Champagne: A bubbling tale – part 2.

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Click here if  you want to read the Dutch version of this blogpost.

Click here if you want to read the previous English part.

Men would not be human, if they stopped making war at some point. Peace didn’t last a long time… During the Hundred Years War in the fourteenth and fifteenth century the vineyards of the Champagne were destroyed completely.

But just as if men would not be human without an endless series of conflicts, they wouldn’t be human if they would lean back after a catastrophy.  After the war the winegrowers started all over with the plantation of vines. The villages grew and expanded more and more.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, all the wines that were created in this region were very successful. But again men would not be human if they didn’t kept looking for improvement. And that was exactly what the winemakers in the valley of the Marne did in that period. They started the production of a grey wine (vin gris) based on the grape Pinot Noir. Grapes were harvested in the early morning, and they were pressed very slowly, to make sure the first juice didn’t colour. The wine that was obtained in that matter sparkled in a beautiful way, and one could keep it for a long time.

Because the monks pressed grapes from different races and different parcels they made assemblages before the word existed.

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The mythical story of Dom Perignon is situated in that same period. He is without any doubt the most famous monk of the Champagne. He didn’t only try to improve Champagne by turning assemblage into an art, he also indulged in the secrets of that sparkling wine he loved so much. He did so in his abbey at Hautvillers. One of his most notable quotes as he tasted his first glass of sparkling Champagne:

Come quick, I taste the stars.

Exactly what I think every time I bring a glass of this delicious golden moisture to my mouth

That sparkling, la prise de mousse as the French call it, one can write poems about it. What a wonder of nature, refined by human!!

And discovered by coincidence!!

At the little village of Aÿ, man used a local manner to obtain a sparkling wine. That wine was the Tocane. This was a fermented wine with variable acidity. Because of the northern climate in the region the grapes were harvested quite late in the season. The fermentation of the most (new wine) in the barrels stopped during winter because of the cold. Only in spring the fermentation started again, most of the carbon dioxide escaped from the barrels. Depending on the weather during winter time and the period in which the wine was consumed, the wine would be more or less sparkling.

Gradually the Champenois, with Dom Perignon ahead, learned to control this sparkling. At first,lots of wine was lost in the search for constant quality. Especially because a lot of bottles exploded as the pressure in the bottles became to high.

Some facts:

  1. In 1685 the first cork was used in the Champagne region.
  2. In 1735 a bottle was developed in thicker glass. It resisted the higher pressure in the Champagne bottles.
  3. In 1816 pupitres or racks were used for the remuage or turning of the Champagne bottles.
  4. In 1820 sugar is added to stimulate the sparkling of the Champagne.

A very short history of Champagne. The only thing you have to remember is that this drink is unbelievably delicious, and not always as expensive as everyone believes.

©Myriam

 

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