“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right” – Mark Twain.**
There are many occasions which call for a bottle of bubbly. As a society, we tend to want to mark joy and sanctity from special occasions, and Champagne still ranks highly as people’s “go-to” celebration drink. But where did this tradition come from, and why have we carried it on?
Going right back to Champagne’s origins in the 10th Century, the drink and the region itself have always been synonymous with celebrations. Coronations of French kings took place in the grand Cathedral in Reims, and still wines from Burgundy were offered freely in celebration. By the 16th Century, these wines had become desirable among high society, and word had spread far beyond France of the quality of the wines. King Henry VIII of England and Charles V of Spain reportedly had vineyards in the area to keep them in good stock.
Champagne as a region was a little too high in altitude to produce the quality of wine found in Burgundy, so unfortunately, their still wines weren't very good, and kept re-fermenting (and exploding due to the pressure inside the bottles!) in cellars. The use of wine in Catholic mass meant that monks were some of the first wine makers, with Dom Perignon being one of the more famous ones. Sadly, he did not say "Come quickly for I am tasting the stars!" and he did not realise the connection between the re-fermentation of yeast and the sparkling wine. He did lay out some regulations and controls for Champagne, such as which grapes it is legal to use, some of which are still law today, but ironically, Dom Perignon actually spent a lot of his time attempting to rid these wines of their infamous fizz.
Still wine from the region of Champagne was being shipped by the crate load over the winters to Britain, where it was bottled with corks upon arrival. Come spring time, when the yeast had been warmed up enough to re-activate, the wine was sparkling, and the Brits got a taste for it! In 1662, it was realised by British scientist Christopher Merrett that the addition of sugar (now known as a dosage) is what would cause the wine to evolve into sparkling wine. The trend caught on back in France, and the rest as they say, is history!
Around the time of the French Revolution, the upper classes took to the sabrage method of opening Champagne as a party trick to impress guests. (click the link to witness one of out lovely customers demonstrating this trick with a bottle of Di Maria Prosecco) This was the era where rich young men, drank Champagne from ladies slippers. After the French Revolution, there was a move away from religious ceremonies to more secular rituals in France. When once a priest would have blessed a new ship with holy water, they christened the ship with Champagne instead. Wetting the baby’s head with holy water became a toast to the baby, and so on. Eventually, Champagne become a symbol of celebration, and by the 18th century, big Champagne houses were beginning to set up, and focus on advertising through artists such as Toulouse Lautrec and Paul Cézanne.
By the 20th Century Champagne had become a brand in its own right, and hardly needed to seek celebrity endorsements. The rich and famous of high society would wax lyrical about the wine, and writers like Scott Fitzgerald made Champagne a symbol of the roaring 20s and decadence.
Nowadays in the UK, around 40% of all Champagne sales occur in the 2 months before Christmas. We still consider it a celebratory drink, to be enjoyed with family and friends at special occasions like Christmas or Hogmanay, and it’s rich, turbulent history has a part to play in that! So treat yourself this Hogmanay to a bottle of Champagne (and if that’s a little out of your budget, check out our sparkling wine selection as well – we think they’re just as fun!!) Here’s a couple of our recommendations:
Gremillet NV Champagne £21.50
Happy 2020 everyone!
**Obviously, we encourage responsible drinking nowadays