Champagne imports bubble over as more bottles make their way to Australia than ever before

Sophia Shannon and Jennifer Sacks enjoy champagne Shell House, Sydney. There has been a large increase in the quantity ...
Sophia Shannon and Jennifer Sacks enjoy champagne Shell House, Sydney. There has been a large increase in the quantity and quality of champagne consumed in Australia in the past 12 months.  Photo: Janie Barrett

Australians have always been a thirsty bunch, especially for summer-friendly fizz such as champagne. Now a report released 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 nation one of the strongest markets for the wine in the world.

Of the 320 million bottles exported across the globe, Australia is ranked the sixth largest export market by volume.

We're consuming champagne at restaurants, home, and around barbecues – anything goes. Pundits believe Australia's insatiable desire for a good time has fuelled demand for the fizz.

"The perception of what a celebration is has undergone a paradigm shift," says Champagne Bureau Australia director John Noble.

"People used to claim there was a champagne 'season' linked to horse racing and the warmer months, but that went out the window when smaller occasions came into focus. When lockdowns eased, catching up with friends became more special."

Leanne Altmann pouring champagne for guests at Gimlet in Melbourne.
Leanne Altmann pouring champagne for guests at Gimlet in Melbourne. Photo: Darrian Traynor

The global champagne sector was hit hard by the pandemic in 2020 and Comite Champagne's chief executive Charles Goemaere credits the industry's comeback to a dynamic export market.

"Aussies like to make a good impression, we like quality things, and we love the taste of champagne," Noble says.

"But it's our realness that underpins who we are. It doesn't have to be hoity-toity – you could be sitting around a barbecue after a couple of glasses of champagne or ordering a bottle at a restaurant. No matter where you are, it signifies fun."

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For small producer Champagne Forest-Marie, Australia has provided an opportunity for growth. Winemaker Thierry Forest and his wife Gracianne Marie began exporting small amounts of their champagne to Australia in November 2021.

"Australia is a well-respected country in the new world of wine," says their daughter Marthe Forest.

"Selling in such a market boosts our pride … we believe that the increasing champagne consumption in Australia is probably linked to the high quality of life there, which results in a higher buying power."

It doesn't have to be hoity-toity – you could be sitting around a barbecue after a couple of glasses or ordering a bottle at a restaurant.

John Noble

At Shell House bar and restaurant in Sydney, food and beverage director Alex Kirkwood says champagne helps set the tone for an evening.

"When people arrive at a restaurant and you hit them with champagne straight away, they get excited because they're delivered quality right from the start. There's a desire for champagne… a thirst for it.

"Everyone is desperate for an experience right now and if they go out midweek, they're comfortable to step things up a little bit in terms of price and quality.

Champagne Bollinger's international sales director Guy de Rivoire is currently in Australia for the release of the Bollinger La Grande Annee 2014 and is a regular visitor to our shores.

He has watched with interest as the local market grew by 8 to 10 per cent each year for the past 20 years, including 2021 when Australia was the only market in the world to show any significant growth (11.2 per cent).

"You really appreciate your wine. The younger generation seems to be made up of … people willing to spend a lot of money on quality."

The figures also indicate we're drinking better champagne. In 2020, the value of the Australian market jumped 40 per cent to €160 million ($237 million).

The tendency for Australians to "trade-up" 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 aperitif and celebratory drink but it's exciting to see more guests open to the idea of champagne as a pairing with dishes," Altmann says.

Last year 304 champagne brands were imported to Australia, up from 261. While brut non-vintages still make up 91.2 per cent of the Australian market, stylistically there is also more diversity than ever.

"Historically, in Australia, we've always drunk non-vintages and generally from larger producers and recognisable brands," Altmann says. "I think that that's changing a little bit. It feels like people are open to exploring different things."

With interest rates and inflation on the rise, will the champagne boom and consumption continue? "It's difficult to say," Noble says. "But, I think Australians will always make time for a special connection with their mates."

Storing champagne at home

While the vast majority of French fizz is bought to be enjoyed on the day, there is an emerging trend among Australian drinkers of ageing champagne. Here are a few tips on storage.

  • The optimal temperature to cellar champagne is between 10 and 15 degrees.
  • Keep champagne in the darkest, coolest parts of your house that avoid dramatic variance in temperatures and strong odours.
  • Store it upright or on its side, there is no evidence either way affects the flavour.
  • Allow a bottle to "settle" before you open it, both for safety and to maintain the flavour profile.