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Champagne swirls as Swedes enjoy the good life

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12:32 CET+01:00
In bars, restaurants and homes across Sweden champagne is flowing in abundance as Swedes enjoy a seemingly endless thirst for the bubbly beverage, spurred by a gastronomic "revolution" and a rosy economy.

Champagne sales at stores run by the alcohol distribution monopoly Systembolaget are expected to hit an all-time high of one million bottles this year, excluding sales in bars and restaurants.

That figure can be compared to 738,000 bottles sold last year and 287,000 a decade ago.

"Drinking champagne is usual now and it's common not only at the weekend or to celebrate a special event, it's an everyday drink," says Per Nordlind, owner of the Cocktails and Champagne Bar in a posh neighbourhood of Stockholm.

The bar is chic yet cozy, and the well-heeled customers of all ages look laid-back as they choose from four kinds of champagne by the glass and 30 by the bottle.

Customers dish out between 120 to 150 kronor (13 to 16 euros, 19 to 24 dollars) per glass, and 695 kronor for the cheapest bottle.

Champagne's skyrocketing popularity is attributed to Sweden's "long term economic growth, combined with a long term growth in the interest for quality, origin and prestige," says Martin Erlandsson, the local representative for famed champagne maker Moet Hennessy.

The trend is a major change from the post-war period, when beer and spirits were the alcohol of choice in the country and binge-drinking was common. In recent decades wine has become increasingly popular, and Swedes' taste for champagne is seen as a natural progression.

"The economy is very healthy. We have learned a lot about champagne and drinking champagne is a way to show that we're earning a lot of money. You show you're successful," says 37-year-old Fredrik Linder as he sits at the bar enjoying a glass with a friend.

Both are businessmen in the lucrative IT sector, and the pair say they each drink two bottles a week on average.

"Champagne is the ultimate symbol of quality. It is associated with parties and celebrations -- you feel happy when you drink champagne," Linder said.

During the January to October period, sales of Moet et Chandon, Bollinger, Pol Roger, Veuve Cliquot and others have risen by 27 percent, according to Systembolaget.

And that figure doesn't include the thousands of bottles unpopped in bars, restaurants and clubs, nor those bought directly from producers in France or in duty-free shops on board ferries that cross the Baltic.

The high price of alcohol in Sweden, where heavy taxes are aimed at curbing consumption, doesn't seem to have hampered sales.

Customers pay a minimum of around 300 kronor for a decent bottle at Systembolaget, while a 30-year-old Swedish businessmen reportedly coughed up 75,000 kronor ($11,800) for a six-litre bottle of Dom Perignon at a trendy Stockholm nightclub in late 2006.

"Consumption worldwide is rising by five to six percent each year but in Sweden it is growing at the same rate as in emerging countries, by 30 percent," explains Ghislain de Montgolfier, the head of the Union of Champagne Houses in France.

"It's not just an economic phenomenon with Swedes enjoying strong purchasing power right now. It's also, and foremost, a cultural phenomenon," he says.

"In Scandinavia there's a growing interest in gastronomy, and thereby alcohol which is also linked to a sense of conviviality," he adds.

That view is shared by Crister Svantesson, a 60s-something aficionado sipping bubbly at the Cocktails and Champagne Bar.

He's travelled to the Champagne region in France on several occasions to learn more about the iconic drink, and says he always has a bottle chilling in his fridge.

"This is the most beautiful drink that exists," he says with a big smile.

"Champagne used to symbolize luxury 15 years ago in Sweden" but now it is simply good etiquette to always have a bottle on hand, Svantesson says.

Swedes are increasingly interested in gourmet products and living the bon vivant lifestyle that goes with them, he says.

Niklas Zachrisson, a 26-year-old sitting further down the bar who works in advertising, chips in: "This is an expensive wine so we take our time to drink it."

Richard Juhlin, the Swedish author of the book "4,000 Champagnes" and an internationally-renowned expert, goes so far as to say that the champagne trend is part of a bigger "gastronomic revolution".

Swedish holidaymakers in Italy bring back crates of their favourite olive oil or balsamic vinegar, vacationers just home from Thailand try to duplicate authentic pad thais, while prestige chocolate, cheeses, wines and foie gras sell like hotcakes.

"Swedes travel so much and are influenced by other countries. We like drinking and eating what we have tested in other countries," he says.

Concludes Erlandsson: "More and more Swedes are interested in quality and prestige in general, and champagne is the ultimate symbol of this."

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