Sparkling wine is quietly going about its business amid the economic gloom, and might even be pocketing market share from beers and spirits, as I explained at the International Sparkling Wine Symposium last week.

It was my privilege to lead off proceedings at the annual meeting of those involved in the production, marketing and sale of everything fizzy in wine that isn't Champagne. Under the title 'The Quiet Achiever', I argued that sparkling wine continues to be one of the unsung success stories of the wine world. Even in the throes of the global recession, sparkling wine has outperformed most global categories.

Such has been its success that, in a recent report by just-drinks/The IWSR, the research group suggested that this drink – once confined to special occasions – is beginning to encroach on the traditional stomping ground of everyday spirits brands and even beer.

Our research predicts that, by 2016, the global market will reach 202m nine-litre cases, up from 177m in 2010. It’s been growing worldwide at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.9% since 2005. That’s due to flatten out a little to 2.3% from now until 2016, but there are still many regions that will outpace that increase.

Most of this growth is taking place against a backdrop of huge local wine markets where consumers are increasingly willing to experiment with new grapes and new wines. In Russia, we are predicting CAGR of about 4% and the same for the UK. Australia and the US should see CAGR of around 5%. And these are big markets, off already healthy bases.

However, challenges for the sector certainly remain. Although sparkling wine is associated with special occasions, in many markets it still holds a relatively poor image with consumers, who view it as a lower-price, poorer-quality imitation of Champagne.

There is also relatively little understanding among the majority of consumers about the various sparkling wine sectors - cremants, Cavas, sekts or even cap classiques - outside of these variants' home markets.

Most importantly and, particularly in key sectors such as Prosecco and Cava, there is a dearth of strong brands.

It is an unusual feature of sparkling wine that, compared to other categories, the sector has not developed any global category champions. Champagne, like almost all other major categories such as Scotch, vodka, gin, liqueurs and even still light wine, are dominated by a handful of export-driven brands. To date, however, only really Freixenet and Martini have developed internationally-recognised brands.

Stronger branding is an imperative if the sparkling wine market is to continue to grow at impressive levels, particularly in these straitened times. Consumers look for brands, especially when money is tight. If sparkling wine cannot provide this assurance, they will go elsewhere.

That said, the positive way in which the category is performing should far outweigh these concerns in the short-term. Prosecco (and, to a smaller extent, Cava) is enjoying growth in countries as diverse as the US, Brazil, Australia and Belgium as consumers trade down from Champagne in difficult economic times. Prosecco has also carved out market share irrespective of the economy.

Meanwhile, Australians have latched on to the sector via the trend towards low-alcohol and low-carbohydrate drinks.

Elsewhere, the category is benefitting from consumers diversifying their consumption occasions for sparkling wine away from just one-off celebrations. The re-emergence of the aperitif as a real force across Europe has been integral to this. And, the category should also be raising a glass to Italy and the expansion of the Aperol spritz from local tipple into national (and increasingly international) star.

What is most encouraging about all these trends is that the growth is being replicated across a broad number of diverse markets. And, key to the sector’s long-term outlook is the breadth of factors that is generating that growth.

Fads are driven by one-off factors often in single markets. This has all the hallmarks of genuine sustainable growth.