Champagne. It’s the bubbly, effervescent libation that is usually served with a flourish after a dramatic pop of the cork in order to celebrate a special occasion.
Surely you’ve toasted a bride and groom at a wedding or brought in the New Year with a glass of the bubbly stuff. However, although you may have thought what you were drinking was true champagne, unless the beverage was created in France’s Champagne region, you were probably only drinking a sparkling wine version.
In earlier times, Champagne was associated with royalty. The beverage gained recognition after being used for anointing French kings. Information about the sparkling wine was spread throughout Europe by royalty, and it eventually became a drink that was synonymous with power and luxury.
Top manufacturers spend much effort in creating an identity and history for their brand, ensuring it became associated with royalty and nobility. The packaging and advertising used to sell the champagne was used to give the allusion that the drink was the perfect accompaniment for rites of passage, high luxury, and festivities.
Although wines created in France’s Champagne region have been in existence since before the start of the medieval era, it wasn’t until Christopher Merret, an English physician and scientist, found that adding sugar to a completed wine would produce an additional fermentation. Merret’s discovery happened six years before Dom Perignon came onto the scene and close to forty years prior to the date when the Benedictine monk is claimed to have invented champagne. Proof was given that he did indeed invent the sparkling wine when, in 1662, Merret presented a paper to the Royal Society that detailed what is referred to today as the methode champenoise.
During the methode, after primary fermentation occurs and the beverage is bottled, a second fermentation, which has been prompted by adding yeast and rock sugar to the liquid, happens within the bottle.
Dom Perignon may not have been the one to actually invent champagne, but he was instrumental in developing many of the methods that are still used today during the production process. For example, he can be credited with invented the wire collar that holds the cork in the wine bottle.
Merret’s methode champenoise, although it was a wonderful discovery in his time, wasn’t actually put to use until the 19th century. During this time, champagne production boomed—rising from 300,000 bottle produced in 1800 to a whopping twenty million in 1850.
The champagne of the 1800s was much sweeter than today’s version. Today’s trend of drinking drier versions of champagne can be credited to Perier-Jouet, who decided against sweetening his 1846 vintage before it was sent to London. It would be 30 years later that the Brut version that we know today was crafted for the British.
Today champagne is most often enjoyed chilled and served in a beautiful flute. However, it is also quite common to see the bubbly liquid as an ingredient in popular cocktails such as the bellini and the mimosa.