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UK wine trade banks on Valentine’s Day Champagne sales

UK retailers and restaurants hope Valentine’s Day sales of Champagne, particularly rose, will support momentum gained during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Champagne has recovered some ground lost since the beginning of the recession, but other, less expensive sparkling wines have also become more popular.

‘Valentine’s Day is a peak point of the year for Champagne and sparkling wine in general,’ said Andrew Bird, beverage category manager for UK retailer Marks & Spencer.

‘The majority of sales come just one or two days before, but we’re already seeing far stronger demand – in the double digits – than last year. Rosé is bouncing back more quickly, partly because it declined much farther.’

Bird says over the last 18 months, other sparkling wines – notably Prosecco (including a rosé version the retailer calls Rosecco) – have been selling briskly, as customers trade up from Cava.

‘I’d love to attribute this to romance, but it’s really just that they have more money in their pockets.’

Whether restaurants – often full on 14 February – will benefit remains to be seen, as the holiday falls on a Sunday.

‘The trend is still for people to entertaining at home – off-trade accounts for 60% of Champagne sales,’ said Françoise Peretti, UK spokesperson for the Champagne Information Bureau.

‘But perhaps they will break this habit for Valentine’s Day and dine out. Either way, we are confident rosé will feature prominently.’

Fortnum & Mason’s Tim French as expects increased sales, particularly of rosés such as Gosset and Bollinger – as well as bottles with a value-added aspect such as cooler bags and glasses.

‘Sales have definitely improved since the new year, and are stronger than in 2009,’ he said.

‘But we’re not back to 2007 or early 2008 levels.’

London’s one Michelin-starred Texture Restaurant, which specialises in Champagne, has also seen a rise in customer spending.

‘Last night we had mostly couples, and most tables ordered at least two glasses of Champagne plus a bottle of something else,’ said co-owner Xavier Rousset.

‘Some ordered even more. They are definitely in more of a party mood this year than last.’

Champagne exports overall fell 9.1% last year to 276.7m bottles; shipments to the EU fell 17%, to 70m bottles.

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Written by Maggie Rosen

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