Legend has it that during the summer of 1693 a French Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon first crafted this bubbly brew at the abbey of Saint Pierre d’Hautvillers, overlooking the town of Epernay, France in the region called Champagne. Others will argue that 30 years earlier some English scientists first made the discovery in Winchcombe, which was a market town of early medieval origin, in the Cotswold hills of Gloucestershire, England. The town folk there started calling it English Sparkling Wine.
Success, as the saying goes, has many fathers. So in this case the debate about who first invented champagne will be ongoing. Regardless, the industry has seen crazy growth through the years and has become a more high-tech business.
In elementary terms… To turn a regular wine into a sparkling wine they put what they call the base wine into a champagne bottle (which is double thick) with some priming sugar and yeast, put a cap on the bottle, and allow it to ferment inside. This means the carbon dioxide can’t escape, so it’s retained in the wine in the bottle during what many call the second-fermentation process and that gives us the bubbles when we take the top off.
To get a bit more detailed, fermentation in the bottle produces not only carbon dioxide but also a yeasty sediment that has to be removed – a process known as “disgorging”. The bottles are stacked on their sides on a pallet, which over the space of several days is gradually rotated until the bottles are facing downwards. Sediment collects as a deposit in the neck of the bottle, which is then dipped in a glycol solution to freeze the contents before the bottle is fed into a disgorging machine which flicks off its temporary metal closure.
Pressure from the gas inside the bottle – roughly three times higher than a car’s tires – shoots the little plug of ice containing the sediment out. The machine then adds a small amount of what they call “dosage” – a sweet, syrupy wine concentrate that improves the final taste – before sealing the bottle once again with a cork in a muselet, or wire cage.
A large reason for the popularity of Champagne can be attributed to the success of Champagne producers hundreds of years ago marketing the wine’s image as a royal and aristocratic drink and one that should be used for special occasions and celebrations. Today the champagne market size is valued at over +$7 billion, and is estimated to reach $11.7 billion in the next 10 years. France accounts for more than half of the global champagne market share, where it is produced from specific types of grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and few other varieties.
- Champagne remains France’s second-most valuable export industry (aeronautics is number one).
- Moët & Chandon is the world’s largest Champagne producer, producing over 30 million bottles per year.
- Nicolas Feuillatte is the best-selling Champagne in France—while Veuve Clicquot is the top seller in the U.S.
- The U.S. is the second-largest export market for Champagne, just behind the U.K., which has long been the region’s number one market and is responsible for around 21 million bottles annually (though some years, the U.S. is higher by value).
- Extreme weather caused a 60 percent drop in Champagne’s grape harvest in 2021, making it the smallest harvest in 40 years.
- In response to the demand spike and looming shortage, certain brands, including Dom Pérignon and Cristal, have reportedly seen as much as a nine percent price increase on the fine wine market, according to Decanter.
Champagne is usually served in a Champagne flute, whose characteristics include a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl, thin sides and an etched bottom. The intended purpose of the shape of the flute is to reduce surface area, therefore preserving carbonation, as well as maximizing nucleation (the visible bubbles and lines of bubbles).
How to Hold the Champagne Glass – Keep in mind, that our family knows nothing about proper champagne etiquette. When we party or celebrate it’s beer and whiskey! So this is all new to me as well… When it comes to the etiquette behind holding a glass of Champagne, it is important to consider the type of Champagne glass used and the four main parts of any wine glass: the rim, the bowl, the stem, and the base. In the case of a flute glass or tulip glass, etiquette dictates holding by the long, narrow stem in order to avoid smudging the glass and warming up the contents with the heat of one’s hand. Flute and tulip glasses can be temporarily held by the rim, although this glass hold blocks the area where the taster would take a sip. This hold can also smudge the top section of the glass. These two types of glass can also be held by the disk-shaped base without smudging or warming the liquid inside.
What Temp to Serve? Champagne is always served cold; its ideal drinking temperature is 45 to 48 °F. Often the bottle is chilled in a bucket of ice and water, half an hour before opening, which also ensures the Champagne is less gassy and can be opened without spillage. Champagne buckets are made specifically for this purpose and often have a larger volume than standard wine-cooling buckets to accommodate the larger bottle, and more water and ice.
How to Best Open – To reduce the risk of spilling or spraying any Champagne, the bottle is opened by holding the cork and rotating the bottle at an angle in order to ease out the stopper. This method, as opposed to pulling the cork out, prevents the cork from flying out of the bottle at speed (the expanding gases are supersonic). Also, holding the bottle at an angle allows air in and helps prevent the champagne from geysering out of the bottle.
How to Best Pour– Pouring sparkling wine while tilting the glass at an angle and gently sliding in the liquid along the side will preserve the most bubbles, as opposed to pouring directly down to create a head of “mousse”, according to a study, On the Losses of Dissolved CO2 during Champagne serving, by scientists from the University of Reims. Colder bottle temperatures also result in reduced loss of gas. Additionally, the industry is developing Champagne glasses designed specifically to reduce the amount of gas lost.What are the Best Known Brands: If you are looking to give a bottle of Champagne as a gift you can’t really go wrong with one of the names listed below.
- Dom Pérignon
- Moet & Chandon
- Veuve Clicquot
- Louis Roederer
(Source: Luxatic; thegoodlifefrance.com; francetoday.com; vinovest.com)