Sparkling: The Story of Champagne review – a fine aperitif for the summer

Irish film producer and distribution executive Frank Mannion makes a genial host and guide to this polished survey of the highest of high-end sparkling wines; it’s entertaining in itself to watch Mannion gulping down giant goblets of the vintage under the guise of interviewing the heads of various champagne houses. There’s very much a wine-tour atmosphere to this documentary, particularly in the first half as Mannion wanders from one vineyard HQ to another, most of them located in gleaming perfume-factory type cubes perched oddly in the French countryside. If you ever thought champagnes were pretty much the same, whatever the label, well, this parade of beautifully turned-out old school champagne-makers will put you straight on the difference between Veuve Cliquot, Pol Roger, Bollinger, and the rest.

In the middle section, Mannion’s attention turns to the beverage’s successful attempts to market itself internationally – “Champagne Charlie”, AKA Charles Heidsieck of Piper Heidsieck renown, appears to be the key figure here – as well as the way champagne has smartly inserted itself into top-end entertainment and sporting events, from James Bond to Wimbledon, to keep its glamour ratings high.

In the final third, the focus changes to British attempts to get into the sparkling wine game; and if Mannion throughout is generally happy to let business owners do their marketing spiel at considerable length, in this last bit it goes into overdrive: it’s practically a longform advert for English sparkling wine estates such as Bolney, Wiston and Hush Heath. And although the “B” word – Brexit – doesn’t get a mention, there’s still an edge to the jolly home counties joshing of the French wine-makers in the British gun sights over who actually invented the stuff. (Slightly less jolly is the chuckling over global heating that may give British vintners a bit of assistance over the next few years.) Be that as it may, this is a warm-hearted, pleasant film, full of enthusiasm for its subject; a fine aperitif for the summer.