The ongoing popularity of champagne is undeniable – the sparkling wine remains a first choice for many people when celebrating and has associations with luxury and some of the finest wine making techniques. The question remains, why did champagne become so famous?
Like many developments in wine production, champagne came about by a happy accident of sorts. The Champagne region of France originally produced still wines that lacked the flavor and the quality of vintages produced by rivals like Burgundy – the cultivation of French wine through the medieval period to the 17th century was marked, in large part, by careful traditions for fermenting grapes and bottling wine. However, the cold weather of Champagne led to instances of secondary fermentation, where yeast and sugar formed in bottles, releasing carbon dioxide and bubbles. Most bottles could not stand the pressure of the gas, and thus exploded.
The unwanted bubbles that these bottles of wines produced was still a problem by the 17th and 18th century, by which time wine makers like the monk Dom Perignon were figuring out that sparkling wine and what later became Champagne could represent a specialty drink in its own right. British demand for sparkling wines encouraged wine makers in Champagne to actively seek out secondary fermentation, and by the 19th century, the “methode champenoise” was well established.
During this period, sparkling wines and champagne was still primarily a drink of choice for European nobility, with vintages such as Krug and Boiger being popular. Given the longer fermentation times needed to create sparkling wine, it became necessary for producers to refine their techniques and to remove impurities – “riddling” was developed as a way to safely remove excess yeast from bottles of champagne, while in the early 20th century, a scientist named Charmat found a way of creating sparkling wine using pressurized tanks, rather than using in-bottle methods.
The demand for champagne increased in the 20th century, with champagne houses working hard to position themselves as accessible, but still luxurious options. The champagne market itself was put under threat, though, by the Champagne region’s devastation during World War One, and by late 19th century outbreaks of phylloxera. The mass production of champagne was able, however, to make it a more widely available choice for drinkers.
Much of the marketing appeal of champagne was focused in the 19th to the 20th centuries around it being more than just a drink for the aristocracy – champagne became a middle class drink that was associated with luxury and celebrations, while champagne makers emphasised the romantic appeal of champagne to draw in more female buyers.
The champagne market expanded during the 20th century to include both premium brands like Cristal and Dom Perignon, but also more inexpensive vintages that could be used for different occasions. The creation of a whole drinking culture around champagne was supported by the use of special champagne flutes, and by the product placement of bottles in the James Bond film series and other media.
Today,champagne is well established enough around the world to be both the default choice for everything from New Year’s Eve parties, and a wine that can be bought as a premium item by celebrities wanting to make a statement.
Having a celebration, or even better- attending one? One of the best gifts you can bring to any hostess or even bride and groom is a nice bottle of champagne paired with some great crystal glasses. For those of you looking for some advice on how to select the best at the best price point; Here’ a list that Elle Magazine put together: Bubbly that everyone can afford!
Credits: Emily S is a food and wine writer who regularly contributes to a range of food and drink websites and blogs. she loves a champagne, with her love one at the weekends.