Champagne loses fizz in key British market

Tue Mar 17, 2009 1:06pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Champagne is losing its fizz in Britain, by far its most important export market, with the recession, rising unemployment and a weak pound dampening demand for a drink associated with success and excess.

But among the hundreds of champagne houses, buyers and tasters sampling varieties great and good at London's Banqueting House on Tuesday, there was a sense that people's thirst for France's most famous liquid asset would return before long.

"It is tough this year, no question about it, right across the spectrum," said Charles King of Maisons, Marques & Domaines Ltd which imports the renowned Louis Roederer brand to Britain.

"The middle market is suffering, sales are down against last year but not as far as some people might have thought," he told Reuters in the historic hall decorated with nine large ceiling panels painted by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens.

Daniel Lorson, head of communications at industry association CIVC, believed the long-term outlook was more rosy.

"Champagne is the wine of success and celebration. Of course, today there is less to celebrate, but we are ready to bounce back."

Over the day some 10,000 bottles of "bubbly" will be uncorked and 200 styles sampled. Most tasters swirl, sniff, sample and then spit their drink into a bucket.

BRITISH PASSION   Continued...

<p>Bottles of Grand Siecle Champagne sit in ice during the unveiling of dishes and decor that will be at the Oscar Party for New York members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in New York February 14, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>