When the general director of the Comité Champagne, Vincent Perrin, took to the stage earlier this year at the prestigious Saint Vincent de l’Archiconférie, to give his verdict of 2016 Champagne sales, the outlook was gloomy.
‘In 2016 we lost three million bottles in France, and the same amount in the UK,’ Perrin announced.
According to Perrin, the 9% drop in the UK volume was almost entirely due to Brexit, ‘When we forecasted the sales volume in July, we had no inkling the market would shrink at such a pace.’ [i]
Actually, Champagne sales in the UK have been falling since 2010, losing much of its market share to the likes of Prosecco and until much more recently English sparkling wine.
Certainly in my social circles – which range from young professionals to retirees – among most of them, Prosecco is now preferred, many citing champagne as heavy, rich and too expensive. From my perspective, Brexit has accelerated something that was already looking inevitable.
The success of English sparkling wine is also having its part to play. Sales of home grown wine at Marks & Spencer doubled in 2016. To sustain a sales growth of 50%, Waitrose has added 12 new English sparkling wines – the biggest sales rise for any sparkling wine. [ii]
Given the slow demise of Champagne in the UK, I was intrigued to spend an evening sampling the champagne of Nicolas Feuillatte. I wanted to see what a well established brand, like Nicolas Feuillatte, was doing to compete in a much tougher trading climate.
Let me start by saying that Nicolas Feuilllate did not make his millions by selling Champagne, at least not at the start. His talents as a drinks trader were initially put to good use selling the other human vice; coffee.
It wasn’t until he was 40, after more than 20 years navigating the Manhattan social scene, that he returned to Bouleuse, France to purchase 30 acres of vineyards in the Champagne region. His goal: to inspire a new breed of Champagne drinkers.
“I knew many women found some traditional brands too acidic, so I cut back on the acidity to give my wines a softer taste,” he recalled. “I wanted to make Nicolas Feuillatte the Dom Perignon for the new generation of champagne drinkers.”
Sampling the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut myself, I think Nicolas has succeeded in his aim. Although the drink yields bold citrus fruit flavours, the level of acidity is tolerable compared to that of a vintage Champagne.
There is also a subtle aroma of sweet honey which is reflected by the colour – but not on the pallet. Instead the finish is dry and rich, as a Brut should be. But there is a lightness to this champagne that makes it interesting and much more akin to its Italian competition.
Normally, my body has an unfortunate way of reminding me that I am indeed drinking champagne, something I don’t get with other sparkling wines. This usually comes in the form of indigestion or a headache. But I have to admit, when it came to drinking the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut, the only physical effect was the raising of my glass for a top up.
I think there’s still something to be said for a vintage Champagne (like a Dom Perrignon). It should be drunk on special occasions, and by no means in large quantities. As a much drier, acidic champagne, it’s perhaps more interesting to drink, its finish more complex and detailed than that of a Prosecco…and perhaps more sophisticated.
But if there’s a Champagne to rival the lighter sparkling wines of today and one to revive a lost generation, then the Nicholas Feuilllate Brut is just the ticket.