EUROPEANS HAVE HAD fewer reasons to pop open a bottle of Champagne, as another year of economic troubles and high unemployment saps the continent’s appetite for the finer things.
But while the latest industry figures show that sales might be on the wane in Europe, other markets, particularly Japan and the United States, are developing a taste for a glass of bubbly.
In what is certain to be bad news for the vineyards, France — Champagne’s largest market — is drinking fewer bottles. Sales of Champagne for the country were down 4.9 per cent, and 5 per cent elsewhere in the EU, according to the national association of growers and producers of the wine.
Nineteen months of rising unemployment and growing fears that the worst is yet to come have taken their toll on France — nearly seven in 10 French are worried about their country’s future, according to a recent poll.
“The French are pessimist by nature,” said Antoine Chiquet, whose family has been producing Champagne for three generations and wine for eight. “We had a difficult election, we’re in an economy where Europe’s foundations are being questioned.”
Nonetheless, the country managed to drink 175.7 million bottles of Champagne between November 2011 and October 2012 — enough for nearly 3 bottles a year for every man, woman and child but about 10 million bottles fewer than the previous year.
Bubbles on the rise in Japan
In contrast, the US consumed enough sparkling wine for about 1.5 bottles per person in 2010, the latest figures available from the California-based Wine Institute.
But while the news out of France and Europe is bad, producer figures show export sales were up 3 per cent in the first three quarters of the year. Top markets included the US, Japan and to a lesser extent China.
A total of 19.4 million bottles of Champagne went to the United States and 7.9 million went to Japan — the only two countries outside Europe in the top seven export markets.
Takayasu Ogata, a Tokyo-based sommelier, said Champagne and sparkling wine consumption is climbing in Japan at a time when overall wine demand peaked about 2000. According to the French figures, Champagne consumption alone was up nearly 7 per cent over a year there.
“Both individuals and restaurants are taking to Champagnes with personality, including those that are from small makers but taste good,” he said.
Lower price is another reason. Gone are the days when a bottle of Moet & Chandon went for 5,000 yen (€43.60) or more in Japan. These days, you can get real Champagne for as little as 2,000 yen (€17).
Of course, for those with rich tastes and a budget to match there are still lots of expensive Champagnes, selling for 10 times that, according to Ogata, who works at Venture Republic, an Internet retailer, and is in charge of wines.
Beer remains the drink of choice for many “salarymen,” but younger people and women are taking a liking to Champagne, Ogata says.
“It’s about the bubble — a sense of gorgeousness,” he said in a telephone interview. “There’s that thrill to opening up a bottle of Champagne.”