Food

Champagne – the happy drink

January 11, 2016

With the festivities of the holiday season all subdued and life slowly returning to normalcy I was reminded about how  UNESCO has added the “Hillsides, Houses & Wine Cellars of Champagne” to the official list of World Heritage Sites.The Champagne UNESCO listing recognises: the historic vineyards of Hautvilliers (Dom Perignon’s village), Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay.These historic hillsides, the production sites (with their underground cellars) and the sales and distribution centres (the Champagne Houses) – illustrate the entire champagne production process and a living tradition.

History

The sparkling wine known as Champagne has been made in the Champagne region since the 17th century using the méthode champenoise which involves fermenting the wine directly in the bottle to create carbon dioxide – the fizz we all know and love. If it is made anywhere else in France or the world it cannot be called Champagne.It doesn’t matter if a wine producer uses the same grape, the same blend, the same method as the Champagne of the Champagne region – it cannot be called champagne.

The legend of Dom Perignon will forever be tied to the legend of the bubbles in champagne. Close to Reims cathedral in the Hautvilliers Abbey, a near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon was given the job of being its chief treasurer and cellar master. When he first took over in 1688, the wine being produced by the abbey was adequate but pale. Perignon feared that the deep red wine from the neighboring region of “Bourgogne” (Burgundy), was gaining favor with the King . The lighter red of the wine produced in Champagne was becoming a problem but was unavoidable due to the cooler climate of the region.

In this northern region of France the grapes had to be harvested early and the wine barrels became too cold during winter months. Unfortunately, even though it had not reached peak fermentation, the pinkish juice had to be bottled. After all, there was a royal demand for the product, and it was up to the monks at the abbey to deliver. But while the chilly winter had temporarily halted the fermentation process, the warmer spring climate “reawakened” the fermentation after the wine had been bottled. The result, of course, were bubbles!

Because Perignon and his abbey brothers were frustrated by the presence of the “bulles” (French for “bubbles”), they began altering the wine’s chemistry by blending several types of grapes and removing the skins. What resulted was the art of blending, and the first white wine ever produced! Yet, unfortunately, this new elegant pale wine persisted in fermenting after it was bottled!

The bubbles were considered by the monks to be a serious defect in the wine, and the cause of production disasters: bottles were exploding all over the cellars! Nevertheless, Dom Perignon did not give up; and legend says that when he tasted the new lighter bubbly wine he was pleasantly surprised, and exclaimed “Come quickly, brothers! I’m tasting stars!” If the elegant bubbly could just be bottled without exploding, the monks could introduce a truly exciting new wine. Dom Perignon began by changing the shape of the bottle and using heavier glass. The stronger bottle eliminated the explosion problem, but now the effervescence of the bubbly wine persisted in blowing out the hemp and oil stoppers. Perignon turned to Spain for stoppers made of cork, and Voilà . . . the cork did it! The king’s court was delighted with this new effervescent pale colored wine. The abbey’s reputation was saved!

Champagne Widows

When we think of great Champagne houses, amongst the names brought to mind are Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Bollinger, Roederer and Perrier. These are all the names of fantastic Champagne wineries, and they are also the names of famous Champagne widows who ran their businesses in a mans world to establish these Champagne houses to what they are today.

Nearly a century passed since the inception of the bubbly wine before a young woman named Nicole Clicquot implemented ways to enhance bottle fermentation of sparkling wine. The “Veuve (Widow) Clicquot” took over her husband’s champagne “house” at the age of 27 when he died unexpectedly, thus becoming one of the “grandes dames” of champagne, as well as a business woman far ahead of her time. In an attempt to reduce the buildup of bubbles in the unopened bottles, her cellar master began rotating the bottles slightly every day. Tah-dah!! This procedure, called “riddling,” is still done today by hand in the most prestigious champagne houses.

The House of Clicquot also perfected a procedure called “disgorgement.” This involves uncorking the bottles during the second fermentation to dislodge the yeast sediment that had accumulated. The bottles were stored at an angle so that sediment would settle in the neck . Upon releasing the cork, pressure forced sediment to be expelled from the bottle. An expert “disgorger” could then quickly re-cork the bottle before losing any of the precious bubbly.

In 1858, Louise Pommery took control of the Pommery winery, at the age of 39 and with two children to care for as well. She built elaborate buildings over her cellars, and developed a brut style of Champagne that the British adored. She brought her winery from a small, multi-wine shop to a large Champagne house, respected the world over.

Almost twenty years later, Mathilde Emile Laurent-Perrier took over Laaurent-Perrier and ran it for 38 years. In fact, when the company later floundered when Methilde died, another widow – Marie-Louise de Nonancourt, purchased the house and kept it going.

In 1932, Madame Camille Olry-Roederer took over not only the Champagne business but also her family’s race horses. She kept both alive during the depression and wars. She also promoted Cristal, the top of the line Champagne available from Roederer.

Finally, Madame Lily Bollinger. She took control in 1941 – not an easy time for any Champagne house to be in operation and She doubled production of the winery.

Cheers to the women behind the success of the bubbly.

The Science behind the bubbles ………

When you see photos of elegant Champagne flutes, there is always a delicate stream of ‘champagne bubble pearls’ snaking its way up from the bottom of the glass. How does that happen?

They actually put yeast into the bottle while they are making the Champagne. The yeast does its normal function – it consumes sugar and creates bubbles of carbon dioxide plus alcohol. That carbon dioxide, being made in the bottle, is what creates little bubbles in the sparkling wine. There are approximately 58 million bubbles in one bottle of champagne.

Today’s “methode champenoise” is a result of these centuries old practices which all began with Dom Perignon in the Hautvilliers Abbey in Reims, France. The true French way to make champagne still relies on blending grapes, fermenting the wine in bottles, riddling the bottles to reduce pressure, and disgorging the sediment from the neck. Any current producer of sparkling wine who strictly follows these procedures can legally use the expression “methode champenoise” on their label.

On a closing note It may surprise you to know that the English had quite a lot to do with the success of Champagne sparkling wine. The wealthy English importers liked the taste of the bubbles in the pale wine that induced a feeling of elation and proactively sought methods to produce it. The popularity of this “happy drink” spread, and the astute producers in the Champagne region laid claim to the name and the right to be the only ones to be legally authorised to produce a sparkling wine called Champagne (ratified by the Treaty of Madrid 1981).

Elderflower and champagne cocktail  (Reference imbibe)

Ingredients

  • 5 oz. Champagne chilled
  • ½ oz. vodka
  • ½ oz. elderflower cordial
  • soda water, chilled
  • Garnish: fresh raspberries (if available)

Method

  1. Combine the chilled Champagne or sparkling wine with vodka and elderflower cordial in a glass and stir.
  2. Top with chilled soda water to taste and garnish with raspberries.

Make your Own Herb-Infused Champagne Drink

For a super-simple drink, add a tablespoon of the herb-infused simple syrup below to a glass of champagne or sparkling wine.

Herb infused syrup
Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./125 g.) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) water
  • Herb of choice (see below)

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water, bring to a boil over high heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the herb, and let stand for 1-2 hours.
  3. Pour the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a jar, pressing down firmly on the herbs.
  4. Cap tightly and refrigerate.

The syrup will keep for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Choice of herbs

  • 3 fresh basil sprigs, 3 inches long
  • 4-5 bay leaves
  • 4-5 fresh geranium leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. fresh lavender buds
  • 1/4 cup fresh lovage leaves
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs, 3 inches long
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs, 3 inches

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57 Comments

  • A
    Reply Aria on January 11, 2016 says;

    I’m first to comment again….. 🙂

    This is a fabulous post again P. I love your write up! I never knew anything at all about champagne. There is a lot happening in our world I guess. And is it through you I’m going to learn all of those? 🙂

    I like the way you closed you article by placing a recipe. Loved to read your post as usual.
    Thanks

  • K
    Reply Katherine on January 11, 2016 says;

    This blog should be called as The Herbal Blog… You have everything herbal. Today its Herbal Champagne. What is that you actually don’t know the herbal way?

    Sweet post! Enjoyed reading the history behind Champagne…God bless

    Thanks

  • m
    Reply mary on January 11, 2016 says;

    funtastic! thank you!

  • A
    Reply Alma on January 11, 2016 says;

    آخر الجميلة. كتابة وذلك بفضل بشكل جيد للغاية.
    المستفادة الكثير عن الشمبانيا اليوم

  • M
    Reply Madelyn Abigail on January 11, 2016 says;

    Hey P,

    I sincerely thank you very much for the time and effort that you have spent pitching in here to give us all a brief on champagne. This is a lot learnt for today. It has left me awestruck while reading this. You have always displayed a lot of quality in your posts. Addicted to your blog 🙂

  • M
    Reply Meagan on January 11, 2016 says;

    I love the “Make yourself Own Herb-Infused Champagne Drink”

    This is certainly an experiment to carry out today.

  • M
    Reply Maureen on January 11, 2016 says;

    Wow, this sounds fun! Definitely worth a try!

  • S
    Reply Stella Ester on January 11, 2016 says;

    You are a very wise woman.

    Beautiful post!

  • C
    Reply Charlotte on January 11, 2016 says;

    “There are approximately 58 million bubbles in one bottle of champagne.” You kidding me… I never even knew that and I’m drinking champagne… This is what I call information.

    Love what you have written here.

  • N
    Reply Noël on January 11, 2016 says;

    Love the way you have explained about champagne and wines… lovely

  • M
    Reply Maya on January 11, 2016 says;

    1/4 cup fresh lovage leaves is what I’m going to use!!! I’m sure I’m going to love this stuff….

  • S
    Reply Stacey Rosenderry on January 11, 2016 says;

    What should we all call you?

    SageWoman / HerbalWoman / HerbWoman? You are just writing every post of yours with herbs. No offence, they are all awesome. I’m loving it!

  • C
    Reply Cindayyee on January 11, 2016 says;

    this is a masterpiece post!

  • P
    Reply Prunella on January 11, 2016 says;

    Detailed write up. Very very interesting read my dear. Love to read your blog everyday. I see a lot of useful posts and more useful ones that gives knowledge!

    Keep it up. Thanks

  • J
    Reply Janice on January 11, 2016 says;

    graceful post!

    Love your recipes. Love all your recipes in this blog. I’ve put them all in my evernote.

  • L
    Reply Lisa W on January 11, 2016 says;

    Remarkable post. Worth the read.

    I love your entire blog. Never knew 1 existed like this. Was searching for rosemary and sage oil when I tripped into this goldmine.

    Thanks. Bookmarked and shared your blog to couple of my mates.

  • K
    Reply Kate W on January 11, 2016 says;

    value for the blog

  • A
    Reply Agnus D on January 11, 2016 says;

    beautiful post dear P…. Wonderful information on just champagne

    out of curiosity – how old are you? you don’t have to answer it publicly, but i’m thinking you are not too old… just young enough to act old?

    Love your posts!

  • M
    Reply Mary Fernandez on January 11, 2016 says;

    I stumbled over here by a different page and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you.
    Look forward to following your posts!!

    Love what you have put up here!

  • J
    Reply José Cerqueira on January 11, 2016 says;

    Great and really helpful article! Adding to the conversation, love your recipe! Am gonna try it

  • V
    Reply Valeria Bedoya on January 11, 2016 says;

    Este es un gran post, te llevaste mi sombrero.

  • Z
    Reply Zoe on January 11, 2016 says;

    Great, Great, Great. one of the best!!!!

    I absolutely love this. Gonna try the recipe attached!

  • A
    Reply Andrea Conboy on January 11, 2016 says;

    ooooh yesssss!!!! Can’t wait to try it!

  • R
    Reply Rachel Cotterill on January 11, 2016 says;

    Its fantastic. Sometimes I tell myself that i was born in the wrong time and space. You are doing great by assimilating real information at one place for people to come and visit and learn from here. Do not stop this!

  • B
    Reply Britesia on January 11, 2016 says;

    Oh este é um belo pós querida. I têm marcado o seu blog e vai manter revisitando.

  • J
    Reply Jenn M on January 11, 2016 says;

    WOW, a great post! Excellent information laid out perfectly!

  • P
    Reply Peggy on January 11, 2016 says;

    Too much to consume, however; worth reading it! Information we rarely care to know!

    Thanks for enlightening us! 🙂

  • J
    Reply Jo on January 11, 2016 says;

    such a beautiful post!

  • C
    Reply Chanaka C on January 11, 2016 says;

    Thanks for the informative post.

  • M
    Reply Maureen on January 11, 2016 says;

    You are really an angel. I will try your recipe.

  • A
    Reply Alana on January 11, 2016 says;

    Bellisma

  • B
    Reply Bonnie on January 11, 2016 says;

    Blogs are not just for socializing with others but it can also give us useful information like this. this article gave me lots of ideas

  • A
    Reply Ambrosini Ami on January 11, 2016 says;

    Belle poste.

  • M
    Reply Mia Ethan on January 11, 2016 says;

    I’m fascinated!!
    Have always wanted to try something with elder flower for a while & this sounds just so easy. Finally I get to try something and in what I love…

    hehe

  • A
    Reply Angie on January 11, 2016 says;

    My elder is finally in flower and with huge white heads this year. Everything has been so late this year.
    Champagne here I come! Thanks so much for the recipe!

  • T
    Reply Tina on January 11, 2016 says;

    made it…. burped them a couple of times 🙂

  • T
    Reply Tamika on January 11, 2016 says;

    Really useful article….Tons of post I’ve read, but with such a detailed explanation, is only from here. Your blog has the touch of class…

  • r
    Reply rain77 on January 11, 2016 says;

    Congratulations! Loved the information you have shared. Its a enjoyable read.

  • R
    Reply Rejie Camano Gelera on January 11, 2016 says;

    By the way excellent post. Hats off to you!

  • O
    Reply Olivia on January 11, 2016 says;

    Dear P,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I have very much enjoyed this particular post in context, because you have given me information that I never cared to know before. What I liked the most is your recipe. You have an knack to put across quantity of information as a qualitative message.

    Appreciate your time and effort here. Its definitely not gone wasted. I see that you have a lot of fan following here. I one among them too.

    What I like to ask is, please give more of such recipe. Herbal is where I see myself getting too. And I have tried all your recipes, and everything is tasteful.

    Thanks
    Olivia

  • S
    Reply Sofia on January 11, 2016 says;

    Love to see more champagne recipe with herbs. what other herbs can i try? Is it experimentation?
    Do you conduct any classes?

  • A
    Reply Alejandra on January 11, 2016 says;

    Normally I wouldn’t feel able to write in any blogs because I’d be in the thick of it myself. But, in this post I had the wind knocked out of me and decided to enter few words here.

    First off, mind blowing information. of course I would have learnt this else where, but what is special here is that the way information is put across. Easy to read and take it into your mind.
    Secondly, your recipe. You have made a fine combination and the result = Fantastic Post!

  • D
    Reply Deborah on January 11, 2016 says;

    This is a worth reading! I think I like this post off all your other ones. This one you have crafted it very specially. The information, the facts, and a recipe – well thought and written. I honestly believe you have put yourself in the shoes of a reader and written this. This blog is in its upcoming! All the very best. Keep such quality posts coming, and do not get distracted like what some other might have done. Love to keep coming back to your blog to see a surprise.

  • S
    Reply Susan on January 11, 2016 says;

    Love the post! love the recipe!

  • M
    Reply Molly on January 11, 2016 says;

    I’ve been wanting to make Champagne. Looks like the time has approached me to do this. And something different with herbs. It is a must try. I think I will try this and surprise my husband. Thanks to your generous post.

  • N
    Reply Nichole on January 11, 2016 says;

    Are you serious. There is so much information for champagne? What was I doing these many years? I’m so wasted. I love the information you have provided. It is so interesting to read such kind of information. Knowledge is certainly power. I’m hungry for knowledge, please throw more at me. I love your blog!

  • A
    Reply Allison on January 11, 2016 says;

    Beautiful post. good information.

  • C
    Reply Courtney on January 11, 2016 says;

    absolutely stunning post! well given info.

  • P
    Reply Pinky on January 11, 2016 says;

    A Happy drink – A real happy post!

    Happy reading it 🙂

  • S
    Reply Sabína on January 11, 2016 says;

    fabulous idea for making champagne. I love anything with herbs.

    beautiful post. pleasure reading what is presented.

  • t
    Reply thesandgal on January 11, 2016 says;

    Beautiful story line! The recipe just adds a perfect finishing touch

  • I
    Reply Isabella on January 11, 2016 says;

    Thanks for all the great recipes from you

  • A
    Reply Alexane on January 12, 2016 says;

    Love your post. Its excellent

  • F
    Reply Fabienne on January 12, 2016 says;

    This is a remarkable blog, and a remarkable post as well. The recipes are nice!

  • Q
    Reply Quintana on January 12, 2016 says;

    Excellent post. Need more recipes.

  • V
    Reply Valentina Rockwell on January 12, 2016 says;

    Champagne is happy really, and this post makes me more happy. I love that recipe that you have provided in the end. I pledge to prepare this during the week end.

    Thanks

  • T
    Reply Toril on January 12, 2016 says;

    Informative and high quality post.

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