Friday, November 27, 2009

Cynical champagne ‘deals’

Having been to a champagne tasting this week I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought as to how good these headline-grabbing half-price champagne offers are.

Initally I got quite excited about them myself - Moet for £14, Bollinger for £18 (both at Morrisons, if they’ve not run out) sound like the deal of the decade. Certainly the visitors to the popular money site think so. Traffic has peaked at 1 million visitors a day this week with champagne being the most regularly viewed subject

But you need to pause a moment and ask how much these bottles are worth in the first place. The best known names like Bollinger and Louis Roederer now have a recommended retail price of around £37-£40 a bottle. Forty pounds a bottle. That’s ludicrously over-priced even allowing for the exchange rate.

The standard price for Averys Special Cuvee Brut which is blended in the Bollinger house style is £21.99 (and they’re bound to do some kind of an offer on it before Christmas). Sainsbury’s very decent Blanc de Noirs, which was recently only narrowly pipped at the post by Veuve Clicquot in a recent Which? tasting is currently selling for £14. (Moet incidentally only came 13th out of the 14 champagnes tested.) OK Avery’s and Sainsbury’s don’t have the cachet of a Bolly but are you prepared to spend an extra 15 quid a bottle for a label?

The champagne producers are not alone in these cynical pricing practices. Most leading brands of sparkling wine are also priced on the basis that they are going to be discounted. The standard price for Cordoniu Cava now is £11.99 enabling supermarkets to ‘slash the price’ to £5.99 (at which it’s a pretty good buy it’s fair to say) But consumers aren’t stupid as the recent demise of Wine Rack which routinely overcharged for wine in order to be able to discount it shows.

What the champagne houses offer - and have been immensely skilled at exploiting - is glamour and a sense of special occasion but don’t let the deals lure you into the idea that they're doing you any favours. If you merely want some simple party fizz I’d head to Majestic and buy the Underraga Brut from Chile at £4.99 or order some Lindauer Brut for £39.90 a case of six from Tesco (Oddbins has a few bottles of the even better rosé if you can track it down)

Have you succumbed any of the champagne offers yet? Will you? Or are you perfectly happy to serve a cheaper sparkling wine to your family and friends?


  1. Sadly my stash of Hamm champagne which we stocked up on before our wedding 18 months ago has dwindled to one magnum so there will be some champagne buying in order over the next couple of weeks before Christmas. But then I'm more than happy to go for a good quality Cremant or Prosecco for example over a low quality or overpriced champagne. The prices on these other 'sparklings' are rising now too and with a poor exchange rate against the euro we're inevitably going to end up spending more, aren't we?

  2. ... and cynically Morrison's only had a tiny stock of Bollinger. But for those who like mature fizz and lay it down how do the non-Champagne wines fare?

  3. Don't get me wrong. I love champagne but I'm just outraged that retailers are claiming these vast discounts when what they're offering is actually worth about a fiver. (Though that's obviously not to be sniffed at). The Sainsbury's deals aren't at all bad - they're also offering Lanson and Heidsieck at £14. (Still twice the price you'd pay for a decent sparkler tho')

  4. And fair point Patrick. Elderly Cava or prosecco no turn-on at all - but most people drink fizz within a month of buying it.

  5. Sainsbury's Blanc de Noirs is excellent - you've spoken the secret!

  6. According to this study, the price makes it taste better! I'm sceptical too but worth a read:

    Also, you should be weary of the discounts retailers state too. Remember the 40% off vouchers for Threshers floating around a Christmas or two ago that got 'leaked' to the public?

    As you couldn't use the vouchers in conjunction with their permanent offer of buy 2 get 1 free (33.3% discount), you were infact only getting a further 7% discount.