with the Italian sparkling wine outperforming both Champagne and Cava at the world’s largest wine retailer. Prosecco sales have risen sharply, with global sales growing by double digit sales percentages since 1998, after being introduced to the US market in 2000.

One would wonder why the massive lean towards the Prosecco? Is it the fresh and lively wine with crisp, fruit-driven character, often compared to apples and dessert pears with a clean, refreshing finish? Has the credit crunch taken the fizz out of the UK’s Champagne market?

There are two camps of thought out there. One group would say that Champagne is perceived as the leading sparkling wine with years of marketing and the added advantage of the ‘Champagne’ name. Buyers are inclined to believe it is the best of the best and equates to an opulent lifestyle. Could the reverse be true that we are more exposed to a variety of sparkling wines, and we have a better appreciation for better-value sparkling wines and we may be breaking free from old traditions? Does Champagne taste three times better than a good Prosecco or Cava for that matter, but it usually costs three times more?

The other group is of the opinion that many Champagnes still cost less than some bottles of wine available and even whiskies. The French might say the shift to cheaper sparkling wines is due to the dulled and ignorant palate of most buyers. Never forget the Champagne region is special in terms of soil and climate — you can’t duplicate that anywhere else. Prosecco can be seen as an everyday drinking sparkling wine, as an aperitif or to drink with fish and chips, not for special occasions.

Is Champagne still the ultimate expression of sparkling wine?

Lida Malandra is the Anchor Brand Manager at Oenobrands

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