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Champagne – French or English???

There are few thing as quintessentially French as a glass of Champagne. Champagne is, of course a region of France with a long tradition of wine making however it may have been the English who first turned a mediocre country wine into the luscious drink celebrated around the world.

In order to become a sparkling wine Champagne goes through a double fermentation process. First the grapes are picked off the vine and pressed then it is taken to the winemaker’s maison where it will ferment for some two years. Fermentation is slowed down during the cold winter months, a process which these days is controlled by air-conditioning.

Back in the 17th Century it was this flat wine that got shipped to England in barrels where it was extremely popular. It was during the bottling process that the English discovered that the wine had continued to ferment and become fizzy. This is because the gas given off by the fermentation dissolved into the wine.

The English found that they liked this sparkling version more than the flat one. To help the wine along they added sugar, moalasses and a little yeast then over the course of two years the wine gained strength, character and its fizz to become the vivacious bubbly wine that we know and love.

Eventually the French adopted the English method and Champagne, as we know it, today was born around 1700. And when they did finally get round to making it themselves their first customers were of course the English.

According to the French encyclopaedia Quid Champagne was invented by a French Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon in 1688. However, wine writer Tom Stevenson in A World Encyclopaedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine reproduces an English recipe for the production of champagne dating back to 1662 by Christopher Merrit and presented to the Royal Society in London.

Now that’s worth toasting!!

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