A growing thirst for champagne in emerging markets is threatening to create a shortage.
The problem stems from the new-found affluence of high fliers in Russia, China and India, where booming economies have sparked a huge demand for the queen of all wines.
Sales to India are growing by an astonishing 125 per cent a year, with China showing a 50 percent increase and Russia on 39 per cent.
But the good news for lovers of fine champagne is that the shortage has made it more economically attractive for growers to produce their own boutique champagnes rather than sell their grapes on to the major houses such as Cristal and Veuve Clicquot.
Consequently, there are now nearly 4,000 small vineyards competing with the major labels that have dominated the market for so long. They include Tarlant, a family-run concern that has been making quality fizz on just 13 acres of land since 1687. They use organic fertilisers and produce a terrific Brut which can be found in Michelin-starred outlets such as Gordon Ramsay‘s restaurants.
Another maker gaining popularity is Gosset, established in 1584 and a favourite with the King of France, where they have always made big but balanced wines with outstanding depth of flavour. Their Brut Excellence is powerful but well proportioned. Part of the process takes place in wooden vats for the cuvées presented in the old-style bottle, and no malolactic fermentation is permitted, in order to preserve the fine malic acid that retains the naturally fruity aroma of the wines.
Elsewhere, Anselme Selosse is regarded as something of a champagne visionary. Since taking over his father’s Jacque Selosse vineyards in 1980 and making sweeping changes, he has been dubbed “Champagnes‘s most original winemaker.” By reducing yields and going organic he came up with a champagne called Substance, another Gordon Ramsay selection, which is also retailed by Fortnum & Mason. It is ripe and honeyed with a streak of minerality underpinning powerful fruit.
Although the Philipponnat family history in the champagne region dates back to 1522, the recent history began when Auguste and Pierre Philipponnat settled in the Mareuil-sur-Aÿ region in 1910.
When Pierre acquired the steep Clos des Goisses vineyard on the southern flank of the Gruguet hill in 1935, he broke with the tradition of blending champagne vineyards, creating a single-vineyard wine from a site overlooking the River Marne.
Charles Philipponnat, grandson of Auguste, now holds the reins and has overseen the creation of new winemaking facilities and barrel storage. Today, his
Philipponnat Clos de Goisses is a magnificent example of a champagne that is exceedingly complex but perfectly balanced.