A little bubbly is a classic accompaniment to celebrations and special occasions, but it’s also become a versatile staple on any restaurant’s wine list.
“In the last couple of years, [sparkling wine] has been gaining steam with the popularity of drinks such as prosecco,” says Samantha Rahn, restaurant manager and wine director at Araxi Restaurant + Oyster Bar in Whistler, B.C. “We always have at least three sparkling wines available by the glass, as well as a large selection of bottles from top-end champagne to great-value Cava and local B.C. wines, too.”
Rahn also notes that sparkling-wine sales have been less seasonal over the last couple of years. “The holiday period is when we see the greatest surge in sparkling-wine consumption, but more and more, we’re starting to see a great balance of sparkling-wine consumption throughout the year,” she explains. “We’re seeing almost as much consumption of sparkling wine throughout the summer months as we are in the winter festive season.” In fact, according to the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch’s March 2015 Quarterly Review, imported sparkling-wine sales grew by 9.64 per cent over the previous year, while domestic sparkling wines experienced gains of 12.41 per cent. This trend has been mirrored in other regions as well. The LCBO’s 2015/2016 Year in Review shows European sparkling wines experienced 13.8 per cent growth in sales due to the popularity of prosecco and Cremant (sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region). Ontario VQA sparklers also experienced increased sales, with segment growth of 10.6 per cent.
Rahn attributes prosecco’s growing popularity to a high level of consumer comfort with the category — particularly among the younger crowd. “It’s almost its own brand,” she explains. “The flavours tend not to be too bold, the styles not as bracingly acidic or dry as traditional champagne or traditionally made sparkling wines and the bubble is not as aggressive.” Rahn names Adami Vigneto Giardino Prosecco as a standout in this category. That said, Champagne is still king. Of the 60 bubblies currently on Araxi’s wine list, approximately two-thirds of those are Champagnes. LCBO statistics also support Champagne’s continued popularity, reporting 8.9 per cent growth in sales in 2015/2016.
The popularity of domestic offerings isn’t ignored on Araxi’s wine list, either — Rahn makes sure to offer a selection of local B.C. sparkling. “Because we are a prime destination for tourism, people are curious about B.C. wines and want to try them — locals and domestic travellers want to support local as well.” A particularly popular label is Haywire’s The Bub ($29.90/bottle, retail) — a pinot noir/chardonnay blend made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise.
Rahn stresses the importance of stocking distinctive and unique offerings. To this end, she has included sparkling wines from Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge and the New Mexico-based Gruet.