Prosecco – Should Champagne Worry?

My plumber, upside down with a spanner under the kitchen sink, got it right last week: ‘That Pissecho’s good stuff – all the girls love it and I don’t have to stack out a big wad for la-di-da champagne!

So should Champagne look out when Prosecco’s bubble in the UK (and other European countries) sells far more bottles here than champagne? Brits who like the sweet and simple Pizza-juice knocked back over 30m bottles last year. And the USA is now the second biggest export market, but at 31.32m bottles imported this year, is expected to take the box seat away from the UK.  Interesting stats when you remember the UK and USA are easily the two biggest drinkers of champagne as well, outside France.

What seems to have happened is that people who only bought champagne for high days and holidays (if you are on a tight budget, it’s funny how reasons to celebrate seem so fewer) and resented it being relatively dear, have now plumped for Pissecho. In the UK, supermarket discounting has taught millions to regard full price for a bottle of grande marque champagne as a joke. Just wait for the next big offer and snaffle a few bottles and you are done and dusted for the year. Even covers that christening at Uncle Fred’s, who you never see anyway. And if you just want the fresh hit of effervescence and get happy too, alco-Fanta Pissecho makes so much more sense.

Students like the everyday low price – you notice the Pissecho bin is always the first to deplete in the Tescobury aisle as udigrads compete with retirees and winos to grab the bottles. And when you know you are going to be staring at a whopping mortgage deposit after the words ‘You may now kiss the bride’ (or anyone else), the Italian Job is a much more sensible choice for the wedding reception than even cheap champers.

But for all that, champagne sales hit an all-time record in 2015, beating the pre-crisis 2007 figure for value for the first time. Exports led the way, growing over 12% in value. The USA, Italy, Australia and Japan made Champagne smile, a lot. The UK still takes the most export bottles, even if a lot are middling quality supermarket own labels, often destined to be discounted anyway. Those who buy fizz only for the deal have gone to Pissecho. But it’s clear a lot still buy champagne, even if they often check the deals there too.

The cancellation of the UK’s annual big trade beano champagne tasting by the CIVC (Champagne’s powerful ruling body), at least until 2018, hints they think things can tick over in the traditional markets and that Champagne wants to focus more on the possible green pastures of Asia and the BRIC countries.  For the UK market we keep hearing education is the name of the game, but so far all we have seen is a quiz app from the CIVC itself. Maybe the onus is now on the producers themselves to do more work.  To give them their due, most of the brands of Big Champagne have always thrown big bucks at welcoming visitors and trade launches. And every small single estate will open its doors, and card payment machine, enthusiastically, if you phone ahead.

Yet I can’t help feeling the key trick is being missed. People will always buy champagne when the good times roll. But these are hesitant times. The lure of Pissecho and English fizz seems to fit a Brexit mood in the UK outside of London and on the front lawns and balconies of many professionals.

Perhaps the way to put my plumber’s spanner in the works of Prosecco and other fizz, is to find simple educational messages about why champagne can be a better wine than those. I say ‘can be’ and that may be a problem.  Far too much champagne is in the nether regions of quality and in the UK, far too much discounting teaches people champagne is just overpriced Pissecho. Complex flavours from lees-ageing, reserve wines and blending are not easy things to educate about. But that is the challenge.

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One Response to Prosecco – Should Champagne Worry?

  1. Stephen Pickthall says:

    If I was in charge of marketing champagne I would see Prosecco as a great oportunity. It has brought lots of people into sparkling wine on a regular basis that would not normally consider drinking it. It has also traded people up from only paying £5 for a bottle of wine.
    The job is to get these people to progress on to better quality wine. You probably need to get them to the £15 champagne first. I doubt you will get them to the joys of grower champagnes in one easy leap. © 2009-2016 All Rights Reserved
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