Some people are familiar with the story of Dom Perignon, the cheerful monk who stumbled on champagne as a delightful accident, proclaiming “come quickly, I am tasting the stars”. A nice story but it’s just that, a story. The real deal is a bit less glamorous but still pretty fascinating - hold onto your glass.
Sparkling wine was initially discovered when wine was hastily bottled before fermentation was fully complete, triggering a second fermentation* in bottle. If you paid any sort of attention in science class you’ll know that fermentation causes gas and a buildup of gas in a small, sealed space can only end in one way…. 💥
Initially it was known as le vin du diable, "the devil's wine" and bubbles were considered a fault, but with the addition of sugar, the wine was considered to be more palatable and more fun. The addition of sugar to wine in the glass (think: adding sugar to tea) was common practice back in the day as artificially sweetening in production had not been discovered.
The sugar solved for the taste but exploding bottles were still a problem. Ever in pursuit of alcohol based fun, the English invented a stronger glass that was able to contain the bubbles. From there, the people of Champagne perfected the art of sparkling wine, inventing the méthode champenoise (also known as the traditional method). The méthode champenoise has evolved through time as the Champagne region itself has endured and survived the ravages of war.
We’ll dive into the specifics of the méthode champenoise in an upcoming edition. It’s a true artisan pursuit spanning centuries, something that cannot be done justice in a quick paragraph. So stick with us as we learn and drink our way through the history, geography and terroirs of Champagné.
Oh and FYI, Dom Perignon was a real monk but he was mostly interested in perfecting wine of the regular, still variety.