Celebrating with Champagne
Sep 08, 2018
Champagne didn’t always sparkle though. The bubbles were the result of cold weather interfering with the fermentation process and were viewed with alarm by the winemakers in the Champagne region. But people began to acquire a taste for the bubbly stuff even as the Champenois were still desperately trying to find ways to get rid of them. Eventually they embraced the fizz but it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the modern Champagne industry took shape and advances in the méthode champenoise – the traditional method of fermenting, aging and riddling (essentially shaking and turning) the bottles – made large scale production possible.
Over the years our taste in wine has changed. Much early champagne was sweet and sugary (which had the added bonus of masking poor quality grapes), but gradually there was a shift towards drier and purer varieties, to the demi-sec and brut. Champagne has become intrinsically linked with the luxurious. It was popular at the French Royal Court and was viewed in aspirational terms from an early point I its history, becoming the wine of choice for special occasions, ambrosial stuff with which to mark a marriage or a christening, to see in the New Year.
Later it would become a mainstay of the Belle Époque, copiously quaffed by music hall stars like Champagne Charlie – in a glittering example of early marketing nous – and there was a further surge in popularity following the Second World War. Moving into the latter half of the 20th century and the popping of champagne corks became synonymous with a certain kind of opulent lifestyle, a marker of status. Cole Porter sang about the stuff. James Bond was partial to a glass, Ab Fab’s Edie and Patsy were also fans. Marilyn Monroe is reputed to have bathed in champagne and it remains the wine of choice for anointing sports stars and launching ships. Further social shifts have seen it democratised and while its ‘bling’ associations remain in some quarters, there’s a more of a renewed focus on the drink itself, as a wine to be savoured for its own sake – something evidenced by a new wave of charming, accessible champagne bars – like the growing Champagne and Fromage group in London.
As Christmas and New Year draw near, there are still very few things which speak of celebration like a bottle of quality champagne, brands like G.H.Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, beautifully presented. It’s the ritual of it, the theatre, the pop of the coke, the hiss and fizz, the clink of glass upon glass.
Written by Natasha Tripney