Aussies have always been thirsty, especially for summer fizzies like champagne. Now a report by trade association Comite Champagne reveals Australians are popping the cork on more French sparkling than ever before.
Nearly 10 million bottles of champagne made their way to Australia in 2021, an increase of 1.3 million bottles to make the country one of the strongest markets for wine in the world.
Of the 320 million bottles exported worldwide, Australia ranks sixth among export markets by volume.
We drink champagne in restaurants, at home and around barbecues – anything goes. Experts believe Australia’s insatiable desire for a good time has fueled demand for the bubbly.
“The perception of what a celebration is has undergone a paradigm shift,” says John Noble, Director of Champagne Bureau Australia.
“People used to claim there was a champagne ‘season’ linked to horse racing and the warmer months, but that disappeared when smaller occasions arose. When the lockdowns eased , reuniting with friends has become more special.”
The global champagne sector was hit hard by the pandemic in 2020 and Comité Champagne Managing Director Charles Goemaere credits the industry’s return to a vibrant export market.
“Australians like to make a good impression, we like quality things and we like the taste of champagne,” Noble said.
“But it’s our reality that underpins who we are. It doesn’t have to be hoity-toity – you could be sitting around a barbecue after a few glasses of champagne or ordering a bottle in a restaurant. Little no matter where you are, it means fun.”
For the small producer Champagne Forest-Marie, Australia has been an opportunity for growth. Winemaker Thierry Forest and his wife Gracianne Marie began exporting small quantities of their champagne to Australia in November 2021.
“Australia is a very respected country in the new wine world,” says their daughter Marthe Forest.
“Selling in such a market makes us proud…we think that the growing consumption of champagne in Australia is probably linked to the high quality of life there, which translates into higher purchasing power.”
It doesn’t have to be hoity-toity – you could be sitting around a barbecue after a few drinks or ordering a bottle at the restaurant.
At Shell House bar and restaurant in Sydney, catering manager Alex Kirkwood says champagne helps set the tone for an evening.
“When people walk into a restaurant and you hit them right away with champagne, they’re excited because you’re delivering quality right from the start. There’s a craving for champagne…a thirst for champagne .
“Everyone is desperate for an experience right now and if they come out midweek they are comfortable upping things a bit in terms of price and quality.
Champagne Bollinger’s international sales director, Guy de Rivoire, is currently in Australia for the release of Bollinger La Grande Annee 2014 and is a regular visitor to our shores.
He watched with interest as the local market grew by 8-10% every year for the past 20 years, including 2021 when Australia was the only market in the world to show significant growth (11.2%).
“You really enjoy your wine. The younger generation seems to be…people willing to spend a lot of money on quality.”
The numbers also indicate that we drink better champagne. In 2020, the value of the Australian market jumped 40% to €160 million ($237 million).
The tendency for Aussies to ‘swap’ when choosing champagne is something Trader House beverage director Leanne Altmann has observed at Melbourne restaurants in her group’s portfolio such as Cumulus Inc., Supernormal and Gimlet .
“Champagne has always been the iconic appetizer and party drink, but it’s exciting to see more guests open to the idea of champagne as a side dish,” says Altmann.
Last year, 304 brands of champagne were imported into Australia, compared to 261 previously. While non-vintage bruts still make up 91.2% of the Australian market, stylistic diversity is also greater than ever.
“Historically in Australia we’ve always drank non-vintages and usually big producers and recognizable brands,” says Altmann. “I think it’s changing a bit. It feels like people are open to exploring different things.”
With rising interest rates and inflation, will the champagne and consumer boom continue? “It’s hard to say,” Noble said. “But I think Australians will always find time for a special connection with their friends.”
Storing champagne at home
While the vast majority of French bubbly is purchased to be enjoyed the same day, there is an emerging trend among Australian drinkers of aging champagne. Here are some storage tips.
- The optimum temperature for the champagne cellar is between 10 and 15 degrees.
- Store champagne in the darker, cooler parts of your home to avoid dramatic temperature swings and strong smells.
- Store it upright or on its side, there is no evidence that either way affects flavor.
- Let a bottle “settle” before opening it, both for safety and to maintain the flavor profile.