food & drink

Champagne has its moments

The figures published for wine consumption during lockdown cannot all be correct. Many of them contradict each other, although there are some reliable facts that can be correlated and double-checked.

The drinks industry as a whole always accepts the Nielsen data: UK champagne sales had fallen 41 per cent by the third week of lockdown while beer sales jumped 70 per cent. Wine sales across the board are of course down all over Europe, as restaurants were closed and home consumption could not fill the gap. Distilled drink sales exploded, probably because it is more convenient to buy and store a few bottles of vodka than the equivalent amount of alcohol in wine, not to mention other effects.

So what about champagne? To the chagrin of the French, sales are not buoyant anywhere, and the reasons could hardly be simpler in spite of explanations that are offered on a semi-official level, ranging from French street protests to tax rises on sales of grapes. Disingenuously the big champagne houses have declared they are not bothered by the decline, as they do not have enough stock anyway.

The underlying reason is that champagne is a drink for sharing, celebrating, partying or whatever, and two people will rarely open a bottle if they have nothing to rejoice about, even less so a solitary drinker. Given the choice between selecting a first-rate Spanish wine from one of the great wine regions and drinking the equivalent value in a mediocre champagne, there can be no contest. Which really does prove that most champagne enthusiasts like to be seen drinking it, so quaffing it behind closed doors does not impress anyone.

Conclusion: champagne is for show, not for serious drinking, and there are few exceptions. Even those tiresome bigots who claim never to touch cava and will only drink the real thing are fooling nobody but themselves. I have attended enough blind tastings with trade experts to consider them wine snobs of the worst sort.

Only one taster in 20 can tell the difference between a good cava and champagne. Extend that to the casual drinker and the figure will be nearer one in 100.