On the Wine Trail

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  • Don't Give Up the Ship

    Famous last words.

    And in the world of improving Champagne's market share, I wish these would catch on as the famous fighting first in the march towards keeping the ebullient wines of Prosecco at bay. During my visit to Champagne earlier this spring, there was an undercurrent of concern that laced every conversation I had with a grower, producer or local marketer of champagne. There were lots of reassurances given to me (that I didn't need) affirming that while champagne volume to the US fell, dollar value increased. Yeah, yeah. But neither of us missed the real point. Prosecco sales have dominated the market and there is concern among the Champenoise that they are being overlooked, passed over and passed by. Its like the smart, philosophical, more worldly woman who sees all attention going to the simple, flirty, short-term thrill-of-a-girl that's all high notes without much depth. It's difficult to bear. And despite the recent renovation and elevation of Prosecco and the DOCGenization of two of its regions, the effort has yet to demonstrate any real validity. In fact, the market itself seems unconcerned and a little bit resentful of the effort to springboard brand Prosecco into a new price category. The premium bottles are drowning in the vast sea of Prosecco that ends up mixed with premium spirits, splashed with fruit and vegetable juice and accented with cubes of ice. 

    Which is why I'm bemused by the launch of Veuve Clicquot "Rich" in time for summer 2015. Their angle is that they are trying to maintain a history of creativity and ingenuity. I guess this is a nod to the Veuve herself who is often credited with developing the riddling phase of the champagne method, right down to her homespun puptrie made from a harvested kitchen table. I get it. What I don't get is why creativity means repurposing something as awesome as champagne into a bottle of mixing bubbles. I have been the first to criticize Champagne's stubborn insistence of maintaining and cultivating an aura of nobility and high-browed snobbery in the marketing of their Product (capital for the collective). But there is so much between that and this. How about modernizing your message through social media and marketing. Look what P. Diddy did for Circo and what George Clooney is doing for tequila. I have often thought that the fashion channel is vastly underutilized. The newest Style editor for the New York Observer is well-connected, honest, interesting and most of all...fun. Who better to introduce the world of champagne to one of the top wine markets in the world? A bottle a day, a meal away. Someone needs to let people know that even within the finite and relatively small boundaries of Champagne, there is enough diversity to reach each palate, each meal and each pocket. 

    And then there is the unspoken. The one thing that no one ever seems to discuss but that is, I believe, the number one reason that sales of champagne seem doomed to never break out of the box. The castle and the guard. The castle being the wave of restaurants and their offensive 3.5 to 4 times markup and the wine directors who enforce the policy. I love bubbles but frankly, can't remember the last time I purchased a bottle in a restaurant. The wine list at a restaurant of some note inside of hotel whose name pays homage to the rotating weather throughout the year features the simple yet admirable Charles de Fere Cuvee Jean Louis from France (not Champagne) at $44.00 per bottle. Now. I used to use this non-methode French bottling for mimosas and poured it by the glass as well. This simple offering is available wholesale to me in Maryland for just $7.33 per bottle. Yeah that's not four times mark-up...its more like six. And its offensive. That little bottle sold in my restaurant for $16.00 per bottle--my lowest price threshold. And I poured it for $8 per glass so that i would pay for the bottle in the first sale, lest no one else buy a glass and I'd have to toss it. Can't serve old, flat bubbles now, can we? I sell the delicious grower produced (RM) Gaston Chiquet Brut Special Club 2005 for $92 which provides me a healthy profit for something I didn't age, didn't make and enjoy pouring into someone's glass. That particular restaurant sells it for $165. I don't get it. I agree with the philosophy that people are exposed to new brands and bond with them in a restaurant--where it is afforded gravitas by being selected by the wine director, by being carefully served in lovely glassware in conjunction with delicious food (hopefully) and great company (I assume you have nice friends). But who will ever buy something that is priced so high? Especially something that is already viewed as the "special occasion" or something suitable for aperitif? Come on folks. We need to address this crazy restaurant mark-up thing and discuss openly how it adversefly affects the hopes of growth in market share for champagne and many others.