Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Champagne

When envisioning the perfect 18th century party most of us reach for the champagne, but was this delightfully fizzy beverage available and in common celebratory usage then? The short answer is "Yes! Bien sur!"

The province of Champagne in northern France gave its name to this distinctive vintage when vintners there realized that their climate was not able to produce the heavy, full-bodied reds that could rival the acclaimed Burgundian wines to the south, and turned instead to making lighter white wines of superlative quality. Reims Cathedral, where the Kings of France were traditionally crowned, was in the Champagne province and so it became traditional to serve Champagne wines for the occasion; but when did the wine become the beverage we know today?

In 1531 the monks of the Abbey of Saint Hilaire produced the first sparkling wine, called Blanquette de Limoux, when they added sugar to the mix to induce a second fermentation, which in turn created bubbles of gas in the liquid. The force of the pent up gas was so great that bottles frequently popped or blew their corks, just as they do today. It was the monk Dom Perignon, now synonymous with champagne, who invented the wire collar that helps to keep them corked, as before his improvement those working with the bottles were forced to wear protective masks of iron to prevent injury.

While legend has it that the broad "coupe" style champagne glass was modeled on the breast of Marie Antoinette, it was in fact manufactured in 1663 for the use of English aristocrats. Charming as this shape is, it does lose oxydation quicker than the more common Champagne Flute, due to the increased surface area which allows the gas to escape faster.

Though the bubbles were initially seen as a fault by the French monks who made the wine, the English to whom they also sold the vintage, took a liking to them and soon the French court followed suit, making Champagne the beverage of royalty, and soon the rising middle class adopted this status symbol as well.

So break out the bottles; and whether you choose a coupe or a flute, let's toast to the joys behind us and the pleasures yet to come!

4 comments:

  1. I have a soft spot for coupe glasses myself. They're impractical but oh so stylish!

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  2. I do too. If you drink it fast enough the increased oxydation rate doesn't matter ;D

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  3. Thanks for the interesting article :) I have to agree on your choice of glass - much more interesting!

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  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it, seems like the coupe is the glass of choice.

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