2010 Pops For Champagne Producers

Last year's economic gloom definitely took the fizz out of the Champagne business, but in 2010 sales in the US and worldwide have shown a remarkable rebound.

Isle Ray
Photo:Courtesy of Ray Isle
Isle Ray

The first nine months of 2010 showed worldwide Champagne shipments increasing 12 percent over the same period the year before, particularly shipments outside Europe including Asia and North America.

The US came back particularly strongly, with shipments over the first six months of 2010 increasing 70 percent in comparison with the same period in 2009.

Part of the recovery might be attributed to price adjustments from the major champagne houses, but it’s hard not to take it as a sign of a recovering economy, at least in the U.S., with people more willing to spend on moderate luxury items—the so-called lipstick effect, which suggests that during a recession people continue to spend on luxury items in order to feel good, but scale back the level of that spending.

A bottle of Champagne, after all, definitely makes you feel good, and it costs a lot less than a Maserati.

Also, it's important to note that not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The economy in 2009 was kinder to affordable, imported sparkling wines—particularly Prosecco—and to American sparkling wines than it was to Champagne, which occupies a much higher price point.

Prosecco, which is rarely higher than $15 at retail, isup 40 percent for the year (based on Oct 2010 Nielsen scan data), in some ways an even more impressive number, since Prosecco sales were not down nearly as much in 2009. In fact, the overall category of Prosecco in the U.S., which is about 750,000 cases, is projected to be around 2,000,000 cases in less than five years.

The net result for American shoppers who like wine with bubbles in it is an abundance of terrific choices at a widely varying range of prices. From affordable Cavas and Proseccos to mid-priced American sparkling wines to Champagne, there are innumerable options. Here, though, are five great choices to make last-minute holiday shopping easier:

Mionetto Brut Prosecco Non-Vintage ($14.99) This is classic Prosecco, which comes from the Veneto region in Italy. It’s peachy and brisk, with lively bubbles. It isn’t as refined as Champagne, but it’s a lot cheaper, and it makes a great cocktail party pour.

2007 Argyle Brut ($27) A terrific American sparkling wine from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Argyle’s sparkling wine is made with exactly the same method as Champagne, with the same grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pol Roger Brut Reserve White Label Champagne Non-Vintage ($47.50) This is a great, go-to, basic Brut Champagne (brut means dry). Like all real Champagne, it comes from the Champagne region in northern France. It’s got a lovely fresh-baked bread/brioche aroma with bright citrus notes.

2002 Louis Roederer Cristal ($220) Cristal is what Champagne producers refer to as a ‘tête de cuvee,’ the top-of-the-line offering. It’s only made in the best vintages, and takes that classic Champagne elegance and moves it up to entirely new level of refinement (that’s one reason why it’s best served in white wine glasses—you really want to be able to smell it). Also, like most great wines and if kept in ideal cellar conditions, Cristal can age beautifully for decades.

Ray W. Isle is the Executive Wine Editor at FOOD & WINE. He appears on The Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo on December 25th and 26th, 2010.