Don't hold back. Champagne is really an everyday wine
on 01/01/11 at 1:12 pmWine
Like mistletoe, eggnog, and despised relatives, Champagne is something that people typically see only during the holidays. Even when Champagne is broken out at other times of the year, it is usually to mark special events—births, marriages, weddings, divorces, graduations, promotions, etc. Champagne is the ultimate celebratory tipple, yet this limited, somewhat frivolous role obscures a fundamental point—Champagne is a wine, one that happens to pair exceedingly well with all sorts of foods and that can offer year-round pleasure. As someone who drinks Champagne whenever possible and often with meals, I would love to see it embraced as a regular wine, one uncorked as routinely as cabernets and syrahs. But what are the chances of that ever happening?
The case for making Champagne a quotidian pleasure was memorably advanced by the late Lily Bollinger, matriarch of the eponymous Champagne house. Describing her personal Champagne consumption, she said, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” But an equally famous comment attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte—”Champagne! In victory, one deserves it; in defeat, one needs it”—cast Champagne as a wine reserved for important milestones. The Napoleonic view has long prevailed, thanks in no small part to the Champenois themselves, who have relentlessly marketed their signature sparkling wine as a luxury product best-suited to festive occasions and fancy restaurants (where it is invariably drunk simply as an aperitif).
From an economic viewpoint, Champagne hardly needs a makeover. If it’s a niche wine—and according to the Nielsen Co., three times more Champagne is sold in December than any other month of the year—it occupies what is normally a very profitable niche. Champagne sales plunged with the onset of the Great Recession in 2008 but rebounded sharply in 2010. The CIVC, a Champagne trade association, says shipments were up 12.4 percent through the first nine months of this year and had increased by more than 30 percent over 2009 in countries outside the European Union. It estimates that 315 million bottles of bubbly will have been distributed worldwide in 2010, versus 293 million last year and not far from the record 338 million that left the region’s cellars in 2007. Champagne is doing just fine in its role as a prop for Polaroid moments and a warm-up wine.