REIMS, France - Sales of French champagne rose 7.0pc by value last year, driven by strong export demand, especially in new markets such as China.

Industry group CIVC said some 323 million bottles of champagne worth 4.4 billion euros ($5.9 billion) were drunk in 2011, with sales helped by continued gains in some of the most upmarket brands.

"It was a very satisfying year because it was sales by value, more than by volume, which gave us the growth," said Thibaut Le Mailloux, CIVC spokesman.

The only blot on the record was France itself, with a fall of 1.9 percent in volume.

"It is exports which are driving the growth in champagne, especially with the emergence of new markets which are taking up the slack in old established markets," Le Mailloux said.

Last year, the US market jumped 14.4 percent to 19.4 million bottles, with Japan up 6.7 percent while Australia soared 32 percent to 4.9 million bottles.

Emerging economies did their bit too, with Russian sales up 24 percent, Brazil gaining 7.0 percent and China, home to a fast growing middle class keen to have the better things in life, up 19 percent at 1.3 million bottles.

Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore took 20 percent more at 1.3 million bottles, South Korea gained 31 percent to 480,000 while India drank 290,000 bottles, up 58 percent. In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates accounted for 1.4 million bottles, up 18 percent and nearly five times more than 10 years ago.

In contrast, gains in the old established markets of Europe were more modest but still strong given the problems caused by the eurozone debt crisis and a slowing economy towards the end of 2011. European sales overall rose 2.1 percent, with Germany and Belgium each up 8.5 percent, while Italy gained 6.3 percent and Sweden advanced 6.6 percent to 2.4 million bottles.

"The prestige brands and the best vintages did especially well overseas where champagne remains a luxury symbol," Le Mailloux said.

In France, the fall of 1.9 percent on the year reflected a sharp slowdown in the later months, with a drop of 8.0 percent in December alone, when sales would normally be expected to rise for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

"It was a temporary effect from the (eurozone) crisis but November and December still accounted for a third of total annual sales, showing that the French are still very attached to champagne for the end of year holidays," Le Mailloux said.

Britain, traditionally a major market, also suffered last year, with sales down 2.7 percent as the slumping economy hit the luxury goods sector hard.

Champagne sales totalled 319.5 million bottles in 2010 and chalked up a record 338.7 million in 2007.