Lilly Bollinger, tasked with travelling the world and promoting the Champagne brand, once famously said ‘I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.’ Much loved throughout the world, particularly at celebrations, few things are more synonymous with New Year’s festivities than Champagne.
Champagne began its long and illustrious history as early as the 5th century when the Romans first planted vineyards in the similarly named region of north-east France. Initially it was a pale, pinkish still wine made from Pinot noir. During the winter months the cold weather stopped fermentation, but in spring when warmer weather arrived, it would awaken the dormant yeast cells, begin fermentation again, and release carbon dioxide. As this pressure built up the bottles would either explode (early French wine bottles were not that hardy) or when opened the wine would present with bubbles – considered a fault! Vintners would try to remove this fault as late as the 17th century, it was only after the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715 that the new French court made the sparkling version of the wine a favourite among nobility – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bubbles became the sought-after option and many tried to emulate the sparkling wine, but not always with great success. In the 19th century modern developments finally allowed Champagne to be produced on a large scale and it’s at this point that many Champagne houses were founded – notably Veuve Cliquot, Krug, Pommery and Bollinger. During this time Champagne was sweet and the houses would tailor the sugar content to suit their market – Russians preferred the sweetest level while the English preferred the driest. Gradually the sugar content decreased leading to demi-sec (half dry), then sec (dry) and finally extra dry or brut which today is the style of most Champagnes.
Over the years major events like prohibition and two World Wars hampered production, but in the 1950s Champagne regained popularity and sales quadrupled – it is estimated that today the region produces over 300 million bottles of Champagne each year and only those coming directly from the region of Champagne may carry the name. Méthode Cap Classique is the South African version and follows the authentic process in every way apart from the origin of the grapes.
Dom Perignon, the French Benedictine monk, upon tasting sparkling wine for the first time is purported to have said ‘come quickly, I am tasting the stars!’ True or not, the quote is a delightful one, so whatever version of bubbly you prefer, from everyone at N1, enjoy tasting the stars as you usher in a New Year – may 2018 be a peaceful and prosperous year for us all.