A brief history of Champagne

Champagne may well be the king of all sparkling wine, but for centuries the region produced still and light wines from Pinot Noir only. In fact, the bubbly that Champagne is so famous for was somewhat of an accident.

Beth Keating, Bibendum wine educator, explains, “Due to the cold winters that are typical in the Champagne region, the wines had a tendency to stop fermentation and start up again in the Spring, which caused the bottles to break from the resulting release of CO2. At the time, it was considered a real nuisance!”

It wasn’t until British glassmakers developed bottles that could withstand this pressure that drinkers could enjoy the resulting sparkle. “Indeed, it was probably the café society of London who first enjoyed true ‘sparkling Champagne’,” Beth says

The industry as we know it today was born in the first 40 years of the 19th century. Beth explains that the immensely influential ‘Madame’ Veuve Cliquot and her employees developed the ‘pupitre’ system and began to really understand the process of secondary fermentation. “With the aid of a young chemist from the area they finally mastered the exact quantity of sugar necessary to induce second fermentation without creating explosive force,” she says.

Growers vs Houses

We often associate Champagne with a handful of what are essentially brand names – Moet & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouet and so on. However, 90% of all the grapes used for making Champagne are in fact grown by more than 19,000 smallholders, whose average vineyard is just 2ha.

“Although most growers sell their fruit directly either to a co-operative or to one of the big houses, an increasing number of growers are now producing their own Champagne, which is particularly popular on the French market,” Beth says. “It varies enormously in quality, but these so-called 'grower Champagnes' are becoming more popular on export markets and often offer excellent value for money.”

Champagnes we love

Bollinger La Grande Annee

“A prestige cuvee without the price tag. Sitting at the more oxidative end of the Champagne spectrum, it’s rich and complex, with the delicious warmth of oak.” – Julia Bailey AIWS, Training Manager

Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut

“It’s slightly less fizzy than most Champagnes, giving it a softer texture. Add in the rich fruit, nutty and toasty notes, and it feels really decadent. The finish, however, is refreshingly dry.” – Emily Humphreys, Wine Educator

Palmer & Co. Blanc de Noirs

“With the firm structure from Pinot Noir, this wine displays delicate aromas of stone fruit lifted by vibrant grapefruit and gooseberries. A lovely combination of intensity and elegance – and an absolute steal!” – Beth Keating, Wine Educator

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

“Excellent acidity combined with toasty brioche and apple flavours, this provides a perfect aperitif and pairs well with food.” – Monica Allan, Wine Educator

Visit our training page for some key Champagne skills videos:

How to open a bottle of fizz
How to pour sparkling wine
How to choose the right glassware
How to saber Champagne
How to create a Champagne tower

Leave a Comment

* Indicates a required field