Bubbling Wines Pop On-premise

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Sparkling wine may still largely be the beverage of celebration, but more consumers are opting for bubbly as an everyday pleasure and also enjoying it before—and during—the meal. The white-hot trend of prosecco has been fueling the growth, but other types of sparkling wines are seeing healthy sales as well.

Champagne and sparkling wine consumers have “graduated, if you will” to drinking bubbly more regularly, says Marina Velez, manager of information services for the Beverage Information and Insights Group (BIIG), Cheers’ research unit. “Consumers are willing to spend on Champagne or sparkling wine on a daily basis. We don’t see that changing.”

In its 2018 Wine Handbook, BIIG describes Champagne and sparkling wine consumption as “a key driver of growth in the overall wine category.” Bubbly sales were up 56% in the past 10 years and nearly 6% last year.

In addition to the continued popularity of prosecco and the consumption of bubbly throughout the year, interest from younger drinkers and the craze for rosé have also boosted sparkling wine sales. Bubbling wines have also gone beyond the realm of aperitif and become a great companion to food—not to mention their importance as a component in cocktails.

Sales have been strong for domestic sparkling wine, especially for a few brands. Mumm Napa, for example, rose more than 10% in 2017, while Scharffenberger increased nearly 9%. But imports, as a group, are doing even better. That’s largely because of prosecco, which now accounts for 17% of U.S. sparkling wine sales, but Champagne is also experiencing healthy growth.

“Sparkling wine sales are up, and it’s basically a two-wine category: prosecco and Champagne,” says Sandy Block, vice president of beverage operations for Boston-based restaurant group Legal Sea Foods. Referring to prosecco, Block adds, “It’s magic.”

The only major imported category that’s largely stagnant is cava, although some restaurants report success with the traditional-method sparkling wine from Spain.

For example, Barcelona Wine Bar, a wine-and-tapas restaurant concept with more than a dozen locations (acquired by Del Frisco’s this past May), does brisk business with cava by the glass. Bubbly, says Gretchen Thomas, vice president of beverage for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, is “a great way to get the night going.”

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans offers about half a dozen sparklers by the glass and half-glass, says Dan Davis, the restaurant’s “wine guy.” These including a private cuvée by California’s Iron Horse “that represents almost half our sales,” he adds. “That said, we have over 225 selections by the bottle and see solid sales there.”

Popping prosecco brands

La Marca continues to dominate the prosecco category, with 2017 sales up nearly 25% over the previous year, following a string of healthy years. The top-selling brand of imported sparkling wine, La Marca benefits from parent company E & J Gallo’s marketing and distribution muscle. La Marca winemaker Fabrizio Gatto offers his reason for the brand’s success: “La Marca has the charm to stand alone as an aperitif, but it also has the body and the acidity to pair beautifully with a variety of foods.”

Mionetto, which is up about 13%, has been “riding the positive trend of prosecco,” says Enore Ceola, CEO/managing director of Mionetto USA. Ceola notes that the company has been marketing its products aggressively—especially the so-called prestige tier. He adds that Mionetto’s sales are even stronger on-premise than at retail.

Both La Marca and Mionetto are outpacing the overall category. The prosecco DOC Consortium reports that shipments to the U.S. grew about 4% in 2017; the smaller Conegliano Valdobbiadene prosecco DOCG Consortium says exports grew more than 7%, although the increase is on a much smaller base.

As for Champagne, the Champagne Bureau USA reports that shipments in 2017 were up nearly 6% from 2016, marking the fifth consecutive year of growth. Champagne is benefiting from the overall interest in sparkling wine, especially as people trade up, says Jennifer Hall, the bureau’s director.

Veuve Clicquot, the number-one Champagne brand in the U.S., is best known for its non-vintage brut bottling known as Yellow Label. Imports of all bottlings of Veuve Clicquot for 2017 were up more than 8% over the previous year, according to BIIG.

That slightly outpaced Veuve’s sister brand Moët & Chandon; both are owned by Moët Hennessy. Champagne consumers, says Aygline Pechdo, vice president of Veuve Clicquot, “are going after brands they trust.”

One Champagne brand that’s been on fire recently is Piper Heidsieck, imported by Terlato Wines. Piper sales were up nearly 27% in 2017. Dave Lane, president/chief operating officer of Terlato Wines International, attributes much of that growth to the company’s focus on the on-premise sales.

Beyond the holidays

Sales of all sparkling wines tend to spike in November and December as consumers celebrate the holidays. But prosecco has paved the way for consumers to drink more bubbly in the non-holiday months. Its generally modest price has helped make sparkling wine affordable enough for every day.

Barcelona wine bar rose cava

Barcelona Wine Bar does brisk business with cava by the glass.

“We built our business by pushing the sales outside the holidays,” says Mionetto’s Ceola. He estimates that about a quarter of sales take place in the spring and summer, when consumers are looking for something light and refreshing. Compared to, say, a glass of pinot grigio, prosecco “makes everything more exciting,” he says.

This has inevitably increased non-holiday sales of other types of bubbly. “Prosecco made sparkling wine something people are more comfortable with year-round,” says Terlato’s Lane. “Champagne was the beneficiary.” He says those year-round sales are strongest in the on-premise accounts.

Younger wine drinkers appear to be the most willing to consume sparkling wine throughout the year, and they’re also helping to drive the overall growth of the category. The Wine Market Council found that significantly larger percentages of people in their 20s and 30s report regularly drinking sparkling wine sometime during the year, compared with older age groups.

“Millennials have attached themselves to the sparkling trend,” Velez says. With new products, younger drinkers and its growing popularity throughout the year, sparkling wine’s growth shows no signs of going flat. BIIG projects that consumption of sparkling wine will continue to grow about 6% a year through 2021.

At A16 restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland, CA, bottle sales of sparkling wine increase during the holidays, says partner/wine director Shelley Lindgren, but by-the-glass sales are strong year-round. “We’ve had a lot of fun, especially over the summer, pairing sparkling wine” with food, she says. The restaurants even featured a prosecco week last summer with suggested food pairings.

A food-friendly find

Other restaurants, too, report that guests are discovering sparkling wine is a good companion to food.

At Alma restaurant in Minneapolis, manager/wine buyer James Hirdler says that customers drink sparkling wine both as an aperitif and throughout the meal.

“Champagne goes with everything,” he says. “Other than that, we treat sparkling wines like still wines when it comes to pairing.”

cava by the glassMost of Alma’s sparkling wines are dry, “which provides a nice balance to savory dishes,” Hirdler adds. The restaurant recently held a wine dinner with Billecart-Salmon Champagne, paired with five courses.

“Champagne is so wonderful with food,” says Block. Legal Sea Foods’ top-selling Champagne is Taittinger Brut La Française, and Block encourages servers to suggest it with oysters.

At Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, each brand takes its own approach to sparkling wine. With the tapas offerings at Barcelona, Thomas says, it’s easy to stick with a bubbly such as cava throughout the meal, but at a steakhouse, sparkling wine “isn’t the go-to.”

In all her restaurants, though, sparkling wine makes an appearance in cocktails. At the Double Eagle, a popular drink is the Pamplemousse Spritz, an Aperol spritz with grapefruit. Barcelona’s top-selling mixed drink is a high-end sangria featuring sparkling rosé.

Sparkling wine also figures prominently in the cocktails at Commander’s Palace. “As the place where the jazz brunch was born, we serve a lot of Mimosas and other sparkling wine cocktails,” Davis says.

One bubbly cocktail is The Saint 75 ($11), with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Tanqueray gin, basil and sparkling wine. “We also use sparkling wine in several of our featured cocktails at dinner,” Davis adds.

The rosé trend in still wines is also extending to sparkling wine. “Rosé has been booming,” says Xavier Barlier, senior vice president of Maisons, Marques & Domaines USA, Champagne Louis Roederer’s U.S. sales and marketing arm.

Barlier says that the company has sold out of all of the Roederer rosés it carries, both French and domestic, including the version from Roederer-owned Scharffenberger.

Rosé, says Veuve Clicquot’s Pechdo, has helped the brand “get more consumers to Champagne.” Rosé Champagne is more expensive, but consumers are willing to pay for it, she adds.

Affordable luxury

At Legal Sea Foods, Block promotes drinking Champagne with food by taking a modest markup on the bottles. Kimberly Cavoores, wine director at Marta and Vini e Fritti restaurants in New York, also tries to keep Champagne affordable. To that end, while the wine list at Marta includes plenty of pricey bottles, it has a section for “Champagne under $100” with about 20 selections.

Cavoores says she offers five sparkling wines by the glass—two Italian selections and three Champagnes—at both restaurants. “We actually sell more by the bottle,” she notes. “We have a big focus on Champagne” and providing it at a price point that’s accessible to most customers.

 

Northern California-based Laurie Daniel has written about wine for more than 20 years. Her wine column appears in several California newspapers, and her articles have appeared in magazines such as Wines & Vines, Food & Wine, Drinks and Wine Enthusiast.

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