Why Do We Serve Sparkling Wine During the Holidays?

Every year during the holiday season, we turn to sparkling as one of the top choices for the wines we will drink, serve, and gift to loved ones, friends, colleagues and clients.

Champagne and Prosecco — which represent the most and least expensive entries among those most popular — are the most recognizable and ubiquitous categories of sparkling wine in the United States.

But today we have more sparkling wine available to us than ever before: Cava from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy, Sekt from German-speaking countries, Crémant from France, just to name a few. And in recent years, countless appellations have thrown their hat into the ring of sparkling wine.

Even in Puglia, in southernmost peninsular Italy, and England, one of Europe’s northern outposts, they make sparkling wine now.

This trend is owed to the fact that the popularity of sparkling wine across the globe has continued to grow with breakneck speed over the last ten years or so.

hiedsick champagne boulder

With so many options available to us — also in terms of pricing and value — we live in a golden age of sparkling wine.

But what is it about sparkling wine that shapes our attachment to it during the holidays?

Historically, sparkling wine became associated with luxury and the upper classes thanks to the way the Champagne was aggressively marketed to the emerging middle class of the industrial age.

Wine marketers were aided by the fact that the region of Champagne is relatively close to the capital of France, which made it easier for winemakers to ship their wines there.

By the end of the belle époque, Champagne had firmly established itself as the celebratory wine par excellence of the bistros and nightclubs of gay Paris. And this came at a time when the city was literally the center of the cultural and epicurean world.

The British passion for Champagne during that period also helped to propagate its association with luxury and privilege. At the height of its power, “the sun never set on the British Empire,” and the favored wine of British kingdom’s managerial class had been inspired by their French counterparts, who had excellent trade routes for getting their wines to England where virtually no wine was produced at the time.

By the end of the world wars, a new middle class had begun to emerge in the United States, where post-war economic prosperity gave Americans something to celebrate. By the time the baby boomers got married and started their own families, Champagne and cheaper Moscato d’Asti from Italy were inexorably linked to special occasions, whether the christening of a new ship, a wedding or anniversary, or promotion at work.

Today, when Champagne is featured prominently at televised and widely viewed events like the Oscars, we see a trace of those early marketers who saw the value, expedience, and efficacy of associating their sparkling brands with royalty, privilege, and luxury.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been offered a glass of Veuve Clicquot at a corporate holiday party, I might be rich enough to afford to buy it on a regular basis. That’s exactly how sparkling wine marketers want us to perceive the products they promote: As something just far enough out of reach that we reserve it solely for special occasions like the holidays.

Jeremy Parzen
follow Jeremy @DoBianchi