Wine Wednesday - Ode to Valentines Day

Sparkling wine, like many of the great things in life, was invented by mistake. Sparkling wine is called by many different names depending on where it comes from – Cava, Prosecco, Asti, Champagne. While there are several beliefs about how the ‘invention’ of sparkling wine happened, the true origin is somewhat of a mystery in the wine world.

You may have heard the story about Dom Pérignon opening a bottle of what he thought to be wine, finding it had become a sparkling wine and proclaiming “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” In reality, Dom Pérignon (1638 – 1715) was attempting to make a fine French wine and these ‘bubbles’ were not only an accident, but also quite troublesome. The phenomenon was a result of the cool winters in the Champagne region.

The yeast in the wine would go dormant when the weather cooled off in the autumn, and then, in the spring, with the rising temperatures, the wine would start fermenting again (also known as secondary fermentation). Since fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas and the gas is trapped in the bottle, it results in fizzy wine…and the flimsy ‘corks’ of the day would be pushed out of the bottles, or worse yet, the bottles would explode. The thick, sturdy glass and modern-day corks did not exist back in the 1600, which meant countless bursting bottles. Often, one bottle succumbing to the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas, would create a domino effect on the nearby bottles and a large portion of the cellars would go to waste. As you can imagine, this was a problem for Pérignon.

Meanwhile, the English were buying wine from the French and having it shipped either already in bottles or by barrels, and then bottling it in England.

English physician and scientist, Christopher Merret (1614 – 1695), seems to be due some credit for modern-day champagne, although he may have just been documenting the techniques. He was the first to write about the deliberate addition of sugar for the production of sparkling wine. He also produced the first lists of British birds and butterflies (a multi-talented man!). The truth is, Merret, seemed more interested in the glass bottle-making than the wine-making, which, in fact, may be one of the biggest factors in champagne, as we know it, existing today. (If it weren’t for the strong bottles and corks, they would still be bursting during the secondary fermentation!)

In the early 17th century, a man by the name of Sir Robert Mansell obtained a monopoly on glass production in England and industrialized the process. His coal-powered factories in Newcastle upon Tyne produced much stronger bottles than were availa