Champagne: Pick of the sparklers


Currently a bit of an outsider, Canada is making some good traditional method sparkling wine that could surprise a lot of people. Nova Scotia in particular is making waves with its cool, maritime climate. Benjamin Bridge, the most well known producer there, has been joined by Lightfoot & Wolfville and Blomidon in making top-quality bubbles. But this is small scale, as are many of the excellent sparkling wines coming from the Okanagan in British Columbia and Niagara and Prince Edward County in Ontario. Canada is just one of many countries which has upped its sparkling wine game, and it is just beginning to get traction in export markets.


Cava has struggled with image and low pricing for a long time now, but of late there has been a concerted effort to change things. In June 2016 a new classification was unveiled by the CRDO del Cava (Cava Regulatory Board), called Cava del Paraje, which translates as Single Estate Cava. This is a premium category for cavas made with grapes from exceptional terroirs. The wines have to be made from vines at least 10 years old, and must be hand harvested with a maximum yield of 8 tons/ha. The wines must be aged on lees in bottle for at least 36 months and made in a brut style.

Then, in 2018, a group of elite cava producers launched a collective brand called Corpinnat within the cava DO. The founder members of this project were Recaredo, Gramona, Llopart, Nadal, Sabaté i Coca and Torelló, which aim to bring prestige to the cavas coming from the Peñedès region, the historical heart of sparkling wine production in Spain. It’s open to all producers within this territory who abide by the following rules: manual harvest, certified organic grapes, use of historical varieties, ageing on lees for longer than 18 months, and paying above a minimum price for grapes.

But celebrated producer Raventós i Blanc, invited to be one of the founding wineries, decided not to join. In 2012 it left the cava DO and formed a new, quality-minded DO, Conca del Riu Anoia. “The requirements of Corpinnat are less strict than what we have for Conca del Riu Anoia,” says Marta Ràfols of Raventós y Blanc. “There’s no need for a vineyard on the property; no need to be 100% organic during the first three years; no vintage is required, and so on.” It also feels that because there is no desire to create or work towards a new DO, Corpinnat doesn’t fit with its aims, and points out that over the past few years many other similar collaborations or groups have been formed within the DO.

In June 2017, Rioja’s Consejo Regulador (DOCa) altered its rules to allow the creation of quality white and rosé sparkling wines, made using the traditional bottle fermentation method and aged for a minimum of 15 months or 36 months, depending on the tier.

If more Spanish producers could produce top-quality, champagne price-level wines, then they could have the volume to dent champagne’s market share. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, of course.


Champagne is currently facing some competition for price points that it used to own – albeit competition that is, for now at least, limited in scale. Internally, too, the success of champagne means that grape supply has become a key issue for the larger companies. As Bruno Paillard recently stated to me, there is now a champagne war, with the different houses competing fiercely for any available grapes, which will end up increasing grape prices. Indeed, the Moët Hennessy Champagne Services (MHCS), the leading player in the region, raised the grape prices it pays by 5% in October 2017. This follows on from a 4% price rise it introduced in 2012. It has enough clout to set prices across the region, and can afford to pay extra, and it is a strategy to secure grapes in a very competitive market. In a region where the growers own 90% of the land but the houses produce 70% of the wines, this is a big issue. This will put pressure on margins, and it also means that the incentive now for champagne is to add value.

Mechanisms already exist for this. While the core business will always be non-vintage blends, vintage wines, rosés and prestige cuvées all occupy higher price points. In the end, it’s likely that champagne will be focusing exports on markets willing to pay more, and will occupy a higher price point, which then leaves its current price points open for ambitious non-champagne sparklers.