Once a month, author Dane Huckelbridge gives us a nourishing dose of useful (for the most part) knowledge. In today's post, he uncorks Champagne.
Few New Year’s traditions are as universal—or as likely to cause you to execute disastrously over-enthusiastic dance moves—as toasting with a bottle of fine champagne. And while everyone knows that champagne is bubbly, served chilled, and vaguely French, the history of this storied wine is worth telling. Heck, it might even be worth telling just prior to the big countdown.
Champagne is a region in the northeast of France—wine has been consumed there ever since the Romans introduced the stuff to the beer-guzzling Gauls in the first few centuries of the Common Era. The climate and soil were never great for bold, red wines, but subtle whites, well, the place proved just right for those. The monk Dom Perignon is often credited with discovering sparkling wine by accident, but historical records indicate that Benedictine monks were already making bubbly by the 16th century. Their secret? A secondary fermentation in the bottle. Essentially, some sugar was added to the bottle just before corking, meaning that the carbon dioxide the remaining yeast produced while gobbling up that sugar added some playful bubbles into the mix. Early champagne was sometimes called le vin du diable, or “the devil’s wine” because of its nasty habit of shooting corks across the room (and occasionally exploding, for that matter). By the mid-17th century, the méthode champenoise was officially introduced, aided by advancements in glass bottle making technology that allowed bottles to better withstand the internal pressure. It took a while for the technique of adding extra sugar to catch on, however, as many rural winemakers simply relied on bottling the incipient champagne before it was fully fermented, giving it time to finish in the bottle. By the 19th century, however, winemakers across the area were using the old monks’ tasty trick to make a crisp, refreshing, and bubbly wine.
Today in France, only wine made in the Champagne region, according to proper protocols, can call itself as such. Here in America, we have a habit of calling just about any bubbly wine by the moniker, which is fine, so long as you’re not planning on celebrating atop the Eiffel Tower, or ringing in 2015 with Gerard Dépardieu.
But if you are, let me know. I'd love to join.