With smug January dryathletes crowing every second Facebook entry, and the new year hangover still a fresh memory, now is a terrible time to talk about alcohol. So let’s do that.
Just as the year ended, reports came in that (sacre bleu!) Prosecco had outsold Champagne in the UK in 2015.
But if you walk through the sparkling wine section of a supermarket with your eyes half closed you’d think they were all trying to be Champagne, or at least hoodwink you into thinking they are (you can add Cava, Lambrusco and Asti to the list).
For years other sparkling wines have struggled to compete with the prestige of Champagne, most of them being perceived as a less sophisticated version. So, unable to replicate the history and provenance of the lauded French region, they have imported some of Champagne’s caché by making themselves look the same.
But in becoming a de facto purchase, Prosecco has done what the Cavas and Astis have never managed: eclipsed their snooty French cousin’s popularity. So is it time for Prosecco to step out of the shadows and re-write the packaging template for sparkling wine?
Firstly there are many technical and financial difficulties in breaking with packaging convention: centuries of wisdom have gone into in the cork / cage / foil combination; and the economies of scale dictate that sculpting a new bottle could be cripplingly expensive. And since Prosecco relies on selling in quantity (you might struggle to find a bottle of Prosecco for over £20, most but Champagnes start there), increasing production values would squeeze the margins unnecessarily on an already successful product.
So what about Champagne? Now that it has been freed of the pressure of the number one slot, maybe it would benefit from a shaking up of its image? It seems odd that a product that is synonymous with celebration and flamboyance should be packaged with such reserve and formality.
There have been plenty of attempts to modernise and de-formalise Champagne (Pommerey Pop, Noblesse and Zarb are a notable attempts) but most of them have been gimmicky, transient and (sorry) a bit unappetising.
In any case, we like Champagne because of its heritage, its ‘special occasion-ness’, so perhaps it needs to evolve a new graphic language without jettisoning its sophistication or sacrificing the exclusivity that we find so appealing. We have seen it done in Saville Row tailoring, City branding and indeed in the drinks industry, so why not?
Let’s see Champagne throw off the shackles of convention, and reinvent itself. Then, perhaps, it will regain it’s place as our favourite celebration drink.