Oak Room Delicious
No other drink in the world symbolises luxury, joy and celebration quite like Champagne. While many contenders have made a play for its throne over the years, Champagne’s glorious reputation as the ultimate tipple of quality and prestige has stood the test of time since its creation thousands of years ago.
Historians can trace Champagne’s origins back as far as the 1st century, when the wines cultivated in this famous region were considered some of the best in the country. The Romans, who were thought to have introduced the vines, were skilled wine producers with the necessary knowledge to grow quality grapes in the cool, north eastern region. During this period, the wines produced lacked their sparkle, but a healthy rivalry was established between Burgundy’s red wine producers and the Champagne’s growers producing white wines. Significantly, the wines had one key ingredient in common – both varieties were made from Pinot Noir grapes.
By the 9th century, Rheim’s growing status as a cathedral city where French Kings were crowned, helped to develop the popularity of the region’s wines, and by the 13th century, wine production here was becoming an industry in its own right. Annual trade fairs helped to promote the wines to a wider audience and producers were tasked with planting more vines to keep up with growing demand across Europe. The wines of this time still lacked their bubble and remained cloudy, something that was only rectified in the late 17th century.
A popular, but questionable account regarding the creation of the luxury tipple claims that the cellar master at Hautevillers Abbey, a certain monk named Dom Pérignon, gave the Champagne region’s wine its sparkle. One version of events suggests that he had studied the foaming, effervescent tendency of the wine, which was considered a fault in the production process. By adding sugar to the wine and creating the perfect blend from different regions, he was able to make a palatable sparkling wine of a high, clear quality.
His meticulous attention to pruning, fermenting and blending would also help to drive the wine’s production for centuries to come. Some historians also claim that he was responsible for importing the thicker English glass bottles, which minimised the risk of the bottles exploding, and substituted ineffective wooden stoppers for corks that maintained the sparkle.
“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.”
Bolstered by its association with royalty, Champagne’s reputation as a luxury beverage grew apace once it was introduced into French high society. The Duc d’Orléans is widely reputed to have served Champagne to his large circle of aristocratic friends, which helped to spark a demand for the fizzy tipple across Europe to the benefit of several newly-launched Champagne houses. Britain’s emerging love affair with the golden tipple during the 18th century led to the production of dry and extra-dry varieties, which lacked the higher sugar content of earlier varieties and was more favoured by the English palate. By the 20th century, Champagne had secured its place at the top of high society tables across the land and has remained there ever since.
Today, few celebratory gatherings with friends and family are complete without a toast of the bubbly stuff – a tradition that, hopefully, will endure for many more centuries to come.