Champagne | The Story

Written by on August 3, 2013 in French Icons, Wine and Drinks

champagne bottle

Champagne is a sparkling wine made in Champagne in France – if it is made anywhere else in France or the world it cannot be called Champagne.

It doesn’t matter if a wine producer uses the same grape, the same blend, the same method as the Champagne of the Champagne region – it cannot have the same name.

What is it that makes Champagne so special?

champagne

Reims Cathedral CC Reims Tourisme Carmen Moya

Champagne is the drink of the great and the good and has been since it was first produced.

“Champagne…the wine of kings, the king of wines.” – Guy du Maupaussant

Reims in Champagne was where traditionally the coronation of French Kings took place. The First King to be crowned in Reims Cathedral was King Louis I in 861; from then on, all French Kings were crowned here – with the exception of Louis VI (Orleans) and Henri VI (Chartres) and Champagne became the wine of the coronation.

The wines of Champagne which had been introduced by the Romans several centuries before, would have been served at ceremonies in Reims but it was not until the 17th Century that the sparkling wine known as Champagne became well known. It was lapped up by the great and the good. It was unique, a sparkling wine that was refreshing, delicious and made people happy – almost immediately it became associated with royalty, wealth and luxury – a tag that it still carries to this day.

Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764) once said “Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.” and countless celebrities have endorsed it throughout the centuries.

History of Champagne

“Come brothers, hurry, I am drinking stars!”

Attributed to Dom Perignon, the monk who is said to have invented Champagne. He probably didn’t say that, and he can’t really be credited with inventing Champagne but what a fabulous marketing story it is!

Dom Perignon was a French Benedictine monk who served at the Abbey of Hautvillers near Épernay. He worked in the Abbey cellars for almost 50 years and during his care the Abbey doubled the size of its vineyard holding.

Sparkling wine was known to the French but it was a hit and miss affair with bottles of wine just as likely to explode as not. Dom Perignon worked on methods to improve the maturation of wines and the blending of different grapes and the pruning of the vines, but – he didn’t in fact invent Champagne and it seems likely he spent much of his time trying to rid the wine produced by the Abbey of bubbles.

champagne hautvillers

Hautvillers where Dom Perignon lies buried

It may surprise you to know that the English had quite a lot to do with the success of Champagne sparkling wine. Imports of the still wine of Champagne to England in the 17th Century were extensive and thanks to primitive bottling methods, in some bottles refermentation took place and produced bubbles. The wealthy English importers liked the taste of the bubbles in the pale wine that induced a feeling of elation and proactively sought methods to produce it. Scientific tests have shown that Champagne does have more of an effect than wine without bubbles though no one is quite sure why. The popularity of this “happy drink” spread, and the astute producers in the Champagne region laid claim to the name and the right to be the only ones to be legally authorised to produce a sparkling wine called Champagne (ratified by the Treaty of Madrid 1981).

The marketing of Champagne has always been of the highest quality and remains so to this day. Like diamonds, the price never falls but keeps climbing and availability is strictly controlled.

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