Sparkling wine: A world turned upside down

07 February, 2014

The opening tasting showcased 16 sparkling wines but there was one major talking point. Wine number six had the room chirping when it was revealed to be the first vintage of Domaine Chandon India, one of six of the globally branded, locally produced sparklers by LVMH. Sparkling supremo Tom Stevenson was excited by the find: “I think it’s a very good wine – it speaks of the quality of Chandon as much as it does India.” 

But his words soon followed his wine into the spittoon. “It’s a bit of a disaster,” host Essi Avellan told the room on realising wines five and six had been mixed up. What had been heralded as a major breakthrough for perhaps the world’s most exiting new wine country, turned out to be Slovenian sparkling wine, Istenic No 1 Cuvée Speciale. “I’m so disappointed it wasn’t the Indian,” Stevenson told DI. “It’s a pity, I really got my hopes up.” So what about the real Domaine Chandon India? “I thought it was a bit pongy on the nose, as if there were some reductive elements.” 

Maybe it is churlish to bring this gaffe to print, especially as Avellan’s tasting revealed brilliant and exotic wines that showcased the great work that went into her update of Stevenson’s seminal World Encyclopaedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine

But the fact an Indian wine could
pass for a Slovenian – or vice versa – without even the bristle of a connoisseur’s nostril hair, shows what a fragmented and fast-moving world sparking wine has become.   


Production may be diversifying but what of consumption? Richard Halstead, CEO of Wine Intelligence, says in many markets sparkling wine fits with a trend towards mixed-gender socialising, sitting as a ‘unisex’ drink somewhere between what is perceived as “male red wine or beer and female white wine or cider”. 

By country, according to the IWSR, Germany headed the volume stakes with 46 million 9-litre cases in 2012 (+1.3% increase on 2011), France is next, down 2.3% to 31 million cases and Russia fell 2.6% to 27 million cases, though is known for its seesaw sales. The US – which is wine’s great hope – continues to rise, up 3.5% to 18 million cases. In fifth is Italy, down 5.9% to 10 million cases, the UK is up 2.8% to 9 million cases and Spain dropped 6.1% to 7 million cases. 

It is only at eighth position that we find our first Southern Hemisphere country, Australia. But perhaps it is the potential of Brazil – a huge producer of sparkling wine itself – China and India that holds the most interest for the future. According to IWSR, Brazil was the 11th largest consumer in 2012, having risen 4.9%. For China and India it’s relatively early days. Between 2012 and 2017 IWSR expects 5% growth to 5 million cases for China and 17% growth to 1.2 million litres for India. These forecasts probably don’t take into account LVMH’s arrival in the markets.

The company has been in Brazil since the ’70s, will launch its first Chinese wine in September 2014 from its Ningxia winery near Mongolia and has just launched its first Indian vintage, via bought-in local grapes. Next October Indian Chandon will see a release made from its own grapes produced in Nashik, in Maharashtra.

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