Champagne … I’ll drink to that!

Sparkling wines are produced worldwide, but many legal structures reserve the word Champagne exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region, made in accordance with regulations. Champagne is produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France following those rules, including secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation. It is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the stringent regulations.

Wines from the Champagne region were known before medieval times. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of north-east France, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. Later, churches owned vineyards, and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims, and Champagne was served as part of coronation festivities.

Royalty became associated with Champagne in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The leading manufacturers made efforts to associate their Champagnes with nobility and royalty through advertising and packaging, which led to popularity among the emerging middle class.

Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine this day in 1693, though he did make important contributions to the production and quality of both still and sparkling Champagne wines. The oldest recorded sparkling wine was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in 1531. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abby of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, in which he detailed what is now called méthod champenoise, in 1662. Merret’s discoveries coincided also with English glass-makers’ technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength.

In France the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; the pressure in the bottle led it to be called “the devil’s wine” (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded or corks popped. In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet, the wire cage that sits over the cork on Champagne that prevents corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made where the wine was bottled before the initial fermentation had finished. Champagne did not use the méthod champenoise until the 19th century, about 200 years after Merret documented the process.

In the 19th Century, Champagne was noticeably sweeter than the Champagnes of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouet decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne was created for the British in 1876.

The 19th century saw an exponential growth in Champagne production, going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850.In 2007, Champagne sales hit an all-time record of 338.7 million bottles.  (from Wikipedia)

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