• A couple of friends of mine had a bit of a dispute. One of these friends is a staunch loyalist from Essex, England, and the other a native to the Loire valley in France. The question was this.. Who created sparkling wine first? The Brits or the French?

    So? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

     

    In order to paint the picture and put a rest to this debate I need to go back to the start of it all.

     

    It was the dawn of humanity, the beginning of all that currently makes sense in this world. It was the origin of wine with bubbles.

     

    I must give a bit of the back story first.

     

    Put the way back machine to shortly after the calendar started counting up rather than down.

     

    *side note: If you actually do have a way back machine the likes of Orson Wells fame. Then I suggest you find a sparsely populated area in which to land before you throw the lever (or press the button whatever the case may be), for you don’t want to end up on the pointy end of a Roman spear like Tandoori chicken.  Immediately after arriving in France, the year should be 92 A.D., I suggest you hide your time buggy.

     

    The Emperor of the time was Domitian, and he was one of the worst kinds of monopolists. He decreed death to all the French vineyards. Why? because they were in competition with Italian wine!

     

    Once this buffoon kicked the proverbial bucket (hopefully he was stabbed in the back like Caesar or burned at the stake), Emperor Probus (hey don’t make fun of his name) rescinded the order and demanded the vineyards be replanted two centuries later.

     

    The Romans were quite fond of the grapes of one particular region above nearly all the rest. They named the land Campania (Latin for flat land) after the region of Campania in Italy (also prized for its wine.) The name later was made into the French word we know today as Champagne.

     

    Okay at this point we are getting close, really close. Hop back in your time machine and punch mid-1600s into the data board.

     

    Louis the XIV, otherwise known as “the sun king” was in power and the era of the French Enlightenment was emerging.

     

    You might ask at this point when do the English come into play?

     

    Soon I promise!

     

    Champagne was looking for ways to make their wine as pure as possible. One of the problems they encountered was these damnable bubbles kept appearing in some of their bottles of wine. They even had random exploding bottles due to the buildup of carbon dioxide and the ensuing pressure.

     

    When the little yeasties would magically turn sugar into wine they would often stop before all the sugar was made into alcohol (carbon dioxide is a byproduct of this process.)

     

    The cold cellars in Champagne would keep these guys dormant until they were shipped to England (The British are coming! The British are coming!…. Sorry couldn’t help myself.) At this point the temperatures started climbing and with that those magical yeasts would come out of hibernation and go to town on that sugar.

     

    This secondary fermentation created those frustrating bubbles that the French tried so hard to get rid of. The exploding bottles, ejected corks and the unknown origin of the bubbles freaked them out so much that they started calling it ‘le vin du diable’ (The wine of the devil.)

     

     

    Now this is where the story really gets interesting…

     

    The Brits loved the bubbles! They absolutely adored them and for the life of them had to have more.

     

    On December 17, 1662 an Englishman by the name of Christopher Merret submitted an article on what caused these bubbles and how to duplicate them. In this article he stated “our wine coopers of recent times use vast quantities of sugar and molasses to all sorts of wine to make them brisk and sparkling”

     

    This however was a more haphazard way of making their wines ‘frothy’ like their ciders and their beers.

     

    Philippe II ‘Duke of Orléans’ became the regent of France after his uncle Louis XIV ended his lavish reign in death. The Duke thought the bubbles gay and fabulous and because he was sooooo popular everyone had to have some.

     

    This marked the conversion era, when lots of the Champagne houses decided gay and fabulous was better than flat and stodgy.

     

    Interestingly Champagne was made sweet until the mid-1800s when the French began to tailor the sweetness levels to the individual countries’ desires. The Russians wanted the sweetest and the English wanted the driest (least sweet.)

     

    To this day Champagne is made with a varying dosage (when sugar is added after the secondary fermentation just before the final corking.)

     

    From driest…

    Extra-Brut

    Brut

    Extra Dry

    Sec

    Demi-Sec

    Doux

    …To sweetest

     

    Upon hours of research through books and websites (including several British websites) the verdict is this…

     

    The French were the first to make sparkling wine, but they did so by accident

     

    Also made by accident were:

    Rubber, X-rays, Post-it-notes, LSD, Microwave ovens, Saccharin, Fireworks, Silly Putty, The Pacemaker, Potato Chips, Chocolate chip cookies, Penicillin, The Slinky, The Color Mauve, Plastic, Teflon, Coca-Cola, Smart Dust, Viagra, Play-Doh, and Velcro

     

    The English ran with it, imbibing the devil wine whenever chance graced them with it. They shined a light on the little demons making the bubbles (yeasties), and then convinced the French that the bubbles were all the rage.

     

    With the Duke onboard, the region of Champagne transformed the accident into a thing of beauty.

     

    So, France wins sorry England, but you played a major part in this story.

     

    With that settled I will give you a few Champagnes that I love…

     

    Gosset is the oldest wine house in the Champagne region. Located in Aÿ, France they have been making wine since 1584. The same year Ivan the Terrible died.

    They have a delicious Grand Rosé which is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a splash of red Pinot Noir added for color. It is a whopping $80, but totally worth it on those nights of decadence.

     

     

    They have an excellent way of describing it so I will let them:

     

    On the Nose:

    An explosion of strawberry flavours. Rich expressive notes of fresh strawberries underlined with hints of concentrated strawberry jam. A bowl of ripe strawberries covered with a spoonful of stewed strawberries with a lovely freshness.

    On the Palate:

    The palate is well structured with a perfect balance of freshness and roundness of fruit. It is dominated by voluptuous flavours of red fruit such as wild strawberries delivering a sweet, enveloping sensation. A beautifully accessible champagne when young, but on cellaring well it will keep or even intensify its beauty.

    Food Matches:

    With the last “vibrant” strawberries picked from the garden! Plump, juicy and sweet. Fruits suit it well due to their soft side, reflecting its youth. Foie gras for boldness and the quest for richness and sweetness around the base built on the wine’s strength. A partnership dominated by strength and tenderness.

     

    Coming in at a more modest $40-45 is another fave:

     

    Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut

     

     

    Blend composition: 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 40% Meunier

    Dosage: 10 grams per litre

    12 to 14% reserve wine content (from the 2-3 previous years)\

     

    Tasting Notes:

    Light yellow in colour, with a brightness that suggests refreshment.

    On the nose, there’s a mature vinosity, marked by notes of spice and perfume. These change to ripe stone fruits and exotic fruits (pineapple), honey and floral accents that give the wine freshness and substance.

    In the mouth, the smooth, rounded character is balanced by the sparkle, lending the wine the charm and vinous elegance that are Perrier-Jouët’s hallmarks.

     

    Serving Suggestions:

    Grand Brut combines well with light, refreshing first courses such as terrine de poisson or a carpaccio of scallops. It is also a good simple match with oysters (particularly less strongly-flavoured varieties, such as Bellons).

    Grand Brut should ideally be served at a temperature between 7 and 9°C.

     

     

    Another that can be found for around $30-40 is:

    Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut

     

     

    The godfather of this wine, Charles-Henri Heidsieck, went to the front lines of the war between France and Russia back when Napoleon was doing his thing, and sold his Champagne to the victor (Russia.) Russia became one of the largest consumers of Champagne in the 18th and 19th century.

     

    The reviewers had this to say about it..

     

    Wine Enthusiast

    “Soft-fruited Champagne, with pear and pink grapefruit flavors. It has a bitter almond edge that cuts through the acidity. The finish is soft, towards the sweet end of brut. “

     

    Wine Spectator 91 Points

    “Candied apple character, with a hint of red berry and a refined texture, mark this elegant, medium-bodied bubbly, which is fresh, with a moderate finish. Drink now.”