Champagne

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Champagne

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. THE celebration drink to toast an occasion.

The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are black Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier but also white Chardonnay. Champagne appellation law only allows grapes grown according to appellation rules in specifically designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of champagne.

History

Wines from the Champagne region were known before medieval times. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of north-east France, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. Later, churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims, and Champagne was served as part of coronation festivities.

The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonne in 1531. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise, in 1662. Merret’s discoveries coincided also with English glass-makers’ technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength. As early as 1663 the poet Samuel Butler referred to “brisk champagne”.

In France the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; the pressure in the bottle led it to be called “the devil’s wine” (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded or corks popped. In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet to prevent the corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the initial fermentation had finished. Champagne did not use the méthode champenoise until the 19th century, about 200 years after Merret documented the process. The 19th century saw an exponential growth in Champagne production, going from a regional production of 300,000 bottles a year in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850. In 2007, Champagne sales hit an all-time record of 338.7 million bottles.

In the 19th century Champagne was noticeably sweeter than the Champagnes of today. The trend towards drier Champagne began when Perrier-Jouët decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage prior to exporting it to London. The designation Brut Champagne was created for the British in 1876.

Why do athletes spray each other with champagne after winning?

Throughout its history, champagne has been a celebratory drink that’s made appearances at coronations of kings and the launching of ships. However, the bubbly-spraying throwdowns that now accompany athletic victories are a much more recent development. When Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1967, they ascended the winner’s podium with a bottle of champagne in hand. Gurney looked down and saw team owner Carroll Shelby and Ford Motors CEO Henry Ford II standing with some journalists and decided to have a bit of fun. Gurney gave the bottle a shake and sprayed the crowd, and a new tradition was born.