Smart marketing, sourcing and pricing are enticing more customers to pop the cork on bubbly wines.
“In Anchorage, if you want a good glass of Champagne, you have to come to my place,” says Apollo Naff, co-owner of the Bubbly Mermaid Champagne & Oyster Bar in Anchorage, AK. The nautically themed restaurant focuses solely on serving Champagne, offering bottles that can’t be had anywhere else in the state.
That wasn’t true when Naff first opened three years ago. Back then, he didn’t have the money or the business contacts to go all in with just Champagne.So he stocked mainly cavas and proseccos with the few bottles of Champagne he could afford.
Naff worked hard to entice and educate the local customers who frequented his place and built relationships with distributors. As his business volume grew, Naff negotiated case discounts of better bottles.
The Bubbly Mermaid was gradually able to phase out the other sparklers and now sells just Champagne. (That’s not strictly true; there are a few proseccos, some still wine and beer stashed away, but you have to ask for it.)
All that Sparkles
It’s not just in Anchorage that bubbles are big. The Champagne and sparkling wine category grew for its 13th consecutive year in 2014. It increased 4.0% to 18.2 million nine-liter cases, according to the Beverage Information Group’s Wine Handbook.
The luxe sparkle of Champagne still entices consumers, but the majority of the category’s growth comes from less expensive and more accessible proseccos, cavas and moscatos. With fruitier and sweeter flavor profiles, these wines have gained consumer traction, especially among the Millennial crowd. And the lower price points have made sparklers more of an everyday experience.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill has seen the trend toward different types of sparkling wines, says Gerald Pulsinelli, vice president of wine/spirits for the Charlotte, NC-based chain of 37 casual-dining restaurants. “Our typical guest finds the proseccos, cavas and moscatos d’Asti more approachable than Champagne,” he notes.
The reason, Pulsinelli says, is that these sparkling wines have flavor profiles that are fruitier and livelier, and generally lower in alcohol. Marketing by producers and media stories have also raised consumer awareness on alternative sparklers.
Firebirds’ wine lists vary by location, but sparkling wines account for about 25%. The biggest movers among sparkling wines are Chandon Brut and Zonin prosecco.
Prices range from $10 for a split of sparkling to $75 for a bottle of Champagne; but the sweet spot, says Pulsinelli, is $10 to $15 for a half bottle. The price points make them less of a special-occasion order; more guests are enjoying a glass of prosecco or cava as an aperitif. “A glass of prosecco after work gets the party started,” he notes.