A Bit of Sparkle

Champagne is a wine that can turn any occasion into a celebration

No one person or group can rightly be credited with "inventing" champagne: Natural effervescence, intentional or not, has been part of winemaking since man first made wine. Nonetheless, Dom Pierre Pérignon is often credited with "inventing" champagne. As cellarmaster at the Abbey of Hautvillers from 1668 to his death in 1715, Pérignon indeed made tremendous improvements to champagne as we now know it. He was the first to make it from a cuvée (blend) of wines, refining its taste and balance, and he pioneered the use of black grapes to make a white wine. However, historical evidence suggests that Italian, southern French and English vignerons all had created sparkling wine in the decades before Pérignon's arrival at Hautvillers. In 1662, a report on winemaking techniques was presented to the Royal Society in London and detailed a crude version of what is now known as the méthode champenoise, in which sugar and yeast are added to still, bottled wine to start the second fermentation, which gives sparkling wine its sparkle.

Burgundian winemakers introduced sparkling pinot noirs in the 1820s, though today Australian Shiraz is the most respected sparkling red. Span-ish cava, also made in the méthode champenoise, was first commercially available in 1872, from the house of Codorn\u00edu; the first mayor of Los Angeles, Benjamin Davis Wilson, made California's original sparkling in 1855, at the San Gabriel Winery.

We can thank the French for champagne's association with weddings. From the 12th to the 19th century, Reims, a city in the Champagne region, was the designated place for French coronations, and so its wines became associated with pageantry. Champagne, once introduced to the Court of Versailles, was a rare and expensive product, and this, along with the sweetness that characterized it until the mid-19th century, reinforced bubbly as the beverage for marking special occasions. In belle époque France, champagne labels often recommended it be served at such events as an engagement (fiancé champagne), wedding (champagne nuptial), or baptism (bébé champagne). So as champagne began to be exported to England and the United States, it was established as a matrimonial beverage in those markets, too.

From left: Roman centerpieces, $386; round footed centerpiece, $285, both from Match, match1995.com. "Bunny" crystal flutes, $78 each, from William Yeoward, williamyeowardcrystal.com. Vintage 1999 champagne, $149, from Dom Pérignon, domperignon.com. "Amalia" flute, $55, from Juliska, juliska.com. "Lady Hamilton" flute, $145, from Moser, moserusa.com. "Duchesse" champagne saucer, $40, by Vera Wang from Wedgwood, wedgwood.com.

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