Lagos Life: When Is Champagne Not Champagne?


While at a very swanky wedding reception at Landmark Oniru, hosted by TA and planned by Event Planning guru, Funke Buknor, a guest seated next to me was offered Champagne. And as you do in Big City, he agreed to a glass of the good stuff and waited to be served.

In no short time, a bottle of Martini Asti was placed in an ice bucket and served with all the ceremony deserving of a drink you expect would cost more than a full tank. Not to be left out, I offered my glass and savoured the appropriately sweetened ‘nectar’ chilled to near perfection. It must be said, Martini bubblies are wonderfully made – from the Brut to the Rosé and the Asti on offer.

Martini is of course a good old name in Nigeria. . .

. . .made popular by the Martini Rossi Bianco, a favourite among the Lagos elites in the 80’s, most especially the womenfolk. Today however, it’s the sparkling varieties that are most popular.

Now here’s where the bubbles in the bubblies burst – Martini Rosé, Asti, Brut and or Prosecco are not champagnes. The significant difference in price is the first giveaway – Taittinger which was the main drink of choice at the party, costs at least 4 times the equivalent Martini option.

So do Moet & Chandon (makers of the super expensive, super exclusive Dom Pérignon), Veuve Cliquot, Nicolas Feuillatte, GH Mumm, Laurent Perrier, Piper-Heidsieck, Champagne Pommery, Lanson, and Perrier-Jouët. These are in fact the top selling champagnes in the world.

You may have noticed the absence of several other popular ‘champagnes’ in Lagos like Andre from the above list. Well there’s a reason why these drinks are not on the list – again, they are not Champagnes. No, they are indeed very nice tasting sparkling white wines. But this is where it gets even more interesting – technically, ALL champagnes are also sparkling wines!

Champagne Country…

So what exactly is the catch? Ok, Champagnes are sparkling white wines made from the Champagne region in France. In other words, to qualify as true champagne, the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in a certain region of France. This region is actually called Champagne (wine region) with the towns of Reims and Épernay as its commercial centers.

You would expect that with such a significant difference in price, the lofty champagnes would taste nicer than the poorer imitations. But no. Not at all. The Martini Asti is lovely, tasting much better than the more expensive Taittinger variants.

Sadly, the taste matters little where the ‘who-is-who in Lagos’ are gathered. And if you really want to belong, you need to know your champagnes. If you cannot cram the list above, then pick up the ‘evidence’ and look for either of these 2 names – Reims or Epernay on the bottle. The names confirm that you are drinking an ‘original’ French beverage with a history dating back more than 200 years.

There’s a lesson here for ALL entrepreneurs, and that lesson is packaging.

The wineries in the champagne region are now powerful. So powerful, it is unlawful for other wineries around the world to call their sparkling wines champagne. Yet, the main difference is that the fruits used in making champagne are grown in a particular area in France.

For the good fortune of partaking in this clearly spiritual experience of champagne drinking, we are charged x4 the price of an often better tasting sparkling wine. Yet the grapes are no better, the bottle is no bigger; no tangible difference!

However, Buhari is now in power, and with some luck, sanity will be restored to the Lagos party scene. The flash and ‘demo’ of past administrations has gone rather flat with crashing crude oil prices. We hope.

In the meantime, if you’re hosting anytime soon, wrap your bottles of sparkling wine (maybe Martini) in satin serving cloth. Wrap them such that the name on the bottle doesn’t show. Then, put a few ‘originals’ on the table for show (this is still Lagos after all) and smile as your ‘champagne’ bill remains within reason.

Ifeanyi Maduka

Ifeanyi Maduka is the Chief Content Strategist at ekoconnect.net with a few original pieces under his belt. He is an amateur photographer still searching for the holy grail, the killer shot. It will come.

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