In the late fifth century, King Clovis of northern France promised his wife that if he won his next battle he would convert to Christianity. In 496 he was baptized in the city of Reims, in the heart of France’s Champagne region.
For centuries afterward, that’s where French kings were traditionally crowned, but it was a trek from Paris for the royal court and hangers on, so after the coronation they’d hang around the region for a while and sample the local wines.
Back then there was no aging process. Wines were consumed quickly and locally, and they were “still,” not effervescent. In time, as more wine was exported, new barrels stayed unopened longer. And when they were opened, the wine inside would be fizzy. Yeasts fermented the drink, consuming the grape sugars. The result was sparkling wine with a distinctive flinty taste. It caught on in a flash.
The Champagne region had distribution advantages. Its major towns were located on rivers, and water was then the shipping highway to the world. Makers sent their wine not only to the French court in Paris but also to England and Holland—coastal areas too far north to grow their own grapes.
By the end of the 17th century the French monk Dom Perignon started packaging his abbey’s champagne in bottles, helping to maintain the bubbly’s sparkle. He also figured out how to stopper the bottles with corks and how to secure the corks with string.
The French court, where every night was New Year's Eve, eventually turned champagne into the national drink of France. They proclaimed it a light and beneficial beverage. It was also a lot of fun. Recognizing a good thing, merchants in Champagne began switching over from wool, cloth and other local commodities to producing sparkling wine.
With champagne known to so please the royals in France and England, producers began promoting their sparkling wines in the other major cities of Europe—in time going as far as Russia and the U.S.
With the rise of industrialization in the 19th century, Champagne producers began pitching their product to the nouveau riche of the merchant class. These new customers had neither the wealth nor the time to consume champagne on a daily basis, but they took to it for special occasions. Soon they were ordering champagne for all kinds of celebrations. Like ringing in the New Year.
The verbal Champagne canapés above were lifted from a very entertaining article by Bloomberg writer Becky Sue Epstein. The whole article can be found at: Why Do We Drink Champagne on New Year’s Eve?
Becky says, “We enjoy seeing the froth of the wine as it fills our glass, and we delight in watching the magically renewing bubbles as we drink. Champagne tingles on the tongue, and its fizz seems to carry aromas and flavors straight to our heads.” She adds that people rarely drink too much champagne because in addition to price considerations, it’s not easy to consume bubbles fast.
Yeah. She should come by my house. Or the houses of a lot of people I know.