The nectar of the Gods
When it comes to celebrations, there's one type of wine that fits the bill better than any other. Champagne has a timeless allure and effervescent charm synonymous with celebrations, milestones, and moments of extravagance. Join us as we delve into the fascinating world of this wine, exploring its history, production, characteristics, and the art of pairing it with food.
The history of Champagne is as effervescent as the wine itself. Wine has been produced in the Champagne region of France since the days of the Roman Empire, but the story of the fizzy phenomenon we know today takes us back to the 17th century.
A happy accident
Sparkling Champagne had previously been produced by accident! Cold winters in the Champagne region would often put a halt to the fermentation process of these wines. Once temperatures began to rise again after the winter, a second fermentation would occur inside the bottle, causing carbon dioxide bubbles to build in the wine. This CO2 build-up is what creates Champagne's unmistakable effervescence we know and love today. Winemakers at the time, however, were less fond of this little accident; the increase in pressure caused by the CO2 would often cause the wine bottles to explode, earning Champagne the nickname "le vin du diable" (the devil's wine.)
Pre 17th-century, these sparkling Champagne wines were considered a novel bit of fun, but ultimately faulty. However, Champagne's fortunes changed in a big way when it became the drink of choice for French royalty and nobility, who were fond of its quirky effervescence. Subsequent royalty maintained this love for the drink, which helped cement Champagne's status as a wine symbolizing luxury and status. Deliberate production of sparkling Champagne grew in popularity, and so began the journey that has led to Champagne becoming the iconic drink it is today.
How Champagne developed its distinctive characteristics
It was also during the 17th century that Champagne began to develop other notable features we associate with it today. Before this century, wine from the Champagne region was murky and unremarkable. However, thanks to the likes of Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, who made crucial advancements in winemaking, including developing the traditional Champagne press to produce clearer wines and improving the art of blending different grape varieties, Champagne wines developed distinctive qualities. While the story of Dom Perignon inventing Champagne is almost certainly not true, his work and the work of others laid the foundation for what would become one of the world's most celebrated beverages.
Today, Champagne is enjoyed worldwide for celebrations and as a symbol of elegance and sophistication. Its appeal extends beyond French borders, with Champagne houses producing millions of bottles annually to meet global demand. Like other notable wines, it even has an international day named after it! Champagne Day takes place annually on the 4th Friday of October and sees people from around the world celebrate all things Champagne.
We've clarified how Champagne was somewhat stumbled upon before production techniques became more deliberate and refined, but how is it made today?
Champagne's distinctive effervescence arises from its production method known as the méthode traditionelle. The groundwork for this method came in the late 17th century, when English physician and scientist Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to still wines to create the secondary fermentation that puts the sparkle in sparkling wines. Here's a brief overview of the process:
So, the method is a little more refined than the initial process of Champagnes accidentally going through a second fermentation following cold winters!
Once all that is done, we have our Champagne ready for consumption. But how does it smell, feel, and taste? Champagne boasts a remarkable range of flavors and aromas that make it a captivating drink. Common characteristics include:
With such a range of characteristics, enjoying Champagne from a glass that appropriately communicates these qualities to your nose and palate is crucial. You can learn all about how we specially craft our Spiegelau Champagne flutes and Champagne glasses to elevate your Champagne sipping experience by checking out our blog on the science of Champagne glasses.
Like any wine, you can elevate your Champagne experience by pairing it with foods that complement its qualities. Its versatility, acidity, and effervescence make it an excellent companion for a wide range of dishes. Here are some pairing suggestions:
Champagne is a wine of celebration, history, and elegance. With a journey that saw it go from its accidental beginnings in the Champagne region of France to its status as a global symbol of luxury and celebration, Champagne has woven itself into the fabric of our most memorable moments. Its unique production method, bright characteristics, and versatility in pairing with food make it a truly exceptional beverage worthy of enjoyment by anyone from the Champagne connoisseur to the casual wine drinker. Santé!