‘We’re getting into the big leagues in the champagne world’: How artisanal labels are redefining Dubai’s bar scene

‘We’re getting into the big leagues in the champagne world’: How artisanal labels are redefining Dubai’s bar scene - Arts and Culture - News

Title: Uncorking the Evolving Champagne Culture: Dubai’s Newest Bar, High Society

Dubai’s skyline is a breathtaking canvas of glistening glass and steel structures, stretching out from the desert dunes beyond. At the 30th-floor bar of The Lana, a new addition to Dubai’s Dorchester Collection, elegantly dressed patrons raise their champagne flutes in toast to this City of Gold. The bar, named High Society, pays homage to the sophisticated clientele who have long enjoyed its signature drink – champagne.

High Society’s Director of Food and Beverage, Nicolas Caupain, shares his unabashed love for champagne as a beverage that transcends celebratory occasions. He designed the concept to introduce guests to champagne not only as an indulgent drink but also as a daily delight, highlighting its diverse flavor profiles and rich history.

Dubai’s relationship with alcohol is complex, given its status as an Islamic country where consumption is discouraged. However, the city’s multicultural population and burgeoning tourism industry have led to more lenient alcohol policies in recent years. While there are over 13,000 restaurants in Dubai, the bar scene has primarily consisted of Michelin-starred dining experiences and boisterous nightclubs. Venues that focus on refined drinks menus are scarce.

Caupain believes there is a growing market in Dubai for this level of sophistication, and High Society represents the beginning of a shift toward more casual drinking establishments. With 118 labels on its extensive menu and an emphasis on small-scale, artisanal champagne producers, High Society boasts one of the most diverse collections in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

These lesser-known labels, or “grower champagnes,” are small-batch producers who cultivate their own grapes. Their popularity has been on the rise globally, according to Samuel Lacroix, wine director at Al Muntaha – a Michelin-starred contact fine dining restaurant at Burj Al Arab. Grower champagnes offer unique and delicious expressions, says Lacroix.

Al Muntaha’s extensive champagne list boasts 166 labels, including around 60 grower champagnes. Dubai’s evolving demographic, which has attracted an influx of business elites and professionals, is driving the city’s food and beverage scene to compete with international counterparts. The clientele is becoming more refined, according to Lacroix.

The UAE has long been recognized for its impressive wine selection in a region with restrictive alcohol laws. In 2022, it was the largest importer of champagne in the Middle East and Africa, according to Comité Champagne trade association data. However, suppliers have traditionally favored established champagne houses due to their ease of bulk purchases. As more world-class sommeliers and chefs arrive in Dubai, they bring with them preferences for unique products and experiences that cater to a growing appetite for artisanal champagne.

Dubai’s bar scene is rapidly evolving, with more establishments offering unusual wines and champagnes. For example, Josette, a French restaurant that opened in 2023, serves its private-label champagne, and BOCA – the 2023 Green Michelin Star winner – offers an extensive list of organic, biodynamic, or eco-conscious sparkling wines. Even Emirates, Dubai’s national airline, has embraced the city’s love for champagne by becoming the only commercial airline in the world to serve Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Dom Pérignon onboard.

Award bodies such as Gault&Millau, a French dining guide, and Star Wine List, a Swedish publication, have taken notice of Dubai’s burgeoning champagne scene. In 2022, Gault&Millau opened its UAE office and launched the UAE Champagne index, while Star Wine List introduced awards specifically for the UAE. The majority of winners and nominees in both instances were located in Dubai.

Despite the progress, challenges remain, such as limited wine suppliers and a 50% customs duty on alcohol. Many establishments lack adequate storage facilities for fine wines and champagnes, especially smaller or independent restaurants that cannot afford temperature-controlled cellars. Additionally, Dubai’s drinking culture is primarily focused on dining or special occasions.

To create a more relaxed setting that encourages the enjoyment of champagne beyond formal dinners, new venues like High Society could help foster a casual wine culture. Bengtsson emphasizes the importance of making champagne more accessible to consumers through lower prices and by-the-glass offerings, allowing them to discover new flavor profiles.

As artisanal labels continue to gain popularity, they are pressuring importers to expand their offerings and cater to a more diverse audience. These developments are shaping Dubai’s drinks scene into something truly world-class, attracting both local and international connoisseurs alike.

“Dubai has always been known for its impressive wine selection in a region with restrictive alcohol laws,” says Samuel Lacroix, wine director at Al Muntaha. “But now, the city is taking things to another level with a focus on artisanal champagnes and unique drinking experiences.”

Indeed, Dubai’s bar scene is entering a new era – one where champagne is no longer just for special occasions but is celebrated as a daily luxury. The future looks bright for Dubai’s champagne lovers, as this vibrant and ever-evolving city continues to push boundaries and redefine the art of savoring a glass of bubbly.

High Society’s aim is to create an atmosphere where guests can unwind and enjoy champagne on various occasions, with a vinyl DJ and luxurious finger food menu designed by French chef Jean Imbert. By implementing a pricing strategy that encourages repeat visits, Caupain hopes to establish High Society as a lifestyle destination and pave the way for Dubai’s burgeoning casual wine culture.

As you savor your champagne at High Society, take in the stunning views of Dubai’s mesmerizing skyline and join the city on its journey towards a more refined appreciation of this timeless beverage.