DRINK / Warning: cheap champagne can damage your profits: Anthony Rose reads a letter from Moet & Chandon to the supermarkets alerting them to the perils of selling champagne at pounds 7.99

Champagne tennis, the commentator on Radio 5 declared as John McEnroe smacked another backhand volley past a despairing Pat Cash. 'My candidate for the champagne moment,' Brian Johnston announced, after Ian Salisbury had captured the valuable wicket of Javed Miandad, his first for his country.

Sporting victories are celebrated in the stuff, ships launched with it, wedding bells oiled by it. Bollinger Bolsheviks may be derided for their politics, but they are envied for their conspicuous consumption. The champagne image is all part of the pleasure. It means something special, something you cannot afford every week. As with other expensive labels, the cost is part of the appeal.

So what happens when champagne costs pounds 7.99 instead of pounds 17.99?

Tesco has released just such a pounds 7.99 champagne. So has Gateway. Sainsbury's and Safeway are selling one for under pounds 9; Oddbins and Thresher et al are coming in at under pounds 10. Moet &

Chandon, which makes one in every five bottles sold in the UK, and the other grandes marques, which spend a fortune promoting the image of champagne, are not amused.

Moet has written a stern head boy's letter to the purveyors of these cheap champagnes, pointing out the foolishness of their ways. 'With the reintroduction of champagne at pounds 7.99, we feel it appropriate to write to emphasise a few relevant points relating to the long-term damage to the image and perceived quality of champagne that we believe will result.'

Point number one is profitability. Do the shops not realise that if people buy this cheap stuff, the profit margins will be far lower than if they buy expensive - ie Moet & Chandon - champagne? Moet spells it out. 'For every bottle of Moet non-vintage you sell, you need to sell 8.5 bottles of Brand X to make the same cash profit.' Ergo, why only rip off the customers a little when you can rip them off a lot?

The letter goes on: 'The quality of some of the cheaper labels is definitely questionable. At this price point, they will often represent a first-time purchase of champagne for many consumers. We believe that they may be disappointed with the quality, and discouraged from purchasing champagne again.' Instead of trading up to Moet and the other grandes marques, these poor fools will look to the good-value sparkling wines coming from the New World.

Too right, you may think. But, ironically, there is a point to be made here, albeit a different one. The quality of the cheapies does leave a lot to be desired. None I have tasted matches the value of the similar-priced New World fizz mentioned in this column over the past few weeks. Nor are they as good as the better supermarket own-label champagnes.

Sainsbury's non-vintage, for instance, at pounds 11.29, is streets ahead of its pounds 8.45 cheapie, Beauchatel. You get what you pay for - some rather simple, confected, green-edged fizz - with the added premium of the champagne name. It is this parasitic use of the name that the grandes marques have spent so much time and money cultivating which really gets up their noses.

The cheapies only just scrape in as champagnes. They are unlikely to be aged for much more than the minimum 12 months. Most appear to use a fair proportion of the third, and poorest, pressing of the grapes. To stem the tide of poor-quality champagne, a ban on the third pressing and a longer minimum ageing period has been proposed.

Most of the grandes marques already age their wine for three years, and use a small amount of the third pressing. Resistance is expected from the smaller houses and co-operatives. Abolition of the third pressing would be equivalent to losing one in every 13 (admittedly inferior) bottles; and increasing the minimum ageing period would tie up more capital.

The problem for Moet & Chandon and some other grandes marques, especially those pushing towards pounds 20, is that they are partly to blame for the rising price polarity. Until two years ago, the champenois had never had it so good. Demand was so high that supply could hardly keep pace with it. Remember the warning in the summer of 1989 of champagne rationing? Heady days. Big price increases followed. Growers were accused of extortion, but Moet and others went along with the grape price rises as an incentive to growers to keep growing grapes rather than becoming champagne producers themselves.

Was this also, however, part of a strategy to stifle competition from the smaller champagne houses, which supply the supermarket with own-label and cheap champagnes? There is certainly evidence for it. According to Oliver Moore, who imports Marne et Champagne, suppliers of a number of supermarket own-label champagnes, 'by keeping the prices high, Moet could deal a massive blow to its competitors'.

If so, the move seems to have backfired because, as prices rose, the recession struck and the market plummeted. Despite three successive bumper crops, sales to the UK dropped 34 per cent last year, and the first three months' figures for this year show a 12 per cent fall.

Not all the supermarkets disagree with Moet: ' pounds 7.99 is still a lot, given that the average purchase is under pounds 3 a bottle,' says Philip Clive, wine buyer for Asda, who cut the price of its own-label champagne instead of introducing a cheapie. 'If the quality deteriorates, it becomes increasingly difficult for the consumer to differentiate between champagne and other sparkling wines.'

But others feel that Moet is trying to manipulate the market to protect its own declining sales. According to Angela Mount, who buys wine for Gateway: 'Champagne sales have suffered, not only because of the recession but also because the price of the grandes marques has risen astronomically. This has made it all the more important to keep good value, own-brand champagne on the shelf. We have noticed a definite move towards own-brand, away from the grandes marques.'

In view of the huge stockpiles of champagne, it looks as if pounds 7.99 champagne will continue to be used for a while as a ploy to lure shoppers. And it may get even cheaper, as the premier prix champagnes have done in France, as long as own-label champagnes do not suffer as a result.

The grandes marques are keeping a stiff upper lip, pledging not to cut prices for the sake of 'stability'. So for the foreseeable future it looks as if we will have three tiers of non-vintage champagne: the grandes marques, supermarket own-label and the cheapies. Not quite the good, the bad and the ugly, but the category considered worthy of the name of champagne will be a matter for the eye and palate of the consumer.

WINES OF THE WEEK

Champagne Extra Dry, pounds 11.29 at Sainsbury's: from the house of Duval-Leroy, a fine, refreshing fizz with some of that yeasty, biscuity character which distinguishes good champagne from lesser sparkling wines.

Extra Dry Vintage 1983, pounds 13.75 at Waitrose: one of the best supermarket vintage champagnes; classically good value, toasty, mature; worth snapping up before the next change of vintage (to 1986).

Laurent Perrier Brut, pounds 16,99 at Asda ( pounds 15.16 in seven-for-six offer); Oddbins, pounds 14.60 (17.5 per cent-off-case discount); Bottoms Up, pounds 17.69 (17.5 per cent off case). One of the most consistent and reasonably priced grandes marques, worth the extra for the aromatic power, elegance and Danish-pastry-like richness of flavour.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower