Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Have You Switched from Champagne to Sparkling Wine?

Champagne sales have been overtaken by sparkling wine in the UK for the first time. James Hall, writing for the Telegraph, has reported that Champagne sales have fallen by a third since the start of the credit crisis as people cut back on spending on luxuries. Meanwhile sales of cheaper sparking wines have risen by over 50%, according to research by Mintel:

According to Mintel, Britons spent over £1 billion on Champagne in 2007, which is the year that Northern Rock collapsed, heralding the start of the longest recession since the Second World War.

Mintel forecasts that in 2012 Britons will spend just £690 million on Champagne, a fall of 32%.

Meanwhile sales of sparking wine will have risen by 55% over the period, from £465 million in 2007 to £720 million at the end of 2012, Mintel predicts.

It expects the trend to continue, with Champagne sales falling to £609 million by 2017 and sales of sparkling wine rising to £835 million.”

Despite a fall in Champagne sales, Mintel said that the drink continues to benefit from its association with special occasions, four in ten people now see sparkling wine as a credible alternative for events such as weddings and birthday parties.

There are plenty of sparkling wines to choose from as alternatives to Champagne and I'm pleased that people are switching on to their potential. We've all heard of the more well known varieties out there but hopefully smaller producers and regions that fall under the radar will get the chance to reach a wider audience.

If you are interested in trying some lesser known sparkling wines from the Loire Valley and Alsace check out the new range here at Bordeaux-Undiscovered.

Last month Reuters reported that France's oldest sparkling wine, Blanquette de Limoux, was fighting for its life – not because of falling sales but due to being obscured by better known brands. Legend has it that Dom Pérignon learnt the secrets of Limoux's sparkling wine whilst on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain when he rested at the Saint-Hilaire Abbey. On returning back home to his own Abbey of Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers, near Reims, he started to experiment with the technique on local wines from the Champagne region . . . and the rest is history.

For the producers of Blanquette de Limoux, Cava is the biggest obstacle. Around 300 million bottles of Cava are produced a year whereas Limoux only makes 10 million. If you'd like to learn more about their wines check out

I'd love to know what sparkling wines you have come across and if you have any particular favourites – and if you prefer them to Champagne.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Good Vintage . . .

Vintage is a word that has been hijacked over the years – we hear of vintage fashion, vintage cars, vintage jewellery . . . but it's original meaning relates to wine. The word initially meant a 'harvest of grapes / yield of wine from a vineyard' and its root are the Latin vinum (wine) and demere (remove). The British hijacked the French word 'vendage' (grape harvest) and anglicised it to 'vintage' back in the 1400s. British links with France were strong at this time – England had owned half of Medieval France under the Angevin Empire and our monarchies were intertwined. The British drank claret and naturally French words became integrated with our own.

Around 1746 the sense of the word shifted to mean 'the age or year of a particular wine.' This isn't surprising as back in the late 1600s we had started to recognise that good wine came from certain vineyards - the diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about the wine 'Ho-Bryan' (Chateau Haut Brion). As wine making techniques improved and developed it seems a natural progression that we should start recognising a wine from a good year too!

It wasn't till 1883 that the word vintage began to be used to refer to items as 'being of an earlier time' but it wasn't until 1928 that we started calling old cars 'vintage'! Since then it seems 'vintage' hasn't looked back and you can find it applied to anything and everything.

Vintage isn't the only French word associated with wine that we have hijacked – 'claret' is the anglicised form of clairet (the original deep coloured rosé wine from Bordeaux made centuries ago). The word 'ton' comes from the French word 'tonneaux' – there was so much wine shipped across the Channel from France to England in the 1500s that the weight of a ship's cargo became measured by the number of wine barrels (tonneaux) it could hold - giving rise to our word 'ton.

Incidentally we can also thank claret for our word 'butler'. In the 17th century claret was not sold in bottles, as corks had not yet been developed, and was sold by the cask. The customer would have the wine decanted into suitable quantities into his own bottles for service and the more fashionable amongst them would have their crests embossed on their bottles. The person who decanted the wine was known as the “bottler” who became , in time, the 'butler.

If you can think of any other wine related words we have hijacked please let me know!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

New Concept in Cooking – Spirit Sprays

I have used oil sprays in cooking before but now there is a new concept in adding a dash of cognac to your dish. Two creators in Beaune, Burgundy, have just launched a range of spray-on spirits to update their use in the kitchen. Jean-David Camus and Philippe Stark have founded Brumes Gourmandes:

We began with the idea of reviving the use of spirits in cooking, as they are part of our gastronomical heritage”

The sprays are handcrafted in Burgundy and range from Marc de Bourgogne, Fine de Bourgogne, Prunelle de Bourgogne, Cognac, Pastis, Poire Williams Brandy, Kirsch, Rum and Whiskey:

The main advantage is the dose. The perfect quantity can be used, according to the tastes of everyone at the table. Furthermore, millions of droplets that explode are extremely flavourful. Also, one can precisely target the different parts of the dish one wants to flavour”.

The bottles resemble perfume bottles – which isn't surprising considering that their creators have worked in the perfume sector. With 20 years of experience in the spirits industry, the two partners select the producers and cuvees, and then create their own original blends:

This is where classic gastronomical products and new methods of application, that of a spray, meet. Since it is a novel method of application for spirits, we wanted it to resemble something that already exists, such as perfume bottles”

If we don’t reintroduce spirits to cooking in a different manner, our children won’t use them”, claims Jean-David Camus, who also underlines the risk that small local producers of sprits will disappear in the future. “If we do nothing, in a few years’ time there will only be 50 big brands of spirits worldwide and no small producers.”

It seems a great idea and I can't wait to try one!