One of my favourite beverages has to be without question champagne! It has been enjoyed by Royals, celebrities and the great and good. We celebrate with it, pay homage with it and launch ships with it. Why has champagne got this status and where did this wonderful beverage come from? Well, let's delve into the past of this iconic drink!
Champagne is quite simply a sparkling wine that is produced from the Champagne region in France.
Vineyards have to follow rules that demand secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation using specific practices and sourcing grapes exclusively from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation which are specifically pressed in a unique way to the region. It is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules mentioned above. The main type of grapes used in the production of Champagne are black Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier and finally white Chardonnay. The appellation laws that govern champagne only allows grapes that have been grown according to appellation rules in designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of Champagne.
Leading manufacturers of champagne made a huge effort to associate their champagnes with the nobility and royalty in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and this of course led to the middle classes growing up accustomed to it. Wines in the Champagne region were known before medieval times, however the Romans were the first civilisation to plant vineyards in this area of north-east France, with the region being cultivated by the 5th century and possibly earlier. In later years churches owned vineyards and their monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist. Historically the French kings were traditionally anointed in Reims and the Champagne was served as part of coronation festivities.
The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonne in 1531. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. A century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise. In 1662 his discoveries coincided with English glass-makers' technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. Therefore, French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength.
As early as 1663 the poet Samuel Butler referred to "brisk champagne". The first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally in France as the pressure in the bottle led it to be called "the devil's wine" (as bottles exploded or corks popped). In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet to prevent the corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove.
When it comes to the etiquette of champagne, quite simply all you need to do is follow the guide below.
To serve Champagne in the way a Royal household would serve it is not unlike most grand houses in the United Kingdom. Firstly you do not open the champagne in the room you will be serving it in. You will either have a preparation area, i.e: your kitchen or if you have one, in the bar. Make sure the champagne has been chilled correctly in the fridge for at least a few hours so it is at a good temperature. When you take the champagne out of the fridge do this carefully, so as not to disturb the champagne and stand the bottle on a secure worktop. Carefully remove the foil and untwist the wire loop to loosen the wire cage that protects the cork while keeping a thumb on the cork. Now pick up the bottle and hold the body of the bottle in your left or right hand and wedge the bulbous end of the cork deep into the palm of your other hand. Slowly twist cork back and forward until it is released from the bottle, but do this carefully to make as little noise as possible.
Pre fill a few champagne glasses with about two inches of champagne, then top them up to about a few millimetres from the top of the glass. Place the bottle in an ice bucket or put a silver spoon in the neck of the bottle to help keep the bubbles. You would have no more than five to six glasses per tray. This would then be taken by the butler to the guests. Offering to the most senior ladies first, then the most senior gentlemen and so on. You keep topping the glasses up every five minutes until the end of the event or before the guests go in to a lunch or dinner.