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But what exactly makes a Champagne wine? When and how was it first created? And why is the liquid – unremarkable in many ways – such a global phenomenon?
The origins of Champagne are based just as much in myth and legend as they are in fact, but the leading theories nonetheless hint at the true goings-on of the wine’s early years.
The Champagne region was used by the Romans for purposes of winemaking as early as the 5th century. At the fall of the empire the area’s wineries were overtaken by monks, who quietly went about producing their wines for centuries. Over these centuries rivalries developed – the monks of Champagne, it was said, were jealous of the monks of Burgundy, who enjoyed conditions that produced particularly rich red wines. The climate of Champagne lent itself more to the production of white wine; which was at the time thought to be an inferior product.
The first sparkling wine was created entirely by accident – it came about when monks bottled a wine before the initial fermentation had ended. Few bottles of the time could handle the pressure that this early Champagne built up, and the exploding bottles led to bubbles being considered a fault. The monks referred to it as “the devil’s wine”.
It was until the late 1600s, with the development of stronger bottles and the more reliable secondary fermentation technique, that the wine began to be produced on purpose. It would take until the 1800s for the public to develop a taste, but when that happened the verdict on the wine was resounding – from regional production of 300,000 bottles in 1800, by 1850 production had increased to 20 million bottles. Today the region sells more than 300 million bottles worldwide.
- Moet & Chandon: 26 million
- Veuve Clicquot: 10 million
- Nicolas Feuillatte: 10 million
- Laurent Perrier: 7 million
- Dom Perignon: 5 million bottles (vintage years only)
- G.H. Mumm: 5 million
- Piper Heidsieck: 5 million
- Pommery: 5 million
- Taittinger: 5 million
- Have you got a spare $2 million? Then you’re of the required means to invest in an Alexander Amosu-designed bottle of Goût de Diamants Champagne.
- The chalky soils of Champagne, so adept at growing grapes, are actually the remnants of an ancient inland sea bed.
- Champagne is bottled at 90psi – almost three times the pressure of your car tyres. This allowed one lucky cork to set a distance popping record of 54 metres!