Why is champagne so expensive?
Making quality sparkling wine is an expensive process. A producer puts the wine through a complicated process to add those complex flavours and that fine mousse. It must then be aged for a prolonged period before release, a minimum of 15 months in the case of champagne, but good champagne and sparkling wine are often matured for three years or longer. So, all quality sparkling wine will be expensive. Cheaper sparkling wine, such as prosecco, is much easier to make so it will usually cost a lot less.
Champagne is a region that lies a two-hour drive to the east of Paris. Only wine made with grapes produced here can be called champagne. The marketeers there have convinced us that their sparkling wine is superior to all others, and worth paying the premium they charge. Sometimes it is, and most of the world’s greatest sparkling wines do come from Champagne. But there is also no shortage of average wines, and good Australian, Spanish and other French sparkling wines can be just as good, Spanish especially.
But there is another reason why most sparkling wine is expensive in this country: tax. Our Government treats sparkling wine as a luxury product and taxes it at twice the rate of still wine. And our normal tax is one of the highest in Europe. So, every time you buy a bottle of fizz, €6.60 goes on tax, as does a further 23 per cent VAT on the final price.
There is one anomaly. Wines such as prosecco labelled frizzante have less fizz and don’t have the usual mushroom shaped cork. It is taxed as a still wine. The same prosecco labelled spumante will have more fizz and will therefore cost a few euros more.
The UK government is currently considering removing the luxury tax on sparkling wine (it may not be coincidental that England now produces its own very good sparkling wine), but sadly I think it highly unlikely that our Government will follow suit. In the meantime we must continue to pay a premium for champagne and other good sparkling wines.
Lastly, a word on champagne glasses. Those flat saucers or coupes (said to have been modelled on Marie-Antoinette’s breast) may be great for cocktails but they do little to enhance any sparkling wine. You will find your fizz evaporates quickly. Far better to use a flute or standard tulip shaped wine glass.