Drink - Shane Watson thinks champagne is too commonplace

Is it a good thing that champagne is now as unremarkable as cashmere?

Recently, I have taken to smoking the occasional cigarette, despite having been nicotine-free for five years. The reason - I can only assume - is because cigarettes are once again the symbol of rebellion that they were when I was 11. Like most smokers, it took me about 25 years to get over that association, and by then I was living in a world that had started to pity smokers and think of them as sad addicts.

I mention this because it seems that champagne is going the way of cigarettes, only in reverse. There is no quicker way to bleed the glamour out of an activity than by making it standard, unhealthy behaviour (cocaine is another good example: once redolent of Cole Porter soirees, it is now something that accountants use to get through the VAT returns). The lure of champagne, its capacity to take us faster, and with sparklier eyes, to where we want to be is partly to do with the bubbles, the indulgence of spending that amount of money on something liquid - and everything to do with the relative rarity with which we consume it. Champagne is to adults what nicotine is to adolescents: sophisticated, naughty, decadent.

That is, until now. According to Mintel, the market analysts, sales of champagne in the UK have increased by 50 per cent over the past five years. We are mad for bubbly and, in the time it's taken for cigarettes to become semi-outlawed, champagne has become "the drink that's too good to save for a special occasion", as the chaps at Moet & Chandon might have put it.

This should not be cause for regret, but it is. I have drunk quite a bit of champagne in my time, but still get a thrill at the sound of a cork unleashed; an extra flutter if there's a strawberry involved, or a fizzing brandy-soaked sugar lump. Still, I can't pretend not to have noticed a creeping tendency for the Bresaola-eating classes to reach for the pop on just any old day of the week, for no reason other than that they can. Likewise, champagne seems to have become the office party staple, the "opening" and "launch" drink of choice (when we were perfectly happy with warm white wine a few years ago). Naturally, one is never going to say: "No thanks, Strongbow for me," but you can't help feeling sorry that the drink your neurotransmitters automatically connect to life's high days and holidays should be going the way of cashmere and becoming unremarkable.

I feel the same way about the iPod, too. Can it really be a good idea to give a human being instant access to all the music they have ever loved? When will they ever again experience that lurch of excitement as a favourite song comes on the radio, or hover around a jukebox and jostle to put on their selection? Just because we think we want access to the best all of the time doesn't mean that it's a good idea that we should have it.

This article first appeared in the 21 June 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The lost tribes