How do they sell Xmas champagne for 9.99 Supermarket bubbly has never been cheaper but some is sparklingly goodSupermarkets engage in 'price war' selling famous drink at discount pricesAsda selling champagne for 10, while Aldi prices bottle at 9.99Both Waitrose and Tesco selling bottles for 14.99



01:24 GMT, 15 December 2012

Supermarkets are competing to offer the lowest priced Champagne this Christmas. Pierre Darcys champagne, pictured, is being sold by Asda for only 10, usually costing 23.98 a bottle

Price war: Supermarkets are competing to offer the lowest priced Champagne this Christmas. Pierre Darcys champagne, pictured, is being sold by Asda for only 10, usually costing 23.98 a bottle

Well, it looks like champagne and it tastes like champagne, but it doesn’t clean out the wallet like champagne.

This Christmas, in an unprecedented supermarket price war, the cost of the most famous, most expensive of festive drinks has plummeted to record lows.

Tesco is selling its premier cru champagne for 14.99 a bottle. Marks & Spencer is doing its Louis Chaurey non-vintage Brut for 12.75, on a multi-buy deal. And Waitrose has halved the price of its Bredon Cuvee Jean Louis Brut to 14.99.

But the really staggering deals are on offer at the cheaper supermarkets. Asda’s Pierre Darcys Champagne Brut normally goes for 23.98 a bottle — but you can now get it for 10, until January 3.

And the deal of deals comes from Aldi, which is selling its sparkling for under 10: its non-vintage Philizot et Fils Champagne Veuve Monsigny Brut is going for only 9.99. And, just like a gift-wrapped puppy, it’s not just for Christmas — the deal will continue into the New Year.

The question is, how on earth can supermarkets afford to sell their champagne at such rock-bottom prices And, perhaps more importantly for consumers, is it drinkable

In all its essential elements, the Aldi champagne follows the time-honoured rules of the drink. It’s made from traditional champagne grapes — a third chardonnay, a third pinot noir, a third pinot meunier — using the double fermentation method that produces the famous bubbles. Its alcohol level is 12  per cent — a classic figure for champagne.

And it doesn’t taste too bad, either.

‘Of course it’s not a premier cru [a top champagne] at that price, but it’s been well received; it’s won awards,’ says Katy Jameson, spokeswoman for Aldi.

The official Aldi tasting notes proclaim that ‘this award-winning champagne is elegant and fresh’, with an ‘intense nose of baked apple, brioche and stone fruits with gorgeous flavours of apples, red fruit and minerality on the palate’.

France's Champagne region is known for its distinctive sparkling wines

Luxury: France's Champagne region is known for its distinctive sparkling wines

Objective experts haven’t trashed it, either. One broadsheet wine writer calls it ‘bright and fresh, if a little one-dimensional’.

Still, even one dimension isn’t half bad for less than a tenner. But how exactly can Aldi get the price so low The maths suggest it’s near impossible to turn a profit on a bottle costing 9.99.

You need 2.2lb of grapes for a single bottle of champagne. At current market rates, that will cost you 4.38. Excise duty on top of that is 2.43, and VAT, at 20 per cent, must be paid on the total — another 1.36.

Already we’re up to 8.17, and we still haven’t paid for bottling, warehousing, shipping and distribution. Those overheads vary but, altogether, the total cost price is almost certain to match or exceed the selling price of 9.99.

Champagne prices in various supermarkets

Until November 22, Aldi was selling it for 12.99, but it has been slashed to its current price since then — and there it will remain well into 2013.

So how do supermarkets like Aldi and the others make their money, if at all The suspicion is that deals like these are loss leaders — they draw our attention, get us through the supermarket doors and then we spend money on other full-price items while we are there.

They are also sometimes described as ‘crosstown deals’. They encourage customers to make a special trip to discount supermarkets — which are often on the fringe of town — to take advantage of these low prices, and then end up spending lots more money on other goods, too. And plenty of us are happy to make that trip — the British drink more champagne than any other nation except France.

Though prices this year seem to have reached new lows, there have been one-off Christmas deals like this before. Several years ago, Woolworths offered a limited supply of champagne at 5 a go — that was clearly a loss leader and a publicity stunt which could not prevent the chain going bust.

This year, the cuts are widespread and, in many cases, last well beyond Christmas. There is a genuine, long-term price war being waged.

The supermarkets refuse to admit whether they are actually losing money on any of these deals. The last thing they want to be accused of is underpricing booze, just at a time when the Government is considering introducing minimum alcohol pricing to deter problem drinkers.

‘Aldi works with its suppliers to get the best possible deal, but we can’t really go into our business model,’ says Katy Jameson of Aldi. ‘Our buyers spend a lot of time looking for the right champagne, and they will go to the smaller suppliers to find it.’ One smaller supplier in question is the respected family champagne house of Philizot et Fils, based near Epernay, in the heart of the Champagne region.

‘We’re very happy with selling our champagne to Aldi,’ says Virginie Philizot. ‘Yes, 9.99 is a very low price but that is marketing by the supermarket. It has nothing to do with us. It doesn’t affect how much they pay us for our champagne. We still make a good profit on our sales to them.’

Asda has gone through a very similar process to end up with its 10 champagne, finding a small family company and building a close relationship with them.

Its Pierre Darcys Champagne Brut — winner of a bronze award in the 2012 International Wine and Spirit Competition — is produced by the family company of Champagne Paul Laurent and is made with grapes harvested around the village of Bethon in Cotes de Sezanne, south of Epernay.

Veuve Monsigny Champagne,

Tesco Premier Cru Champagne

Cheap: Aldi's Philizot et Fils Champagne Veuve Monsigny Brut, left, is selling for 9.99, while Tesco's premier cru champagne, right, is selling for 14.99

Lynsey Grace, Asda’s champagne buyer,
chose it because it is ‘fresh and easy-drinking’. Tasting it myself, it
has a certain amount going for it. Just like the Aldi champagne, it’s
made from a mixture of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes,
and is 12  per cent in alcohol volume. Pale gold in colour, it has a
distinctly Christmassy nose of burnt apple.

I’m brutally honest, it is ever so slightly acrid, with a lingering,
bitter aftertaste. But give it a real Arctic chill in the freezer just
before Christmas lunch, and your mother-in-law won’t tell the

Once again, the
question is: how is Asda managing to sell it so cheap ‘We’re able to
sell champagne at such fantastic prices due to our size and the volume
of our orders,’ Asda’s Lynsey Grace says, before adding: ‘We take our
role as a responsible alcohol retailer seriously, which is why we
committed to never selling alcohol as a loss leader and always sell at
cost, plus VAT and duty.’

price cuts like this, the supermarkets are hoping to shift more
champagne than ever this Christmas. Lynsey Grace expects a 10 per cent
uplift in sales of the drink, compared with last year.

you won’t find these sorts of prices on champagne from the famous
houses — the Bollingers, the Veuve Clicquots and the Moets. Even in
these recession-hit times, the gilt-edged names still gain their brand
value from being reassuringly expensive.

Vineyard and church, Ville Dommange, Champagne, France.

Debate: The multitude of champagne being sold at bargain prices has stirred debate amongst wine critics

Champagne Vineyards, near Epernay, France

Expensive: Wines from the region are usually expensive, leading some to question how supermarkets can afford the discount prices

the very name champagne still carries a cachet even at the cheap end of
the market — a cachet jealously guarded by the handful of vineyards in
the Champagne region of northern France through their representative
body, the Comite Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne. ‘Christmas discounts are great value for money for the consumer,’ says Thibaut Le Mailloux, spokesman for the Comite.

‘But they don’t support the image of champagne in the best way. They make champagne look cheap when it isn’t cheap to make — thanks to the production process and the limited amount of produce.

‘And the price promotions at Christmas are paid for by higher prices for the rest of the year.’

But the odd thing is that even the 10 bottle from Asda still carries a certain prestige thanks to the word ‘champagne’, emblazoned in large letters on its label, metal cap and gold foil wrapper. It still has all the customary thrills of champagne: it opens with a satisfying pop, a blast of icy smoke and that overflowing stream of minuscule bubbles.

And there is no mention of Asda anywhere on the bottle or its wrapper. Of course, we want our champagne to be as dirt cheap as possible — but we don’t want Great Aunt Gladys to know exactly how cheap it is when she’s knocking it back during the Queen’s Speech.

Glamour never goes out of fashion — nor does a bargain. The 10 bottle of champagne is a rare combination of the tw