It’s a pretty good reason to love France I think, or rather two – Champagne the region and Champagne the drink. Both are fabulous.
Champagne the region
So let’s take the region. A place of vineyards and chateaux, lakes and forests, gentle hills, ancient villages and smart towns and cities like Reims and Epernay. It’s a great place to visit any time of the year with plenty do and see. What it’s most famous for though, as just about everyone knows – is the fizz that’s produced there.
Champagne the drink
I have to get one thing out there before I start. Some people say that Champagne is in fact a British invention. There. I’ve said it.
It is of course, the Frenchest of French drinks. Its creation is credited to Dom Perignon, a monk living in Champagne. He apparently shouted “Come quick, I am tasting the stars” at the point of the creation of the fizzy wine.
There are those who would have you believe that one Christopher Merrett, a British scientist born in 1614, is actually responsible for the famous bubbles. 30 years before Dom Perignon was officially recognised as the creator of Champagne, Merrett gave a paper to the Royal Society in London. In it he described how adding ‘vast quantities of sugar and molasses’ to French wine made it taste ‘brisk and sparkling’
Hmmm. In the interests of entente cordiale, let’s move on swiftly. Because whatever the history, Champagne the drink is firmly French because it can only be Champagne if it’s made from grapes grown in Champagne – in France. Anywhere else and its merely sparkling wine with another name (that’s not Champagne).
Quite why it is so popular is down to great marketing and a certain je ne sais quoi. On the marketing side, it’s been helped a lot by numerous celebrities and people of note loving it and telling everyone they did. Everyone from Napoleon to Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe and Kim Kardashian. It’s been immortalised in song by Lady Gaga and Cole Porter and many others.
As to the je ne sais quoi – that’s the bit that makes us drink it for special occasions (as well as the price of course). The bubbles do something magical. They are energetic and mesmerising as they rise up from the bottom of the glass to the surface of the liquid and pop. It’s a joyful sight and I think it makes us just a little joyful to see it. Scientists say there may be as many as 20 million bubbles in a single glass of Champagne. All popping just for you.
Bubbles give Champagne its aroma and taste, as well as its fizz because they pull compounds in the wine with them as they rise. Around 600 chemical compounds have been detected so far.
The pressure inside a typical bottle of Champagne is between five and six atmospheres, or 73 to 88 pounds per square inch. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly three times the pressure inside a car tyre. No wonder those corks fly. Apparently 20% of all eye injuries in the US are caused by flying corks. Tip: chill your Champagne well before you open, it doesn’t just taste better, it’s less likely to pop that cork madly and make opening the bottle safer.
Finally, there is on-going experimentation in the scientific world into the possibility that Champagne can improve your chances of not developing dementia.
In the words of the great Charles Dickens: Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life.