You knew it would be here in the blink of an eye – another year has almost gone by. And there is no better way to usher in 2010 than with the ubiquitous bubbly. Sparking wine has always been a glamorous drink.
From the very beginning, it has been linked with illustrious figures like kings and queens, and statesmen like Winston Churchill who once said, “A bottle of Champagne is too much for one and too little for two.” It is also associated with celebrations and grand occasions — new ships are often christened by breaking a bottle of bubbly on them.
But the real deal was born in the mythical region of Champagne, France, an 84,000-acre area about an hour’s drive east of Paris. While we use the term “champagne” loosely in North America and other parts of the world, this is the only place on earth that produces Champagne with a capital “C.”
This is a fact that is bound by law and according to France’s stringent and protective regulations. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée outlines 35 of the rules that protect the quality of Champagne wines. In short, if it isn’t produced in Champagne, France, then the label must read “sparking wine.”
Before the 17th century, the wines of Champagne, France, were light and crisp and had none of the bubbles that we associate with the drink today. They acquired their characteristic sparkle after the 17th century, but wine connoisseurs are still debating about exactly who is responsible for this grand invention. What has been agreed upon is that it wasn’t Dom Pérignon as popular thought would have it. Crediting him with the creation of bubbly has been a brilliant marketing strategy since the world knows him better by the sparking wine that bears his name.
The first vintage of Dom Pérignon hit the international scene in 1936 and has been a revered brand ever since. It is a true vintage wine, which means that all the grapes in it are harvested in the same year.
In 1688, Pierre Pérignon was a Benedictine monk who was the treasurer at the Abby of Hautvillers in the city of Épernay, which is the centre of the Champagne region in France. Part of his duties included wine making and managing the wine cellars.
Pérignon wanted to make good quality wine not sparkling wine. But as has happened with some great inventions in the past, the inventor didn’t fully realize the happy consequences of his invention. So Pérignon, who is often regarded as the granddaddy of bubbly, actually spent his whole life trying to get those darn bubbles OUT of his wine.
So just how do you get the sparkle IN sparkling wine? Yeast from grape skins convert the sugar in the pressed grape juice into alcohol — a process known as fermentation. Sparkling wine is created after a second fermentation in the wine bottles. This creates carbon dioxide, which when it becomes trapped in the wine bottles, creates the sparkle.
To get the most enjoyment of your bubbly this Christmas and New Year’s, and on any other occasion that you fancy, place it in an ice bucket with one half ice and one half water for about 40 minutes before serving. If you don’t have an ice bucket, place it in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for up to four hours. Long stemmed flutes are the best choice for serving sparkling wine.
The glass shape really brings out the flow of bubbles to the top and enhances the aromas of the drink.