Maybe the good times are here to stay.
More of us are quaffing Champagne than ever before, and at a record rate — the fizzy stuff has just racked up its best year ever.
Champagne sales are a good indicator of whether shoppers are buying luxury or premium goods
Champagne shipments around the world reached a record 4.75 billion euros (£3.73bn, $5.34bn) last year. And sales are expected to continue rising in 2016, with growers confident they can increase value per bottle rather than volume.
Treated as a barometer of global consumer confidence, Champagne sales are a good indicator of whether shoppers are buying luxury or premium goods, and also whether they feel flush enough to invest in global equities or housing.
Champagne’s previous best year was 2007, on the eve of the financial crisis — when sales hit 4.56bn euros ($5.15bn). But then business fell off a cliff. No one felt like cracking open a bottle of bubbly as the global economy tanked.
The Bubble Index
Champagne sales — and headline-grabbing bar tabs — closely track optimism in the wider economy, according to Constantin Gurdgiev, professor of finance at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.
After eight years of post-crisis adjustments, it appears “demand for premium goods and services is finally getting back to the pre-crisis ‘normal’,” said Gurdgiev.
The next stage in this recovery will be price inflation, he said, adding to stable volume of sales growth, “as more and more upper middle class buyers re-enter the premium markets.”
There’s a close correlation between GDP per capita and Champagne sales, agreed Vincent Perrin, a former French diplomat now managing director of the Comité Champagne, the trade association that represents the interests of independent Champagne producers.
Right now, with strong economic recovery in Italy and Spain and good economic results in northern Europe, we’re seeing a good level of growth in Champagne in these markets, said Perrin.
Asian buyers are also helping drive sales. Countries growing thirstier include Taiwan (where Champagne sales bubbled up 29% in 2015, after a flat year in 2014) and South Korea (up by 31%). A weak euro has helped make imports cheaper and local factors such as distribution channels, and a strong base of knowledgeable sommeliers able to educate customers have helped too.
Sipping in secret
Out of sight, out of mind
During the downturn, the wealthy hid their Champagne habit, said Joël Claustre. “We really felt it in the City, in the financial sector — people could not be seen saying, ‘let’s have a drink at the Champagne bar’.” Customers would drink in more discreet places “but would not invite their clients, or drink Champagne.” According to Claustre, the bigger bar tabs shifted out of sight, to private members’ clubs, over worries tabloid newspapers would name and shame bankers running up large bar tabs in more public establishments.
China’s burgeoning middle class, however, remains committed to wine rather than Champagne, according to analysts.
Only so much Champagne can be produced in a year — there is a natural annual limit of around 350 million bottles, which means its growth prospects aren’t infinite. Over the past four years, the annual volume produced by the region has hovered between 305 and 312 million bottles.
But the boundaries of France’s Champagne region, laid down in 1927’s Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée law, are about to be extended. A further 40 villages will be included from 2018 to 2020.
Sara Guiducci, from wine merchants Corney and Barrow, said this will increase the amount of Champagne that can be produced — and the land prices of vineyards.
The view from behind the bar
Europe’s bartenders are confident Champagne will stay popular with their customers in the year ahead.
Champagne very much follows the mood of the economy
The average spend per person has been gently nudging up, said Joël Claustre, head of Champagne at Searcys, one of London’s most prominent Champagne bar chains. “Champagne very much follows the mood of the economy,” he added.
David Wiedemann, owner of Reingold — a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in Berlin — said his customers have grown more discerning post-financial crisis.
By researching on blogs and forums before they even get to the bar, “guests like to order the extraordinary which they cannot get elsewhere,” he said. As a result, he serves less prosecco and more ‘classical’ drinks such as Champagne and cocktails.
“I think the masses are, in a way, now drinking Champagne more than they used to be,” said Claustre. “This is exactly what we want — I think [it] should be something everybody could drink.”
To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.