Champagne’s effervescence cleanses the palate, it makes food more enjoyable, and more importantly, it is more effective than tequila when trying to close the deal with a date. Champagne is arguably one of the greatest inventions that happened to mankind. And, like most great things, Champagne was discovered by accident. But that’s only the first of our five Champagne stories.
The British were the first to see the tendency of wines from the Champagne region to sparkle, and they tried to understand the reason behind those tiny bubbles. Due to the use of coal-fueled ovens, the English glassmakers produced stronger, more durable glass bottles than the French. English bottling and corking skills were far superior to those in France so wine was often transported to England in wooden wine barrels where merchant houses would then bottle the wine for sale.
During the cold winters of the Champagne region, temperatures would drop so low that the fermentation process was prematurely halted – leaving some residual sugar and dormant yeast. When the wine was shipped to and bottled in England, the fermentation process would restart when the weather warmed and the wine would begin to build pressure from carbon dioxide gas. When the wine was opened, it would be bubbly. In 1662, the English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper detailing how the presence of sugar in a wine led to it eventually sparkling and that by adding sugar to a wine before bottling it, nearly any wine could be made to sparkle. This is one of the first known accounts of understanding the process of sparkling wine and even suggests that British merchants were producing “sparkling Champagne” before the French Champenois were deliberately making it.
Dom Pérignon was originally asked by his superiors at the Abbey of Hautvillers to get rid of the bubbles since the pressure in the bottles caused many of them to burst in the cellar. As sparkling wine production increased in the early 18th century, cellar workers (especially the riddlers, remueurs in French) had to wear a heavy iron mask to prevent injury from spontaneously bursting bottles. The disturbance caused by one bottle exploding could cause a chain reaction, which would cause wine cellars to lose 20 to 90% of their inventory this way.
Effervescence has been observed in wine throughout history and has been noted by Ancient Greek and Roman writers but the cause of this mysterious appearance of bubbles was not understood. Over time it has been attributed to phases of the moon as well as both good and evil spirits. It was considered a wine fault and was disdained in early Champagne winemaking.
The mysterious circumstance surrounding the then unknown process of fermentation and carbonic gas caused some critics to call the sparkling creations “The Devil’s Wine”.
Champagne has been an integral part of sports celebration since Moët & Chandon started offering their Champagne to the winners of Formula 1 Grand Prix events. At the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, winner Dan Gurney started the tradition of drivers spraying the crowd and each other.
Champagne is usually served in a Champagne flute, whose characteristics include a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl, thin sides and an etched bottom.
The Champagne coupe or Champagne saucer is a shallow, broad-bowled, stemmed glass, commonly used at wedding receptions, often stacked in layers to build a champagne tower. Champagne is continuously poured into the top glass, trickling down to fill every glass below. Legend has it that the shape of the glass was designed using a mould of French Queen Marie Antoinette’s* left breast as a birthday present to her husband, Louis XVI. As much as I would love for this to be true, this is almost certainly false. The glass was designed especially for champagne in England in 1663, preceding those aristocrats by almost a century.
*Similar stories involve Joséphine de Beauharnais, Madame de Pompadour, and several other French aristocrats, even Kate Moss who collaborated with a British sculptor to make a Champagne glass modeled after her left boob – but I think that one is real and I can’t wait for the opportunity to drink my Champagne from Kate’s boob ; )
This just in! Moët Hennessy Champagne brand Dom Pérignon is releasing a glass modelled after supermodel Claudia Schiffer’s breasts, according to press reports. Both Schiffer and Lagerfeld (photographer) have had a long association with Dom Perignon, the former appearing in a series of ever-more suggestive ads for the brand (pictured). In 2007 the pair hosted a series of lavish parties for the launch of the Oenothèque 1993, the house’s top cuvée. The cup, which is sold as a package with a bottle of 1995 Oenothèque, costs $3,150!