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Prosecco, Sparkling wine or Champagne?

By Julia Jenkins, 5th February 2017

Champagne has long been the present of choice on Valentine’s Day and for other special occasions as we trade up to buy this quality gift especially a rose Champagne. However, figures show that the UK now accounts for 75% of Europe’s Prosecco sales and that’s double the volume of Champagne whose sales decreased nearly 13% in 2016.

Should the Champenois be worried? It does look as if they can’t afford to be complacent that their quality product will still be the default gift product especially as English Sparkling Wine Producers are also competing head to head with Champagne for this market share. However, Prosecco’s increased volume is price based whereas the loss to other more premium styles is quality based.

This is because of the different methods of production used to add the ‘fizz’ to the wine styles. Prosecco’s lovely fresh fruity lightness is a result of economies of scale of its production in tank. The grapes are pressed and moved to a tank for fermentation and after filtering off the lees it is passed to another tank that is sealed to retain the carbon dioxide produced by secondary fermentation and it is bottled under pressure.

Premium sparkling wines and all Champagnes are made using the ‘methode traditionelle’ which is the same as the ‘methode champenoise’ but Champagne producers successfully lobbied the EU to restrict the use of that term to wines produced in their region. The price of sparkling wines made using this method are usually much higher than for other methods as the small bubbles and increased complexity of taste are produced during a second fermentation and aging in the bottle rather than in a tank. This is a very labour intensive and more lengthy process too adding to the cost of the bottled wine.

The quality of wines produced by the method traditionelle is recognised as the bubbles are smaller and longer lasting and the wines are vibrant and very elegant. Thus, examples of method traditionelle wines are made in many regions and because of less restrictive wine production laws offer wines of great value for money when compared to Champagnes. Often the quality of these wines is better than the cheaper champagnes too.

English sparkling wines are increasingly listed alongside Champagnes on wine lists in restaurants, pubs and on wine shop shelves and at similar prices. Recognition of their quality by the UK’s fizz drinking consumers is putting them there and at the same time resistance to their ‘Champagne’ price is lessening with a greater understanding about the impact of the methode traditionelle and small scale production on price. After all these facts are all part of the product’s intrinsic quality and therefore appeal.

As a nation, the UK has a history of Champagne drinking but Prosecco is carving a niche for itself with its own inimitable style which is now being challenged by homegrown wines that in the post Brexit era may have ever increasing appeal. So, what will you be giving your Valentine this year?!

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