Let’s propose a toast: To Brut Champagne–today’s most popular and most consumed sparkling wine. It is the beverage of choice for weddings, banquets, ship christenings and anointing of kings. And, unlike earlier Champagnes, it’s dry and not sweet.
The earliest vines were planted in Champagne, France, as far back as the 3rd century, with some of the first wines debuting in the 5th century. Skilled wine markers toiled to produce a wine that would rival the vineyards of their southern neighbor, Burgundy. It wasn’t long before their wines became the beverage of celebration. French monarchs weren’t anointed without a glass of Champagne nearby.
Still and red, the wine of the time lacked the golden-clear color and sparkling quality that we usually associate with Champagne.
Dom Perignon was a 17th-century monk fascinated with viticulture. He worked hard to figure out how to produce white wine from Pinot noir grapes, which he thought had the best quality. At the time, white wine from white grapes was dull and spoiled easily. Making white wine from red grapes was the desire of every Champagne vineyard, but it was difficult to do. Dom Perignon eventually got white wine out of black grapes by using aggressive pruning techniques and pressing the grapes several times.
Although he didn’t invent Champagne, Dom Perignon pioneered the use of a wire fastener to prevent the cork from popping during fermentation. The prestigious brand of Moet et Chandon is named after the famous monk.
Dry, Not Sweet
In 1846, Champagne-producer Perrier-Jouet decided not to sweeten that year’s vintage before shipping it off to London. The name Brut was added to it. Thus, the modern Champagne and most popular variety was born. The term “brut” referred to wine that had been disgorged and was in its natural state.
Sparkling Wine Versus Champagne
Simply put, Champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region. Anything else is just sparkling wine, not Champagne. A 1908 decree granted only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region the use of the appellation.
According to a 2007 article in The Herald, a British newspaper, worldwide demand for the bubbly beverage hit 333 million bottles–3 million more than the Champagne region could produce. This has forced producers to increase production levels by 100 million bottles by 2011.
References and ResourcesThe Oxford Companion to Wine 3rd Ed.; Janics Robinsion, ed.; 2006
Office of Champagne, United States' site
A Short History of Wine; Rod Phillips; 2002
ResourcesOffice of Champagne, French site
Great Brands and Champagne Houses
The Herald; "What's the Story with Champagne"; Rebecca McQuallin; December 29 2007