Whether it is the new year, a wedding, birthday, graduation, or any other festivity, the tradition of sharing a toast of champagne with friends and family spans across cultures and dates back centuries. The popping of a champagne cork is without a doubt one of the most festive and exhilarating sounds that we recognize, so it is no wonder that people across the world have enjoyed the pleasantries of champagne for so long. However in actuality there is much more to the beverage than cheer and parties, as it has been developed as a form of art as well as science over the centuries.
While many use the term champagne to refer to any sparkling wine, real champagne is a French alcoholic drink produced from certain species of grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. There is a complex and specific set of rules that must be in effect in the production of champagne, including regulations as to what grapes can be used within certain areas of Champagne, what methods may be employed to press them, using specific vineyard practices, and how they are fermented in order to produce the desired effect of carbonation. Grapes that may be used are Chardonnay, Pinot meunior, Pinot noir, as well as small amounts of Petit Meslier, Pinot gris, Arbane, and Pinot blanc. The cities of Reims and Épernay are home to the world’s most prestigious Champagne making companies.
In the area including Champagne, France, Ancient Romans the first people to cultivate and plant vineyards, and still wines were being created in this region since before medieval times. The area was home to a temple for Bacchus, the roman God of wine, and fruity red wines were produced in his honor. Later on in history, vineyards were owned by Christian churches in which monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of the Eucharist. However the region struggled to produce wine that could rival that of the nearby and well renowned Burgundy due to the colder Northern climate that would produce grapes that would often fail to ripen and bore lower sugar levels, and high acidity levels.
In 1531 near Carcassonne, Benedictine monks are said to have created the first sparkling wine by bottling the wine prior to the completion of the initial fermentation. In 1662, English scientist Christopher Merret presented to the Royal Society a detailed instruction of what is now known as the méthode champenoise, in which the last stage of fermentation occurs inside the bottle; 200 years later this process would become standard in the production of champagnes. At this same time of Merret’s presentation, innovations in glass blowing technology came to the point of being able to create bottles that were capable of withstanding the great amount of pressure needed to complete this process of fermentation.
"...the world saw a great increase in sparkling wine production, with over 20 million bottles being produced in 1850 in comparison to 300,000 in 1800."
Early sparkling wines from France were known as “le vin du diable”, or wine of the Devil as a result of the loud popping noise of the cork being removed. For a long time champagne was created using the méthode rurale, in which it was bottled prior to the completion of the initial fermentation process. It was not until the 19th century that there was a shift in favor towards Merret’s méthode champenoise, and it was also during this period that the world saw a great increase in sparkling wine production, with over 20 million bottles being produced in 1850 in comparison to 300,000 in 1800.
Today champagne is renowned as the most iconic celebratory drink and premiere sparkling wine that everyone loves. with such an impressive history and longstanding tradition with strict qualifications, the art of champagne is held to the standard of perfection by winemakers and as a result it is a favorite amongst consumers across the world, whether you are a proper sommelier, a casual enthusiast, or simply looking to have a good time.