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Happy Birthday Champagne!

August 4, 2016 – On this day in 1693 it is reputed that Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, discovered Champagne, a sparkling wine, and cried, “Come quickly!  I am tasting the stars!”.  It almost certainly didn’t happen like that and the “tasting the stars bit” more than likely was used as an advertising slogan in the 19th century, a time when Champagne became popular.

Dom Perignon was involved in winemaking at the Abbey of St. Peter at Hautvilliers in northern France.  Sparkling wine, or Champagne as it is correctly known in this area, was an unforeseen development of carbon dioxide build up during secondary fermentation which, unfortunately, more often than not led to explosions, often destroying entire cellars.  What was needed was bottles that would withstand the pressure.  Producing Champagne, while delightful, was a risky and expensive business.

Sparkling wine can be called Champagne only if it comes from Champagne, France, is made using Methode Champenoise and uses three grapes:  Pinot Noir (a red variety) Pinot Meunier (a red variety) Chardonnay (a white variety).  So if red grapes are used, how come Champagne is white, or clear?  It has to do with the amount of contact the juice has with the red skins when the grapes are crushed.  Obviously, not much.  To make a rosé wine, the winemaker allows more time for skin contact.

No one person can take the credit for creating sparkling wine.  It was the happy result of chemistry that no one understood at the time.  In fact, the English had a slightly better grasp of the science long before 1693.  They were also making better, stronger glass and how that came to be was all to do with oak trees being needed to build ships for the British navy!  It is quite amazing how one thing leads to another with unintended results.  It is a fascinating history well worth reading.

As for Dom Perignon, he was a devoted winemaker striving always to improve his product.  There must have been some reason he was given the credit for creating Champagne so we’re happy to bless him with a glass on its official birthday.

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