The Truth Behind Champagne’s Sparkle
Today millions love Champagne. The delicate fizz, dancing on your tongue, and soft hissing music whispering in your ears make it a firm favourite for celebrations. What adds to the charm of this sparkling golden beverage is its fascinating history –a true rags to riches story, indeed.
As a start, all that sparkles is not champagne. There is a distinct difference between Champagne, MCC, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine. The title Champagne may only be used on sparkling wine produced in Champagne, France, using Méthode Champenoise process.
Prestigious as this may sound, you’d be surprised to learn that Champagne and the method by which is produced had humble beginnings.
Poppin’ bottles. Well, exploding actually.
Surprisingly, back in the 17th-century bubbles in wine was considered a fault. No self-respecting soul would dare be caught drinking fizzy wine!
Still, wine in Champagne, France, was primarily produced by the Benedictine Monks back in the 17th century. On one fateful occasion, they happened to bottle the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. To be fair, the cold French winters chilled the wine while it was fermenting, so it was an easy enough mistake to make. As the season changed and things started warming up, the yeast woke up and continued its process – in the bottle.
A by-product of fermentation is the release of Carbon Dioxide, which was not constrained by its glass vessel. Early French wine bottles were weaker than today and couldn’t withstand the pressure building up in the bottle, causing this burst open.
Fun Fact: Winemakers didn’t understand the cause of the exploding bottles, so they blamed it on nefarious spirits, earning Champagne the name of “le vin du diable” (the devil’s wine).
A Common Misconception
Many believe that French Monk Dom Pérignon was the inventor of the bubbles in sparkling wines, but the truth is that he was actually tasked with the job of taming the bubbles.
Pérignon may not be the man behind the sparkle, but he was the one to perfect Méthode Champenoise.
He is credited for some features that are hallmarks of Champagne today, particularly with the extensive blending of grapes from multiple vineyards.
Image credit: Victor Grigas [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
The True Merret Of the Bubbles
Although many believe that the second fermentation process that creates the fizz in champagne started in France, it has since been found that the process had been documented long before in England.
History records tell us that English scientist Christopher Merret published details on the second fermentation process more than 20 years before Perignon announced he had perfected Champagne.
His paper documented the similarity of champagne bubbles and cider bubbles created from adding additional sugar and increasing the temperature inside wine bottles, which then became the foundation of the Méthode Champenoise.
The Bottling of Fun
The British, with their exceptional taste, imported wine from France in barrels.
Upon opening the casks and drinking the fizzy wine, they thought the bubbles were so much fun, and so, sparkling wine entrenched its place in the hearts of the Brits.
Thanks to their advanced technology, they manufactured a bottle that could withstand the pressure.
The tasty fizzy wine was then served at parties throughout Britain.
Bubbles Belong to All
Champagne’s creation cannot be credited to just one man or one nation, it is the collaborative result of many through the years.
- Pérignon perfected the Méthode Champenoise. His rules behind this method were recorded in 1718 and used by others over the years to perfect champagne.
- Madame Clicquot invented the method of ejecting any sediment from bottles using high pressure, and it is thanks to her that we enjoy a clear golden liquid.
- The industrial revolution and the coal-fired glass making development in Britain allowed for the thicker glass bottles which could contain the fizz.
All we can say is thank goodness to fizz that beloved champagne was created and corked. Let’s raise a glass and say cheers to all those behind the golden bubbles we love so much.