The sparkling white wine known as champagne is well-known and consumed throughout the world. This unique beverage, which in its purest and traditional form originates exclusively from the region of France from which it derives its name, is one of France’s most esteemed and highly regarded wines, as an overview of the history of champagne reveals. Given the elite status often afforded to many elements of French cuisine, the status held by champagne is quite remarkable.
The Origins of Champagne
The roots of the viticulture and viniculture (grape-growing and winemaking) behind champagne date back to the 5th century, when the occupying Roman civilization planted suitable grapevines in the Champagne region of northeastern France.
Originally, champagne, along with most other wines in France and throughout Europe, was considered sacred, and was cultivated and produced almost exclusively by Roman Catholic monks. Used in the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, wine is representative of the blood of Jesus Christ.
One of the primary motivating factors behind the early production of Champagne was the spirit of competition. The winemakers of Champagne wished to create something that could stand up to the already esteemed wines of the neighboring Burgundy region.
The Truth Behind Champagne’s Sparkling
An intriguing aspect of Champagne’s history is that its carbonation was accidental, and was in fact considered a fault for a fair portion of the beverage’s history. After the grapes were harvested, pressed and cellared for fermentation, the cold weather of northern France’s winters would often halt the fermentation process, which would start anew in the spring, causing the production of carbon dioxide gas.
Once bottled, this gas would cause many French wine bottles to explode. The wines that didn’t destroy their bottle would be carbonated and sparkling. The Champagne vintners were less than pleased with the result, and attempted to rid the wines they created of the naturally occuring bubbles.
The Rise of Champagne’s Popularity
Despite the reaction of Champagne’s creators to the presence of carbonation in their wine, they nonetheless exported their product, and it became quite popular in other European nations, particularly England. By the time of the early 18th century and the death of Louis XIV, expensive Champagne became a favored drink of the French royalty and nobility.
The original makers of Champagne, particularly the house of Veuve Clicquot, formulated methods by which authentic champagne could be properly stored after carbonation. From that point on, the popularity of different types of champagne only rose, and the best examples of this wine are considered among the finest in the world.