Champagne has the history, the sophistication, the famous houses, the weight of years of lavish marketing behind it, no doubting that. But in these austere, less ostentatious times in which we live, are there new pretenders to the crown?

We ask, is France's Old Lady of Fizz no longer the top banana or are reports of her demise greatly exaggerated?

The Reigning Champion - Champagne

How did it all start?

Champagne was a region long before it was a sparkling wine of course. The region lies at a pivotal crossroads in French history both geographically and politically. Without going into too much detail it is safe to say that a lot of stuff went on there over the years and much of it was not particularly pleasant. In fact, depending on which historical tomes you research, it is said that by the mid 17th century, the city of Reims had been invaded and/or destroyed seven times and Epernay no less than twenty-five.

Everyone loves bubbly

During the 18th Century the French nobility took a shine to the sparkling version of Champagne and there was also considerable interest from across the Channel. Technical advances in production methods and bottle design from houses such as Verve Cliquot, Krug, Pommery and Bollinger over the next fifty years meant the fizzy stuff became a firm favourite across Europe especially with the upper classes.

Today the Champagne region produces something close to 300 million bottles of the fizzy stuff every year and turns over just short of €5 million making up 30% of the counties wine export market. This is slightly down on pre 2008 crash figures but not so much as you'd notice, the regions record was in 2007 with 339 million bottles. It is clear that regular Champagne drinkers didn't take much notice of the financial crash!

All the signs are that Champagne is still very much 'Queen of the Hill'.

The major houses and their approximate annual output (bottles):

- Bollinger 2.5 million
- Dom Perignon 5 million bottles produced in each vintage year
- Laurent Perrier 7 million
- Moet & Chandon 26 million
- Mumm 5 million
- Nicolas Feuillatte 10 million
- Piper Heidsieck 5 million
- Pommery 5 million
- Taittinger 5 million
- Veuve Clicquot 10 million

Our Top 5 Interesting Champagne Facts:

1. An average 28,000 bottles of Champagne are served at Wimbledon each year.

2. In a standard 750ml bottle of Champagne there are somewhere around 50 million bubbles… approximately! We've not counted…

3. It is said by some that you will know if you are drinking 'good' Champagne, you should see what's called "collerette" 'or bubble-trains' on your glass. Although that could be nonsense!

4. Dropping a raisin into champagne will cause it to travel from the top of the glass to the bottom continuously - you should try it next time you have a glass in your hand. Although if you are like me you never seem to have a raisin on you when you really need one…

5. The longest 'recorded' flight of a champagne cork was 177 feet - obviously there may well have been further achieved over history but probably not recorded. Let's face it when your party gets to the stage of shaking expensive bottles of champagne and firing off corks no one is keeping score any longer!

So with so many other sparkling wines coming onto the market, is the Queen of Fizz dead? For those of you hoping for some sort of sensational revelation at the end of this article I'm sorry to disappoint but, no she's not. Champagne is still as popular as ever and I very much think it always will be, there is just something about the word, the idea, the feeling you get when you are served a glass or open a bottle of good Champagne and that alone even before a bubble gets close to a lip is extremely difficult to contend with.

That said, personally speaking, if I am spending money on 'fizz' for a special occasion or buying a gift I would go with English bubbles every time, no question. And that has nothing to do with loyalty or patriotism it is simply that the wines being produced are so wonderful.

Chris Grice
Address: Viscount House, River Ln, Saltney, Chester CH4 8RH, UK
Tel: 01244535760
Email: [email protected]

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