No single person can be credited with the invention of champagne, but the English can take some of the credit. In 1657, a book by Ralph Austen, a cider manufacturer from Oxford, described adding a “walnut” of sugar to cider bottles to make the drink sparkle. In December 1662, the physician and scientist Dr Christopher Merrett gave a lecture to the Royal Society which described how to make wines “brisk” by the addition of molasses. In France, champagne had always been enjoyed as a still wine; the occasional sparkling bottle was considered flawed. But the taste caught on, from Britain to France, and such research made it possible to replicate the effects in the production process itself. In the meantime, the famous courtier and adventurer Sir Kenelm Digby had been experimenting with making bottles strong enough to withstand the additional pressure brought about by fermentation.
Digby’s experiments showed foresight. The main problem facing the Champenois in the early nineteenth century was the casse – broken bottles. Without a proper understanding of how much sugar was needed to create an adequate sparkle, or mousse, and without proper temperature control in the cellar, bottles would explode under the pressure of excessive carbon dioxide. In 1828, for example – a year known as la grande casse – eight out of ten of all champagne bottles were smashed.
The problem was definitively solved in 1837 by André François, a pharmacist from Châlons-en-Marne, whose work had an incalculable effect on the history of champagne. François worked out the precise formula needed to ensure that enough sugar was added to create the mousse, but not enough to create excessive fermentation. As the official “notes on the history of champagne” presented at the 1899 Exposition Universelle proudly stated: “Since M. François’ important discovery, the sparkling wine trade has considerably expanded”.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
A good summary of how it's made, and its history, is up at the TLS. Here's some esoteric history for your next dinner party: